Tuesday, 23 October 2007

How Britain lost the plot in Kenya

Written by John Kamau

Nairobi State houseOctober 22, 2007: Bogged by a fading influence on local politics and business alike and unlike his predecessors, British High Commissioner Adam Wood gets little Press coverage and courts little controversy opting for the quiet life of a diplomat.

Mr Wood, who was posted to Kenya from neighbouring Uganda in 2005--and for the second tour of duty in the country--is less controversial and might never match in the public arena his two predecessors: the verbose Edward Clay of ‘they-are-vomiting-on-our-shoes’ fame and Sir Jeffrey James, who came to Kenya in 1997 at the height of tribal clashes and a looming general-election.

Sir Jeffrey --who later became Tony Blair’s special envoy to chaotic Nepal-- left a mark and as he departed after four years he was given a tongue-lashing by former President Moi who openly called him a “meddler” as he, as required by protocol, went to bid the then head of state goodbye.

Ever since the UK had been losing its foothold on Kenyan politics and business too - especially after “new” Labour took power.

Moi, was close to the Tories especially the now 82-year-old Margaret Thatcher. It was a political closeness that saw a library named after Thatcher at the Moi University at the height of Anglo-Kenya relations and Kenya get close to three percent of the entire DFID bilateral funding.

Like Thatcher - both are separated by a one year gap- Moi was a conservative and the two had a special bonding after the later became the first head of state to meet Thatcher when she was elected Prime Minister in 1979 - two greenhorns, heading separate governments.

Thatcher, who had defeated Labour’s James Callaghan nine months after Kenyatta’s death allowing Moi to take over, turned a blind eye on Kenya’s human rights record while Moi reciprocated on Thatcher’s stand on apartheid South Africa and twice invited her to Kenya for a State-visit. It was a scratch-my-back-I-scratch-your-back arrangement that was ended by the defeat of the Tories by Tony Blair’s New Labour in 1997.

The exit of the Tories saw the arrival of Sir Jeffrey James as Blair’s Kenya envoy which explains the enmity between the envoy and Moi. As he left the UK withdrew its direct Budget support of £15 million opting to fund civil societies or to channel its funding via locally-based British financial management firms such as KPMG and PWC.

But still Britain has remained the second largest bilateral donor to Kenya after US whose total Overall development assistance to Kenya totals about $700 million per year.

There is reason for that: “Britain needs Kenya and Kenya still needs Britain,” argues Dr Adams Oloo, a University of Nairobi political science lecturer.

Although, since 2001-2002 the UK government has spent a total of £170 million in Kenya statistics show that since 1997 – when Tories lost power- the UK expenditure in Kenya has been cut by more than 50 per cent from a high of 2.8 per cent of the entire UK DFID bilateral programme to a low of 1.3 per cent by 2004-04 financial year.

In 2005/06 DFID spent over £60 million in Kenya with over 80 per cent of that spent on health, education and humanitarian assistance- but still no penny for budgetary support.

And as the cash dries up so has been the British influence and diplomatic contacts. Kibaki finishes his first-term without making any formal state visit to UK.

“I wouldn’t read too much into that. I think the level of diplomatic contact between the two countries has been excellent,” says Dr Ludeki Chweya, a University of Nairobi political scientist. “When you see friction then the level of contact must be very close.”

At an old Victorian house on 2 Tchui Road in the reclusive Muthaiga suburb, the Union Jack still flies high. For ages, it has been the residence of past British High Commissioners where a well kept garden, bamboo trees and an undulating ground hide the fading influence.

Down the street is President Kibaki’s private residence where he shaped the first bits of his government after he defeated the Kanu candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2002 general elections and before he was driven to State House on the morning of January 2, 2003 in an old family Mercedez Benz car.

While the British had hoped that the new government would restore the wavering relationship damaged in the last years of Moi regime, Kibaki opted to work with the US, for security purposes, and moved east for economic support and where he could get unconditional aid.
Britain had pegged their aid to democracy and fighting graft.

While Liberal democrats in the UK were hoping that Kibaki would be accommodated – or would play ball the Labour counterparts appeared to be more concerned with “unfinished business”

It was one of the first questions tabled by Labour Mps in UK parliament on January 21, 2003 asking Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs the fate of “unfinished business” with the previous Kenyan regime.

Peter Bradley, then Labour MP for The Wrekin asked: “Is the minister aware however that many British citizens, including constituents of mine, have unfinished business with the previous Kenyan regime. I am thinking of those whose assets, property and land have been withheld…”

Bill Rammell told parliament that he would organize a meeting with the Kenyan High Commission “to see how we can press the new Kenyan government on the issue.”

While those significant happenings were hardly reported in Kenyan press he admitted one thing: “We [the UK government] are at a critical juncture.”

The next on stage were the Liberal Democrats.

Fifty-six days after he was sworn in as President, Lord Steel, a liberal democrat who was brought up in Kenya (as David Steel) and attended Nairobi School (Then Prince of Wales School) asked Baroness Valerie Amos, the minister for Africa, whether UK would resume bilateral budget support to Kenya as a result of the peaceful transition.

By this time it was still hoped that the UK would automatically resume aid.

“If they pursue the right policies, we will return to giving a limited amount of budget support,” said Amos adding. “…[but] we are very concerned about corruption in Kenya.”

No. 10 Downing StreetAmos had been sent to Kenya a month after the Kibaki election and had on January 28, 2003 met a wheel-chaired President Kibaki at State House as a follow up to another visit by Clare Short – the maverick Secretary of State for International Development who quit four months later over the Iraq crisis.

When Clare visited Kenya, Kibaki was in a Nairobi hospital bed after a nagging clot was discovered. But in London the future of Kenya was getting raised in Westminister with Conservatives heaping praise on Kibaki.

On January 22, 2003 Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle), a Tory, said he had “known and admired” President Kibaki “for more than 30 years and that he is undoubtedly the personality best equipped to grapple with Kenya’s very serious problems.”

Sir Peter- who as a soldier and student roamed Kenya and Tanzania in 1950s- wanted to know whether Clare Short would “use all her influence to make sure that Britain and the international community give every possible help to Kenya, where we could change the situation, whereas we are not likely to have much influence on Zimbabwe?”

Britain no doubt wanted to influence the political and economic stage in Kenya after failing in Zimbabwe. In her answer, Clare Short was tactical: “The new President is a great hope for the country. Unfortunately, he is in hospital because of a deep vein thrombosis, but I gather that the prognosis is good”.

Clare wanted to move fast to court Kibaki. She had meetings with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the EU and others, “and we are going to try to mobilise an enormous international effort to help the country forward, deliver to its people and deliver the reform that Kenya needs,” she told parliament.

A week after that issue was raised UK minister for Africa Baroness Valerie Amos took off to Nairobi on the day Kibaki left Nairobi Hospital and announced that the British government was ready to resume full aid to Kenya once discussions between Kenya and international financial institutions are finalized. Amos said Britain was waiting for a report on the new reform programmes before it resumes donor funding.

But if the British had hoped to cultivate some close rapport with Kibaki what followed shocked them.

Two weeks after that State House meeting between Amos and the President - and from behind the scenes - Kibaki on March 14 pulled a trigger on British interests by ordering his long time ally and Finance minister, David Mwiraria and the newly-appointed Governor of Central Bank Dr Andrew Mullei to cancel a ten-year multi-billion shilling currency printing tender that had been awarded to British company De la Rue by former Governor Nahashon Nyaga without tendering.

De la Rue, the largest British investment in Kenya since independence was to lose its key client.
Dr Chris Murungaru, Kibaki’s first minister of State for Provincial Administration and National Security – and now banned from setting foot in UK because of his “conduct, character and association– has always claimed that he was sacrificed for this fall-out.

“I think the former High Commissioner Edward Clay was to hard on Kibaki and they (Kibaki’s handlers) decided to hit back,” argues Dr Adams Oloo, a university of Nairobi political scientist.

It was during Murungaru’s tenure also that Southampton-based Ship Builder, Vosper Thornycroft, faced new competition in its supply of ships to Kenya.

Although it clinched its first deal in 1966 when it delivered three fast patrol craft and had been doing business with Kenya’s military ever since.

The Kibaki government opened the supply to tendering and so was the supply of police and government vehicles which saw the arrival of Toyota Land Cruisers in place of the British Land Rovers.
While these were treated as side-shows in the storm that became Anglo-leasing saga they remained important business issues.

While the British were privately arguing over business deals US moved faster than expected and invited Kibaki for a State Visit in October 2003 where an “alliance on war on terror” was born with a promise of $100 million to train security apparatus.

In diplomatic circles, the US kept off the anglo-leasing debates or casually followed it leaving Edward Clay to lead the choir.

As the row hit top notch Kenya pulled a political trigger on UK and legalized the Mau Mau movement, which fought the British establishment in colonial Kenya. The ban for the first time legalized Kenya’s war on liberation and according to BBC it ended “the stigma that has hung over the movement, even after independence in 1963.”

Kibaki upped the game by unveiling a statue on freedom hero Dedan Kimathi (still regarded as a terrorist in British books) in Nairobi and on the 50th Anniversary of his hanging by British authorities and secret interment in an unmarked grave.

“The unveiling is of historical significance because it shows a sense of diplomatic maturity. Kenya decided to honour its heroes and revisit the Mau Mau issue without harming the Anglo-Kenya relationship. Again, countries do not normally agree on who is a hero and it appears that Kenya and UK have decided to forge forward by finally putting the issue into history,” says Dr Mutuma Ruteere, the Dean of Kenya Human Rights Institute.

Interestingly, UK papers did not pick the Kimathi statue story. But the Anglo-leasing saga has been played out in both BBC, The Guardian and The Times.

Parliament BuildingsWhile it was true that De la Rue’s tender was cancelled because it was single-sourced its French international rival in currency and security printing Francois-Charles Oberthur Fiduciaire (FCOF) was on the verge of getting into Kenya’s lucrative printing scene with a Sh2.7 billion passport and visa project without open tendering. It was the first scandal that hit the Kibaki government.

At the international arena the geo-politics of security printing came to fore while locally key Kibaki allies were deeply ensconced into the scandal.

Inside Kibaki’s State House two groups had emerged taking advantage of the ailing President. It was in this fight that saw John Githongo, the Ethics Permanent Secretary who had been fished from Transparency International to add credence to war on corruption, sandwiched between two warring groups promoting different interests.

His attempt to investigate the Anglo Leasing scandal saw him dubbed as “British spy” and his self-exile into UK and release of confidential documents later only compounded the rumour.

For his part, Murungaru filed a case against Githongo saying the dossier “consist of a pack of falsehoods, rumours, gossip, inconclusive inferences, suspicion, hearsay (that) are the product of the defendant’s fertile, creative and artistic imagination.”

Professor Paul Collier is currently riding high with his book The Bottom Billion. A respected Oxford University economist, Prof Collier is the man who “sheltered” John Githongo when he quit his job while on a UK trip.

Prof Collier is well connected in the echelons of the British system. When a House of Commons Select Committee on International Development held a session last year, he was one of those invited to give evidence.

Some of the examples he gave were on how he sheltered Githongo: “because I believed that his grievances were right and we had better support him. I passionately believe in the redress of grievances.”

The Anglo-Leasing row, Mr Githongo’s self-exile — and the diplomatic furore the leakages triggered — made the gap between UK and Kenya widen at a time when there was hope that a meeting between President Kibaki and Prime Minister Tony Blair would heal the wounds.

Kibaki visited UK in October 2003, on his way back from Washington, and in October 2005 — none of which were State visits and stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel, London.

When he met Mr Blair, there was no significant shift in the war of words that was taking place in Nairobi where Edward Clay had to be summoned by the Foreign Affairs ministry to explain his public utterances. A summon in diplomacy denotes the lowest mark in diplomatic relations. The next is expulsion.

For many months, Kibaki did not appoint a high commissioner to UK and Daniel Koikai acted as commissioner before the appointment of Joseph Muchemi and presentation of his credentials in February 2004, two years after Kibaki was elected.

Back at Oxford, where Prof Collier found Mr Githongo a place to work, he finished the Anglo- Leasing dossier and gave it to the UK Press and later posted it on the Internet.

While the dossier damaged the Kibaki government’s credibility in fighting corruption, it also saw the relations between the two countries dip to an all time low.

While Kibaki purged his government — and later reinstated the ministers accused of the scandal apart from Mr Murungaru—the thawing relations did not improve.

In January 2006, Hillary Benn, the UK Secretary of State for International Development, was driven to State House to meet President Kibaki. Part of the talks centred on the Githongo Report as he was to later inform parliament.Internally, Kibaki’s government improved the collection of revenue, which rose from Sh200 billion to Sh400 billion and the Kenya Revenue Authority coined the slogan Kulipa Ushuru ni Kujitegemea.

In most of his public addresses, Kibaki suavely told off donors who had kept off budgetary support insisting that Kenyans were able to finance 95 per cent of their budgetary requirement. While the corruption allegations failed to have a global impact, Benn was to make an admission in parliament that there was little they could do on Kenya.

“I do not foresee the corruption allegations making a significant impact on international assistance in the short term. Most of the development agencies, including DFID, believe that just because poor people live in a country where corruption is a major problem, it does not mean that they do not deserve our assistance,” he told parliament in June last year.

Six months later he quipped: “The Government of Kenya is clearly not tackling corruption as effectively as they could and we need to adopt a co-ordinated and common response across the donor community. Direct budget support is not appropriate for Kenya …”

But by opting to engage with “other agencies”, the former colonial power appears to have lost its place over the years and its fortunes dwindled.

While the level of diplomatic contacts may not have deteriorated, Kibaki’s handlers have had little rapport with their British counterparts.

In the world of geo-politics, the recent events may look like backwater, but unlike the Margaret Thatcher years, the relations between UK and Kenya may be at the coldest level.

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