In his new book, ‘The Native Son’: Experiences of a Kenyan Entrepreneur, Joseph Barrage Wanjui — or simply Joe Wanjui — one of Kenya’s most influential businessmen and political advisors, suggests that anti-corruption czar John Githongo may have been working as a spy for a foreign government when he recorded and leaked conversations with senior Cabinet ministers in 2006.
‘The Native Son’ is largely framed as “a celebration of the spirit of free enterprise; an insight into the
policies and philosophies that drive business, trade and industry”, but it also inevitably captures some of the country’s most critical political moments.
Wanjui is scathing in his description of John Githongo, the Narc anti-
corruption czar who would later metamorphosise into a whistle-blower — or traitor of some sort to Kibaki’s Government.
By way of background, Wanjui also reveals a “little- known secret” about the origins of Transparency
International, the respected global anti-corruption watchdog: it was conceived in Kenya before Europe
“The concept had germinated during informal discussions held in the 1980s in the Spring Valley suburb of Nairobi where I live. One of my
neighbours Peter Eigen was the then World Bank representative in Nairobi,” he says.
Wanjui writes that it was during these chat-and- drink sessions, mostly at Eigen’s house, that the TI
idea was developed out of concern about the high level of corruption in developing countries, which Western governments then seemed to tolerate for the benefit of their companies.
Upon leaving the World Bank, Eigen led the formation of TI in 1993 with its headquarters in Berlin, Germany.
Among the small Spring Valley group was Harris Mule and Joe Githongo — John Githongo’s father.
Githongo senior would later become a founding member of the TI board while Wanjui would be appointed to the advisory council.
But the author says forming the local TI chapter was a struggle with the “application gathering dust in the
attorney-general’s chambers” for five years until 1998.
Wanjui admits he was later influential in the appointment of Githongo Jnr as TI director, and
treated him more as a son than an employee.
“I knew he was not married and I would always urge him to take the plunge. I would also advise him to stop living in rented premises and invest in buying his own apartment since he was being paid a good salary,” writes Wanjui.
But this father-son relationship started unravelling in 2003 after Githongo Jnr was appointed the
Governance and Ethics PS under Narc.
As Githongo Jnr got to work at State House, Wanjui says they often spoke but did not get into the details of the
“What I remember him doing most of the time he came along was to mutter something in Kikuyu to the effect that “ni kuhiu” (things are hot) which I took to mean he was encountering resistance in the
course of his work,” he writes.
Githongo Jnr was to later spectacularly fall out with the Narc administration in 2006 over the Anglo Leasing scandal, which he alleged some senior State officials were involved in.
He resigned and fled to London fearing for his life.
He later leaked to the BBC recorded conversations with then Justice Minister Kiraitu Murungi and
released a dossier suggesting high-level corruption.
In The Native Son, Wanjui does not hide his disdain for Githongo Jnr for being unethical by secretly recording conversations with people who trusted him in their “unguarded moments”.
“I can imagine the raw, personal feelings of betrayal of those who found out they had been surreptitiously taped by John. The authority who gave John the State House job (President Kibaki)
must have felt equally betrayed,” he writes.
Wanjui contends that from the experience of his long career as a CEO, he believed that even “whistle-blowing is done with some decorum”,blaming his erstwhile “son” for approaching the
government job with an “activist’s mind”.
He further suggests Githongo Jnr was not the hero some lionised him to be and could at best be still an unpatriotic or at worst a spy.
“In this day and age,it is not far-fetched to speculate on agencies and foreign powers who would be intensely interested in knowing what happens daily in State House from a
high office stationed there,” writes Wanjui.
The author says his worst feeling of betrayal came after he read Michella Wrong’s ‘It’s Our Turn to Eat’.
He is particularly unhappy with the narrative that the TI board, which he was part of, “delivered” Githongo Jnr to the “lion’s den” of State House as a “sacrificial lamb” so that the government could let its guard down on the workings and hawkish watch of TI on state corruption.
Wanjui takes issue with claims that he and his friends — supposedly part of a group variously referred to in Wrong’s book as the “Mount Kenya
Mafia”, “Democratic Party founder members”,“Muthaiga Golf Club members” or “Gema”—“quaffed Champagne” after supposedly fixing
The chapter on corruption and Githongo is particularly relevant at a time when the Anglo Leasing scandal that almost brought down the
Kibaki administration is back in the limelight.
President Uhuru Kenyatta recently allowed the payment of Sh1.4 billion to two companies with links to the controversial contracts.
There are reports of further demands amounting to Sh3 billion.
And in the end Wanjui makes it clear there is no love lost between him and Githongo Jnr.
He did not attend the younger man’s wedding and they have never spoken since Githongo returned to Kenya
“In retrospect, I cannot honestly say my role in recommending John’s appointment to government was one of my proudest moments,” he notes.
“The African Story as told by Africans”.©African News Digest®