Opinion  :: Columns  :: Nairobi Notebook


Donors play differently

Published: 12-MAY-05

The posse of Kenya’s development partners known as the Consultative Group was in town again in April to assess the Government’s record in implementing economic reforms and fighting graft. The Kenya government had asked the World Bank to convene this parley after it was put on the defensive over corruption allegations, which ended with the resignation of the presidential advisor on fighting graft, John Githongo.

It has since been on a diplomatic offensive to convince development partners that its resolve in fighting corruption is as strong as ever.

The Government received a timely boost just before the meeting, with the World Bank stating that it is yet to see evidence of the much-hyped increase in corruption in official circles. The French envoy to Kenya, Hubert Fournier, also issued an upbeat assessment, saying the French Government was satisfied with the Government’s programme of reforms.

For British envoy Edward Clay, this must have sounded like betrayal. Normally donors talk as one and talk tough! In line with this, he had picked several opportunities to voice choice insults at certain cabinet ministers, declaring that looting on an unprecedented scale was taking place within the Government. It has not been lost on most, however, that the man was very quiet indeed about corruption during the ousted former regime when corruption on a grand scale defined the country’s body politic. This was also the period when all contracts involving security projects in Kenya were supplied by British firms.

This has led to accusations that the British envoy had a case of sour grapes, because since the new government has come in, British companies have badly lost out.

As such, the envoys of countries that are now getting the security contracts at the expense of Britain cannot be expected to be very sympathetic. This is probably why at the Consultative Group meeting, the Government had strong supporters among her development partners. Mr Clay himself maintained a very low profile during the meeting. Kenya’s development partners also agreed with the Government’s position that to fight corruption, it was necessary to build strong institutions, and that that was what the Government had been concentrating on. The Government noted further that it had put in place the necessary legislation to fight graft. The development partners, however, stressed that it was now time to move into action.

Of course, the fact that the economy is showing signs of robustness was a big boost to the Government’s case. Real is expected to grow at 3.7% in 2005, up from 2.4% last year.

A much-heralded showdown over corruption failed to materialize, and the Government seems to have overcome the worst from the crisis that had been occasioned by Clay’s outbursts. Even the move by American and German governments to stop financial assistance to the Government’s anticorruption bodies because of Githongo’s resignation now seems to have been hasty and ill-advised. Clearly, nobody wants to upset a turnaround in all spheres of the country’s body politic.

As World Bank country director for Kenya Makhtar Diop pointed out, the current Government had inherited deeprooted problems from the previous regime and it was in the process of economic and political transition.

The Government had issues of its own with donor countries. It wanted them to assist repatriate money stolen by members of the former regime and stashed in Western countries abroad. It said it had identified at least $1bn, which it wanted frozen and returned to Kenya.

The return of these monies would give the Government a healthy kitty for her various development projects. Indeed, on the sidelines of the Consultative Group meeting, churches dismissed as hypocritical the onslaught by Western donor countries against the Kenyan Government, when they were silent over wealth that had been stolen from poor nations and stashed in their banks.

They said that if these countries were as honest as they wanted others to believe, they had to repatriate such money stashed abroad by corrupt African leaders. The development partners maintained a deafening silence on this issue.

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