NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Almost $3 billion flow into Kenya each year from crime, corruption and shady business activities, according to new data that indicates that east Africa’s biggest economy is becoming a major international haven for dirty money.
John Githongo, Kenya’s former anti-corruption tsar and the country’s most famous whistleblower, discusses how he sees corruption, money laundering and trafficking evolving in the country.
Q Is the drug problem getting worse in Kenya?
A I had to move out of my apartment partly because of incidents, which were drug-related and involving violence.
The availability of drugs among the middle class has certainly shot up. The prices have gone down. The level of addiction, especially to brown sugar – the roughest form of heroin – those statistics have shot up, especially along the coast.
There is also a strong perception that the number of people who have gone [been elected] to parliament who are associated with this industry has gone up, whose sources of wealth are inexplicable unless you are talking about some illicit sources.
Ironically, the only thing that’s bigger than drugs right now is the trafficking of girls.
Q Human trafficking is a bigger problem?
A Human trafficking, especially the trafficking of girls, is the frontier we have reached with corruption. And it’s the deadliest in my opinion. For the first time since the slave trade, girls are now more profitable as a commodity than heroin or cocaine.
There are gangs kidnapping girls across Asia, across eastern Europe and now in Africa and just selling them like sacks of potatoes.
This isn’t skimming off some road contract. This isn’t some Anglo-Leasing shady deal, which is bad enough. This is a society literally consuming itself.
You have poor parents out in the rural areas who are stuck for school fees and their relatives come and say: ‘We are going to be able to take your daughter to Nairobi, she will get a job’. Next thing she knows she is dancing in a club in the back streets of a European city.
It’s really very ironic in the digital age that we have gone back to the most crude and basic crime that human beings have committed against each other, which is to sell each other.
Q Why is Kenya such an attractive location for trafficking?
A Kenya has always been an ideal transshipment point simply because we are a hub for all trade. Number two, we have a highly sophisticated services sector in insurance, banking, the legal fraternity. Thirdly, we have a situation where corruption has de facto been legalised in Kenya. The operational rule for corruption in Kenya now is don’t get caught.
Q What do you mean, ‘corruption has been legalised in Kenya’?
A Corruption has increased exponentially since 2005. I left government in February 2005. The leadership had dropped the ball by around October 2004. They, in essence, said: ‘Forget it. Let us build roads, develop the country in other ways.’
Once people feel corruption is approved from the top, it goes to the bottom. It spreads down very quickly and becomes much more difficult to deal with. Right now it’s a free for all.
Q Does corruption matter when we are enjoying strong growth?
A Yes, there’s growth. It is accompanied by a level of corruption that is unprecedented in Kenya’s history. And it is degrading our key institutions. The law and order institutions are imploding – under the weight of contradictions wrought by graft and other issues – at a time when we need them more than ever before.
I have been to countries with a lot of growth. Go to Equatorial Guinea. Go to Angola. But it is not something that is equitable.
The growth deepens inequalities that are then politicised and increase volatility and the potential for violence. These realities are coming our way.