Seems to me it’s time for an open update for American and other Friends on the struggle against theft and corruption in Quaker institutions and programs in Kenya. This question has been growing on me in recent months, but I figured maybe there had been one and I missed it. But it was brought back to mind by some recent news reports.
Did anybody else see these BBC stories?
13 December 2009
The UK government has frozen funding for free primary education in Kenya until an investigation into fraud allegations has been carried out. The Department for International Development said no more money would be released until $1m (£615,000) thought to be missing had been accounted for.
Kenyan media suggest the total of the alleged missing funds may be larger. The money was supposed to go towards building new classrooms and buying text books in impoverished parts of Kenya. The funds are said to have disappeared earlier this year.
This story was soon followed by . . .
26 January 2010
The US has suspended $7m of funding for free primary schools in Kenya until fraud allegations are investigated, the US ambassador in Nairobi has said. Michael Ranneberger says “credible action” must be taken on claims that 110m shillings (£900,000; $1.4m) were siphoned off a free-education fund.
The US move comes a month after the UK government pulled out of the project. Kenya is ranked as East Africa’s most corrupt country by campaign group Transparency International.
The US has been pushing for reform in Kenya since deadly violence swept the country after an election in 2007. Although the violence was primarily political and ethnic, US officials have highlighted underlying causes such as corruption and weak institutions.
Future ‘in the balance’
And this story was soon followed by this one:
By Will Ross
BBC News, Nairobi
16 February 2010
Ongoing political wrangling in Kenya’s coalition government is having a major detrimental effect on its fight against corruption, a lobbying group warns. Transparency International warned Kenya risked turning into a failed state. A rift in the fragile power-sharing government developed after PM Raila Odinga announced the suspension of two ministers after corruption scandals. President Mwai Kibaki annulled the suspensions, saying the Mr Odinga did not have the power to take the action. The head of Transparency International in Kenya, Job Ogonda, said the political dispute in Kenya’s coalition government was sending out a very dangerous message. It was showing that the struggle for power was more important than the fight against corruption and this, he said, would have dire consequences come the next election.
“In 2012 it’s very likely we’re going to have a meltdown,” said Mr Ogonda. “We have the significant risk that Kenya will be generating to a failed state. “This is how[civil wars] in Sierra Leone and indeed Liberia were fomented: the executive being eliminated and oblivious for the failed state risks that corruption causes especially where the population is young, educated and unemployed”.
Plagued by scandal
Fighting corruption in Kenya is a difficult – some would say impossible – task. Mr Ogonda said his staff had been threatened on several occasions. While he said some Kenyan politicians had built a reputation through professionalism and accountability, he was on the whole scathing of the political elite.
“Within parliament you find a new breed of leaders who are committed to the good governance of this country, but the vast majority of the people who wield immense power are definitely fraudsters,” he said. Kenya has in the past been plagued by huge corruption scandals, but punishing the perpetrators is very rare. Whilst the political dispute in Kenya has halted the suspension of two ministers, Job Ogonda said if they were to be suspended it would send out a positive message and would help end a deeply entrenched culture of impunity.
Now, these reports don’t mention Quakers. However, they echo many Friends concerns about fraud and theft of Quaker funds there, especially donations from the US and UK. Every time I have spoken or written in public forum (and the speaking goes back a couple decades), I am given assurances that “something is being done,” and urged, overtly or covertly, to shush and go along.
(A major piece on this was called, “Wrestling With a Roomful of Elephants,” posted on an earlier version of this blog — good grief — more than three years ago.) And while I ‘m sure some good folks are working on it, I wasn’t able to locate any reports about that online that were less than about four years old.
Friends United Meeting is the largest such donor from the US, and the chronic problems have centered there. Its website has an unusually candid report on the history of the Friends Hospital at Kaimosi, once the pride of the Quaker missionary labor there, which was run into the ground by fraud and theft, not just once but again and again, til it had to be shut down. FUM reports that it is committed to resurrecting the hospital, as an enterprise marked not only by US-Kenyan cooperation, but also “partnership, mutual accountability, transparency, capacity building, and local ownership”.
All very well. But the report’s information does not appear to include anything after January 2006, four years ago. How’s it going, eh?
And how’s the overall effort to root out corruption in Kenyan Quaker projects? The other reports on the FUM website do not mention the topic, at least not that I could see. So answers to questions about updates don’t seem to be very plentiful.
Another source, Dave Zarembka, has also been more than typically candid when the subject was surfaced. And he has written many reports from Kenya, related to his work with the African great Lakes Initiative. However, the most recent report on that site is from October of 2009, and does not address these concerns. Too bad, as the recent news from the larger Kenyan scene is worrisome indeed.
So who will fill us in?