Kenya Corruption- Followup #1

kenyan shillingsA Friend wrote privately about the previous report about US & UK funding agencies withholding donations to schools in Kenya because of rampant corruption.  Kenyan Quakers operate many schools, and for the sake of clarity, the articles I quoted did not directly allege that Quaker schools had been stealing US and UK funds.

Rather, the unfortunate patterns of thievery involving some Kenyan Quakers (mainly older “leaders”) have been around since long before this current educational crisis, and some are, I fear, continuing. They involve other institutions, particularly the once-thriving Kaimosi Friends Hospital, which was plundered repeatedly by many who held responsible positions.

Unfortunately, such corruption is a very widespread problem in Kenya. The international monitoring group “Transparency International” publishes an annual ranking of countries in terms of public corruption, and year after year, alas, Kenya ranks very near the bottom.

Also unfortunately, there have been many US-based Quaker officials, mainly associated with Friends United Meeting, involved in the missionary enterprise who played an enabling role in this corruption. They did not steal funds themselves, but turned a blind eye to it, and helped keep information about it from reaching the donors here.

Even now, while current FUM staff insist they are “working on” the problem, reporting on the efforts and the results is very sparse, which leaves some, like me, to suspect that there is less progress than there ought to be.

I hope I might be wrong about this; but extended silence about what may be underway does nothing to dispel my uneasiness. Indeed, it only feeds it.

In my yearly meeting, I have spoken of being unwilling to send our group’s funds to Kenyan Quaker projects without clear explanations of how the integrity of the funds delivery and use can be assured.

There are some theological issues between my yearly meeting and Friends United Meeting, but this concern does not involve them.

“Thou Shalt Not Steal” applies to all versions of Christianity I know anything about. It also applies as much to mission projects as to domestic ones.

And beyond theology, it does not serve justice, or economic “development,” to be silent about thievery, or to be less than thorough in rooting it out.

Ikenya 200 urge other concerned Friends to raise their voices for more disclosure as well.

One thought on “Kenya Corruption- Followup #1”

  1. It frustrates me when we Friends, with our testimony of integrity, operate as if our tiny scale renders us exempt from the normal scrutiny (imperfect as it may be) of journalism and the general public.

    Four specific comments on Chuck’s call for more transparency on corruption in the Quaker world, particularly in Kenya.

    1) Cultural expectations don’t excuse corruption, but they help explain the specific forms corruption takes in specific places. I’d argue that corruption I grew up hearing about in Cook County, Illinois, was just as “bad” as corruption in Kenya. Let’s guard against an unintended implication that those of us outside Kenya (sheltered as we often are by the safety nets of affluence) are better than Kenyans.

    2) I appreciated the efforts of Quakers in Kenya, including some involved with Friends United Meeting leadership, in proposing a set of ethical principles a few years ago. I covered it here: http://johanpdx.blogspot.com/2006/03/on-giving-and-receiving.htm –adding a few suggestions of my own. I also recommend reading the comments.

    3) Here’s a specific plea to Friends organizations drawn from my comments in that post, one that I wish I didn’t have to keep making: “Don’t appear to donors and potential donors to be a black box! Issue annual reports, make your financial reports easily available to the partner organizations as well as donors, report governance issues honestly and provide easy access to minutes of meetings. Model the practices you expect to see from your implementing partners.” I’ve got a pile of correspondence with one new institution in Kenya documenting my inability to get straight answers about the institution’s finances. Such information should be given SWIFTLY and GLADLY.

    4) Our zeal to unmask corruption should not cause us to be less careful about reputations in Kenya than we would be about reputations in our own home town or meeting. One reason FUM representatives can’t satisfy our every curiosity about corruption is that they may have had very solid suspicions but little or nothing in the way of proof. Without proof, we’re flirting with libel. This was certainly my dilemma at times when I was at FUM. By the way, there were also at least two cases of Kenyan leaders repenting of shady practices directly to us, and working to make restitution. It does happen!

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