Michela Wrong, author of a noted new book on Kenya, came to IPI on August 11, 2009 to promote its publication and to share with a large, mostly-African audience, her concerns about the country.
“I’m extremely worried about Kenya and its future,” she said, adding that since the post-election violence in 2008 “people are just waiting and they’re saying, ‘We’ll sort this all out in at the next elections.’ And when they say, ‘Sort this all out,’ they don’t mean in a good way, they mean we will finish round 2, which is a very stupid way of thinking because we all know that nothing is sorted out when you resort to that kind of violence on the ground. You just create a whole generation of new problems.”
The book, It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower, portrays the actions of a remarkable Kenyan official, John Githongo, who took seriously his new job of being the government’s anti-corruption czar and had to flee the country for his life as a consequence.
Ms. Wrong is the author of two previous Africa books – one on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the other on Eritrea – and her new one draws conclusions that extend beyond the borders of Kenya and depict problems of a continental scope.
“The issues in this book – ethnic favoritism, ethnic tension, the whole clash of generational values – I think they apply to so many African countries,” she said.
The book also gives examples where Western donors and international organizations like the World Bank and the IMF recklessly underestimated the power of corruption and ethnic favoritism to undermine the good governance they sought to promote.
“The verdict’s pretty damning that at every step of the way they adopted a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ approach towards corruption and didn’t see that that form of corruption also had implications when it came to the stability of the country as a whole,” she said.
In the book, Ms. Wrong notes that at the time a secret high-level $750 million government scandal that John Githongo unearthed was becoming known, the UN gave Kenya its annual public service award. The award recognizes “improving transparency, accountability and responsiveness in the public sector.”
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