Monday, May 14, 2007

Corruption obsessions: John Githongo & Bob Munro

“I’ve always been fascinated by the connection between corruption and politics. It starts from the top and ends at the top.”

— John Githongo

THE BBC admiringly called John Githongo the “new high priest of good governance” when President Mwai Kibaki appointed him Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President in charge of Ethics and Governance, complete with an office at State House, Nairobi. The bombastic praise went straight to then 38-year-old Kenyan’s head.

Before he appointed Githongo, President Kibaki was known to be as clean as a whistle and not even a whisper of corruption allegations had ever been raised, by both friend and foe, in a political career spanning four decades. However, three years into the Kibaki Administration, Githongo had already fled from State House and Kenya and made the President the addressee of a rambling dossier in which he referred to “our Administration” and accused Kibaki’s inner circle of all manner of corruption. It was as if Githongo was telling the President: “Get rid of everybody around you who has really mattered to you for years and let’s you and I (and a few friends of mine from London) run the show in Kenya from now on. Or else...”

Not since Lucifer whispered into Jesus’ ear in the wilderness about helping Him acquire dominion as far as the eye could see was such an easily refused offer made.

As of November 2005 not even Githongo had alleged that President Kibaki was complicit in corruption. In fact, his stance then was that although he had run away to Britain, he and the President were still somehow enjoined in “our Administration”.

But the year 2006 brought about a subtle shift in attitude from Githongo towards the President. Githongo & Co (mainly former British envoy Sir Edward Clay) began to imply heavily that the President himself is complicit in corruption (if only by omission, because no really fat cats had been prosecuted and convicted over graft). No big-time fat cats of corruption have been prosecuted and convicted in Britain over the same period either and the fact that the OECD countries are becoming as critical (minus the hypocrisy, of course) of Britain in this regard as London pretends to be about Nairobi is carefully hidden from the vast majority of Kenyans.

It is precisely because of such twists and turns in the Githogo saga that many of his admirers in the West have long saluted his “creativity”, “boldness” and “audacity”. To them, it looks like complexity. But those who really know the runaway anti-graft tsar well often note that the man runs too much on adrenalin, adding the rider that he has long stretches of running on empty and that this will ultimately be his undoing. Nonetheless, at his adrenaline-pumping best, Githongo has an extraordinary hold on those few people who count themselves as his true friends, mostly Kenya-based expatriates and busybody “internationalist” members of the Tony Blair New Labour elite.

Among Kenya-based expatriates, Githongo has no greater disciple than one Bob Munro, chairman of the Mathare United Football Club, who came to Africa in 1985 and has reinvented himself as a senior consultant on environmental policy matters. Githongo and Munro met recently in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the Play the Game forum, a conference billed as being “for all who care about sport: a unique forum for sports debate for journalists, academics and sports leaders who care about sport and what is happening to it”. Play the Game was held from 6th to 10th of November, 2006, and focused on various dimensions of the theme “Governance in Sport: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”.

In terms of finger-pointing, “I Accuse”, hypocritical mindset, Munro is a complete Githongo clone who specialises in seeing corruption everywhere and in every human transaction in which he is either not on the winning side or in control-freak charge. Munro, using pure Githongo holier-than-thou phraseology in a speech that sounded as if they had co-written it, told the meeting that “a combination of complacency and criminal intent” resulted in a “culture of corruption” in Kenyan football, “spreading to all levels of the game” when former Coca Cola marketing executive Maina Kariuki took over the Kenya Football Federation (KFF). Today, Munro is himself the focus of a graft probe. Sitting in Munro’s audience in Copenhagen was Githongo himself, having made the journey from his British exile specifically to meet one Bob.

Mathare United was launched in 1994, a couple of years before Githongo himself would register on thinking Kenyans’ radar as a columnist for the EastAfrican weekly newspaper. Soon, Munro noticed that MU, which had won promotion to the National Super League in three years flat, was losing away matches at an alarming rate. He “investigated” and discovered to his consternation that the real reason the club was performing so poorly away from home was bribery and corruption! This was the tale he told the Copenhagen forum, without batting an eye.
Play the Game reported approvingly on what Munro alleged he did next: “However, in the 1998 season, United tried a new tactic. The coach started taking along a large video camera to away games, and conspicuously pointing it at match officials as the game was in progress. Soon, Mathare United’s dismal ‘away jinx’ became a distant memory, and promotion to Kenya’s Premier League was assured. As Munro later revealed to Play the Game, the club’s biggest secret was that the camera did not work.”

When Munro and his MU Board decided that the “corruption” had become too much they talked 11 other teams into quitting the KFF and setting up their own league. On Munro’s Board at that time was, among others, one John Githongo, another “corruption” obsessive whose obsession would not kick into high gear until five years later as a State House-based PS.

On Munro’s Board at the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) last year, among others, was one John Githongo. When Munro addressed the Play the Game forum in Copenhagen, he singled Githongo out for special mention and both of them condemned Maina Kariuki anew before an international audience.

Munro paid tribute to Githongo, informing the Copenhagen audience that he was a “former adviser to the President of Kenya, who was forced into exile in early 2005”. He told the gathering that it was due to Githongo’s “tireless efforts” that Kariuki and other former top KFF officials “were charged in July 2004 with the theft of over KSh55 million ($740,000)”.

What neither Munro nor Githongo told the Copenhagen forum was that both conspired to misuse the Ethics and Governance PS’s position to assert their agenda in certain sections of Kenyan football (mainly the youth leagues), settle scores and perpetuate vendetta.

What neither Munro nor Githongo is prepared to tell any international forum any time soon is the fact that there exists a different kind of corruption, a breaching of ethical values in sports, at MYSA itself from the sort of allegations against the Kariuki team that were fast-tracked with such indecent haste by the then anti-graft tsar from his perch at State House — moral corruption. The story is just emerging of how Munro, a man of highly suspect sexuality who has spent much of his free time over the years in and around the locker rooms of football, athletics and other sporting clubs/associations, made gifts in VHS and DVD formats of the gay comedy movie Guys and Balls to highly embarrassed Kenyan-African heterosexual players.

Guys and Balls is about an amateur soccer team made up of homosexual players. When the hero, the goalkeeper, is criticised by the rest of the team after they catch him in a compromising position with another player, he leaves in a huff and assembles a squad of his own, made up of oddballs, misfits and another prospective lover. Former Mathare United players and MYSA members are quietly telling anyone who will listen that this obnoxious comedy is both John Githongo’s and Bob Munro’s all-time favourite movie. “It was their favourite Christmas gift in 2006. They must have sent out a whole shipping container worth of Guys and Balls DVDs to their friends, and those they fancy, in Kenya, the UK and at the Copenhagen Play the Game forum,” one disgusted MYSA member says.

Coming to Munro’s rescue by hanging the albatross of long-term corruption allegations around Kariuki’s neck was not the only misuse of office that Githongo, the man who sees corruption everywhere except in his own corner, engaged in when he was in office. The story of how he intervened severally on his father’s behalf from within State House, riding roughshod over every laid-down procedure and protocol in a number of deals ranging from City Hall to the Department of Defence, is an eye-opening chapter in itself…