Mayors came and went at City Hall, and Presidents at State House, but Githongo Snr remained lead auditor of the City Council, one of the Republic’s most corruption riddled institutions, issuing a clean bill of health across four decades…
IN EARLY 2003, Leader of the Official Opposition Uhuru Kenyatta arrived in feisty mood at the first luncheon of a British-American business association in Nairobi for that year.
Already fortified with not a few tots of his favourite tipple, the Glenfiddich Special Reserve 12-year-old, single malt whisky, Uhuru rose to address the gathering and caught sight of the bulky form of John Githongo, the newly-installed State House-based PS for Ethics and Governance, in the Hilton Hotel. To his surprise, Githongo was speaking rapidly into a mobile phone and putting away his laptop at the same time.
Frowning, Uhuru called out to Githongo, “just a minute, John. Don’t go just yet. You’ll want to hear this!”
Githongo grinned broadly, pocketed his mobile, picked up his laptop bag and strode out of the luncheon.
Shrugging irritably, Uhuru launched into his now infamous speech accusing President Mwai Kibaki of a failure to “lead from the front”, of being a “see nothing, do nothing” Head of State and Government. The daily newspapers and FM stations went wild with excitement, with the Standard giving Uhuru Page One treatment.
As he left the function later that afternoon, Uhuru was heard to mutter angry words against Githongo’s walkout antics to the CEO of the Uhuru Kenyatta Secretariat, his first cousin Kathleen Kihanya, who wasn’t amused either. After all, how dare the son of the Jomo Kenyatta family’s one-time auditor and one of the longest serving PSs in the first post-Independence administration walk out on Jomo’s scion at such a moment of eloquent triumph just like that?
Unknown to Uhuru and Kihanya, Githongo was already embarked on his own project against the Kibaki Administration, working from deep within, that would make Uhuru’s so-called leadership of the Official Opposition look like the real “see-nothing-do-nothing” deal. But that afternoon he dashed off on a highly personal errand on behalf of his father.
Githongo Senior served Jomo Kenyatta as both auditor of the first Presidential fortune ever amassed in Kenya and Permanent Secretary in a number of key ministries, emerging from the first administration with a fortune of his own. In his strategic position as a faithful retainer to Kenya’s founding First Family, Githongo Snr cultivated many friendships and entered into many a long-term lucrative deal.
On the afternoon that Githongo rushed from the Nairobi Hilton and missed Uhuru’s set-piece attack on the President, he dashed off to a confrontation with a number of thoroughly intimidated City Hall officials who had been dodging an encounter with him for weeks. They had finally been cornered in a CBD coffeehouse by the powerful PS’s spy-enforcers. When Githongo entered the café, lugging his high-powered laptop and frowning like thunder, the three city fathers almost had a collective heart attack.
By the time Githongo Jnr finished with the three, a number of lucrative auditing contracts that Githongo Snr’s firm — BDO Githongo & Company, Certified Public Accountants, Kenya (CPA-K) — had with City Hall and which had been increasingly called into question were safe again, at least for the time being. But another firm, the insurer Invesco, belonging to the Kuguru family of Mathira, Nyeri, was in serious trouble. Githongo had launched investigations into Invesco’s role as insurer of City Hall and he was going for the Kugurus with both barrels blazing.
The cowering City Hall officials informed Githongo that the then Minister for Local Government, the abrasive Karisa Maitha, was not only the man behind the controversial Invesco Sh45 million contract, but also the arch enemy of everything that Githongo & Co, CPA-K, stood for at City Hall. Githongo went ballistic, leaving the café fuming. “I could swear there was smoke coming out of his ears,” one of the officials says today, adding, “We could tell at once that Minister Maitha was in deep trouble."
Just how deep Maitha’s trouble was became clear over the next one year, culminating in his death, apparently of a heart attack, during a tour of Germany in which Githongo appeared on the fringes. The first volley against Maitha came in the form of an extraordinary attack on the floor of Parliament by a combination of LDP and Kanu MPs who were clearly reading from a script prepared by the State House-based PS. Insisting that Maitha must quit over the Invesco affair, such MPs as Billow Kerrow (Mandera West, Kanu), Musa Sirma (Eldama Ravine, Kanu) Otieno Kajwang' (Mbita, Narc) and Abdi Sasura (Saku, Kanu) tabled abuse-of-office allegations against which they claimed, in pure Githongo phraseology, met “the legal definition of corruption”.
Maitha defended himself vigorously, demonstrating, for instance, that Kerrow was clearly embarking on a personal vendetta because of disciplinary action he had taken against his first cousin, one Abdi Billow, who until a month previously was the Director of the Inspectorate Department in the Ministry. Maitha also pointed significantly out: "Mr. Musa Sirma was an Assistant Local Government Minister for three years and Mr. Sasura is Mr Kerrow's cousin. They do not have the moral authority to point fingers at me."
Then Nairobi Mayor Joe Aketch rushed to Maitha’s defence, challenging anyone with information and evidence to prove that he was corrupt to table it.
In August 2004, Maitha, who was in a delegation to Germany, dropped dead in the middle of a media interview. Githongo was also in Europe at the time and had spent some time mixing with Maitha’s delegation on and off in both Britain and Germany, including staying in the same hotel(s) as Maitha. To this day, there is quiet speculation about this extraordinary coincidence, and it is not confined to conspiracy theorists. It is the depth of the enmity between Githongo and Maitha concerning BDO Githongo & Co CPA-K’s lucrative City Hall contracts that feeds the speculation to this day. Significantly, it was around this time that Githongo began to confide to his few friends that he suspected he might be arrested on unspecified trumped-up charges.
Two years and one month later, Githongo was still on that nagging theme. On Sunday, September 3, 2006, in the United States, addressing the Kenya Community Abroad Annual Conference, Githongo actually identified August 2004 as the time he first knew the game was up for him:
“By the end of August 2004 it had become clear to me that my time as an anti-corruption official in the Kenya Government was reaching a close. I remember asking a fellow official for his advise and he told me … prepare to be moved to the Ministry of Cooperatives or charged with one offence or the other…”
One of the greatest ironies of Githongo’s career as “Kenya’s Graft Buster No. 1” is the fact that he was brought up very substantially on the proceeds of crooked accounting of both the amassing of the Kenyatta fortune and sleaze at the Nairobi City Council. City Hall has from about 1970, when Githongo was aged five, been one of the Republic’s most corrupt and thieving institutions. And a very large part of that corruption involved cooking the books with the full cooperation of the auditors — literally for decades.
Mayoral regimes came and went at City Hall and presidential administrations came and went at State House, but BDO Githongo & Co CPA-K remained a permanent fixture as the capital city’s civic auditors. And Githongo Snr consistently gave the successive thieves of City Hall a clean bill of health, audit-wise. But when Githongo Snr’s Enron-like scam at City Hall was questioned by a number of conscientious souls who assumed that a new regime and a son who was anti-corruption tsar would surely make a difference, the PS swooped down on them from his perch at State House like a hawk on frightened chickens.
How did all this escape the Kenyan media’s attention? With Githongo’s lock on the Nation Media Group as a special global correspondent who from time to time offers NMG world exclusives on Kenya’s “New Corruption”, and with every other editor in this town working hard to be in his good books just in case he, or someone at NMG, decides to end the “special relationship” with Nation Centre and he looks elsewhere, the scandal of Githongo Snr’s complicity in vast accounting and auditing fraud across four decades remains one of the great untold stories of Kenya’s investigative journalism.
Githongo, ever the consummate forward-planner and British Intelligence mole, locked up the Nairobi media through such devices as the two weeks of journalism training for Kenyan sub-editors and reporters held in 2004, funded by the British High Commission and led by consultants Nick Gordon and Steve Hoselitz. "The object of our campaign is to make zero tolerance of corruption part of everyday culture," Githongo told the 32 journalists and invited guests who participated in the workshops, adding, "Collaboration with the media is therefore one of the seven critical pillars of the government strategy against corruption." The workshop had been opened by none other than the then British High Commissioner, Edward Clay, who invited Githongo to present the participants with certificates at the end of the course.
When Uhuru Kenyatta led a Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) delegation to the Kenya High Commission in London for an encounter with the self-exiled Githongo and listened to his spy tapes and examined his documents on the Anglo Leasing affair last year, two princes of illicit fortunes first amassed when Jomo Kenyatta ran an Imperial Presidency in Kenya came face-to-face, with many a nod and a wink. This time neither walked out on the other.