“It’s our turn to eat” – Understanding Corruption Mechanisms in Kenya

It’s Our Turn To Eat – The Story of a Kenyan Whistleblower
Michela Wrong

“It’s our Turn to eat” by Michela Wrong, recounts the story of John Githongo, an eminent Kenyan journalist and anti-corruption activist who entered the Kibaki government in 2002 as chief anti-corruption adviser the President.  As the story relates, in 2005 Githongo comes to the realization that he cannot fight corruption from within State House itself, and flees to England with the intention of denouncing ‘scams’ as an outsider.

John Githongo

The book is not only the story of a man, it is about state-level corruption in Kenya – in all its forms. Wrong incisively describes and accuses the Kenyan Government, corporations, international institutions, and the diplomatic establishment of corruption. More importantly, she digs into Kenya history to understand the roots of this complex system of corruption, resulting in one of the most informative books available about contemporary Kenya.

The book describes the complexity of the tribal system and its importance in understanding the source of scamming, in addition to the importance of state-level corruption. There are 42 tribes in Kenya whose origins far predate colonization. These tribes had long shared or demarcated land and resources. British colonization disrupted the long lasting social equilibrium by allocating land unfairly and imposing an informal caste system on the various tribes.

In the new social configuration, the Kikuyu tribe were constituted as the new elite by virture of being given relatively senior roles in the British administration, with other tribes assigned inferior positions,  For example, Kambas were generally cooks and clerks, and Maasai people became guards. The social status associated with to each of the tribes did not end with decolonization in 1963 and is still part of the national psyche – and competition for power and resources is fierce.

The Kikuyu are the largest tribe in Kenya and the primary inheritors of the postcolonial administration under the presidency of Jomo Kenyatta. Kenyatta made some effort to reduce the differences between tribes.  However, as proportionally more Kikuyus had received British education and were occupying key positions under the British administration, members of this tribe were best placed to to take advantage of the new situation.

Non-Kikuyu Kenyans, especially other major tribes, have never accepted this situation and since independence have worked at attaining power in order to grab resources – the origin of the phrase “It’s our turn to eat”. The book shows how these tribal dynamics feeds the corruption system in Kenya, under the supervision of international stakeholders.

The book is very well written, handling historical facts and anecdotes in a brilliant and enthralling way. Yet, the real strength of the book lies in its ability to lend reason, coherence, and logic to the corruption factors, their mechanisms, and their disastrous consequences for Kenya.

More importantly, the book concludes that even though John Githongo has been celebrated as a national hero, his actions have had almost no impact on stopping corruption in Kenya. Four years after the publication of this bestseller, the situation has barely evolved. The Anglo-leasing scam – one of the biggest corruption scandals in Kenyan history, whose mechanisms are revealed in the book – was just starting to be mentioned in the national newspaper… Under the condition that the names of the officials involved in the embezzlement of billions of dollars remain secret.



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