ODM’s Kosgey resigns following AG approval of corruption case–a step toward the rule of law?

The Nation headlines that Prime Minister Raila Odinga has endorsed Cabinet minister Henry Kosgey’s decision to step aside over corruption charges.

A statement by the spokesman Dennis Onyango said the PM had “endorsed Hon. Kosgey’s request, after consultation with President Mwai Kibaki.”

Mr Kosgey had offered to step aside and said he was ready to face corruption charges.

He appeared in court later Tuesday and denied 12 counts of abuse of office brought against him.

He was released on bail and the case set for mention on March 2.

The move by the Industrialisation minister came only a day after the Attorney-General Amos Wako approved his arrest and prosecution over the importation of over-age cars.

Mr Kosgey told journalists that he had written to President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga offering to step aside from his ministerial duties until the car imports matter is dealt with.

He thereafter surrendered to the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (Kacc).

Mr Kosgey is also the national chairman of the PM’s political party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). He was also last month named as one of six top Kenyans named by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Louis Moreno-Ocampo as a key suspect in the post election violence that rocked the country after the disputed 2007 presidential election.

He becomes the third member of the Cabinet currently out of office on corruption allegations. The others are Moses Wetangula who had the Foreign Affairs portfolio and William Ruto who headed Higher Education.

Mr Wetangula is under investigations over the sale of Kenya’s embassy building in Tokyo, while Mr Ruto is facing court charges over the sale of public land.

This looks to me to be a sign of progress toward the rule of law in Kenya. While active resistance continues regarding addressing the post election violence, in this situation the KACC initiated a request to prosecute a high-ranking government official of important standing politically and was given the green light by the Attorney General who would normally be expected to sit on something of this nature. Like the other corruption cases, starting and finishing are two different things, but it does appear that the present environment has changed enough that the KACC has some actual clout as well as the will to bring cases forward.

Here is the AP report in the New York Times.

Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission steps up; Kibaki reverts to form; TJRC fails

News from Kenya suggests that a fresh breeze has finally started to stir on the corruption front. Nairobi Mayor Majiwa was forced to resign in the wake of his arrest on corruption charges, after initially vowing to stay on duty.

“The Big Story” yesterday in the Daily Nation reveals that the Anti-Corruption Commission, the KACC, has begun new efforts to recover from overseas proceeds from the massive and notorious Anglo-Leasing and Goldenburg fraud schemes and probe additional ministries in current scandals. The Commission has written seeking formal assistance from the US, the UK and Switzerland. The Commission cleared away through a successful appeal a 2007 court ruling that it did not have authority to seek such foreign cooperation, with the Court of Appeals finding the argument that persuaded the lower court to be “idle”. Today, we have the detail that PLO Lumumba, KACC head, says that they are investigating four ministers and at least 45 heads of parastatals.

Nonetheless, President Kibaki appointed George Saitoti, his minister of Internal Security since January 8, 2008 during the post-election violence and a longtime insider, to the additional portfolio of Interim Foreign Minister. As I have noted previously, Saitoti was implicated by human rights groups in Moi-era election violence. He previously stepped aside as Education Minister as suspect in Goldenberg investigations, although the High Court ruled that he should not be prosecuted and he was reinstated. The BBC said at the time:

The court rejected the conclusions of an earlier commission of inquiry that recommended Mr Saitoti’s prosecution over the so-called Goldenberg affair.

The $1bn scam in the 1990s involved government payments to a company for non-existent gold and diamond exports.

Mr Saitoti was serving at the time as finance minister and vice-president.

The court ruled that Mr Saitoti had been acting according to procedure when he approved a payment to the firm Goldenberg International.

The court also noted the attorney-general had cleared Mr Saitoti of wrongdoing in a statement that he issued in parliament more than a decade ago.

“Today marks my happiest day in the last 16 years because during that period I have gone through much pain and suffering,” Mr Saitoti said after the judgement.

Both Mr Saitoti and former President Daniel arap Moi, in whose administration he served, have denied any knowledge of the scam.

For further perspective on the status of corruption and the middle class in Kenya, I highly recommend John Githongo’s inaugural post today on his “The State of Hope” blog: “Colonial Spoils Recycled as New Money”.

In this context, a crucial part of the 2008 settlement and “Reform Agenda”, the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission, has completely derailed over the continued clinging to power of Ambassador Bethwel Kiplagat. The American member loudly resigned, neither Parliament nor foreign donors will pay to operate the Commission, and the public obviously has expressed no confidence.

Wetangala Resigns

Tom Maliti has the AP story on the Foreign Minister’s resignation here.

NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenya’s foreign minister said Wednesday he is resigning to allow investigations into allegations of a multimillion dollar scandal involving five Kenyan embassies in Africa, Europe and Asia.

Moses Wetangula’s announcement came less than an hour before parliament was to continue debate on a committee report that investigated the sale or purchase of Kenyan embassies, land and other property in Belgium, Egypt, Japan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The committee said Wetangula deliberately misinformed them about the transactions and called for him to step aside. The report’s most serious allegation is that Kenya paid too much money for land to build a new embassy in Tokyo. It claims Kenya lost 1.1. billion shillings ($14.2 million) in the transaction.

"I want to tell Kenyans with a clear conscience that this afternoon I have made the personal decision to step aside from my responsibility and appointment as minister of foreign affairs," Wetangula said in a televised statement shortly after his most senior bureaucrat resigned.

The suspension of William Ruto to face January trial over an old KANU era land deal has obviously been major news, but Ruto has obviously made himself a target for both Kibaki and Raila, who both continued to do business with him during the years this case has been outstanding. The arrest of Nairobi’s mayor, at the instance of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, over the city’s recent purchase of unsuitable land at an apparently inflated price, and the activism in Parliament on the embassy deals leading to Wetangala’s resignation suggest something more, a willingness to act against current corruption in real time. There seems to be a contrast here with the handling of the primary education funding and maize scandals under the Government of National Unity pre-referendum.

It is vital not to overreact to "the news of the day" on these systemic issues in Kenya, but I do think this seems hopeful.

Kenya Referendum Slugfest One Month Out and other news

“‘No’ Team Attacks U.S. Envoy Over New Kenya Law” Daily Nation, July 2

My take: the Referendum campaign continues to get messier. And we are not helping, having not learned our lesson from the last election. Ranneberger endorsed the draft constitution, then the Administration backed off, after GOP Congressmen complained, raising the tenuous issue of U.S. legal restrictions on “lobbying for abortion” overseas–muddying the waters by not addressing the matter clearly. With the Biden visit and Obama speech on KBC, the official line was that we were not trying to tell Kenyans how they should vote, but were offering inducements if they did vote yes. Now Ranneberger is again making himself an issue in the yes/no campaign in Kenya directly. At this point, I think we (the United States) need to be very concerned about a non-violent and free election and a credible and accepted result, which is the thing of foremost importance. I think the proposed constitution has important positives and am concerned that missing the opportunity to pass this now could be very unfortunate, but Kenyans have to decide this for themselves–and frankly I do not think that they are more likely to vote “yes” because the Ambassador gets mixed up in it.

If many of Kibaki’s circle of ministers are “watermelons”, green on the outside but red on the inside, are we “kiwis”, brown and fuzzy on the outside and green on the inside (and foreign)? Could we be straightforward and consistent, just to try it out and see if that works better than what happened last time?

Certainly the Administration sent another very mixed signal by extending Ranneberger’s tenure again.

Some links of interest:

“House’s Special Gift to Kenyans in Choice to Lead Anti-Graft Agency” Kwamchetsi Makokha spoofs the nomination of P.L.O. Lumumba to head the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, Daily Nation, July 2

“Fear and Loathing in Nairobi” John Githongo writes in the new Foreign Affairs (subscription).

ABC News: “Some of the Best Paid Politicians in the World are in . . . Kenya???”

“Jeffrey Gettleman: Reporting from Nairobi” on NPR’s Fresh Air

“Current Conditions and U.S. Policy in the Horn of Africa”, Congressional Testimony by Ted Dagne of CRS, June 17