It's Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower

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In January 2003, Kenya—seen as the most stable country in Africa—was hailed as a model of democracy after the peaceful election of its new president, Mwai Kibaki. By appointing respected longtime reformer John Githongo as anticorruption czar, the new Kikuyu government signaled its determination to end the corrupt practices that had tainted the previous regime. Yet only two years later, Githongo himself was on the run, having discovered that the new administration was ruthlessly pillaging public funds.

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It's Our Turn to Eat

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Overview

In January 2003, Kenya—seen as the most stable country in Africa—was hailed as a model of democracy after the peaceful election of its new president, Mwai Kibaki. By appointing respected longtime reformer John Githongo as anticorruption czar, the new Kikuyu government signaled its determination to end the corrupt practices that had tainted the previous regime. Yet only two years later, Githongo himself was on the run, having discovered that the new administration was ruthlessly pillaging public funds.

"Under former President Moi, his Kalenjin tribesmen ate. Now it's our turn to eat," politicians and civil servants close to the president told Githongo. As a member of the government and the president's own Kikuyu tribe, Githongo was expected to cooperate. But he refused to be bound by ethnic loyalty. Githongo had secretly compiled evidence of official malfeasance and, at great personal risk, made the painful choice to go public. The result was Kenya's version of Watergate.

Michela Wrong's account of how a pillar of the establishment turned whistle-blower, becoming simultaneously one of the most hated and admired men in Kenya, grips like a political thriller. At the same time, by exploring the factors that continue to blight Africa—ethnic favoritism, government corruption, and the smug complacency of Western donor nations—It's Our Turn to Eat probes the very roots of the continent's predicament. It is a story that no one concerned with our global future can afford to miss.

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Editorial Reviews

Caroline Elkins
“Important and illuminating…Reads like a John Le Carré novel…On a deeper and much richer level, it’s an analysis of how and why Kenya descended into political violence.”
Newsweek International
“A tumultuous journey through the official networks of sleaze that drained billions of dollars from Kenya’s coffers... The extent of the fraud, and the level of destruction it wreaked, is shocking…”
Booklist
“Written with the pace of a thriller and a depth of analysis of a nation and a man, this is a compelling look at a nation struggling to overcome its past.”
New York Review of Books
“Wrong’s book is packed with detail and solid sourcing and tells its story clearly.” —Jeffrey Gettleman
New York Times Book Review
“A fast-paced political thriller—with echoes of Graham Greene and John le Carré.... A gripping, thoughtful book.”
The Economist
“A gripping saga…a down-to-earth yet sophisticated expose…a devastating account of how corruption and tribalism reinforce each other.”
Harper's Magazine
“...urgent and important...”
Joshua Hammer
…a fast-paced political thriller—with echoes of Graham Greene and John le Carre…Wrong's gripping, thoughtful book stands as both a tribute to Githongo's courage and a cautionary tale about the dangers of challenging a thoroughly corrupted system.
—The New York Times
Caroline Elkins
Journalist Michela Wrong provides a very important and illuminating account of Kenya's present-day political and economic morass. On one level, It's Our Turn to Eat reads like a John le Carre novel as it traces the cloak-and-dagger maneuverings of Kenya's political bosses, and the heroic but futile attempts of John Githongo—the government's internal, anti-corruption watchdog, and the protagonist of Wrong's account—to stymie them. On a deeper and much richer level, the book is an analysis of how and why Kenya descended into political violence more than a year and a half ago.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Kenya's dysfunctional state is the subject of this gripping profile of an anti-corruption crusader. Journalist Wrong (In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz) tells the story of John Githongo, a journalist and activist (and Wrong's personal friend) who joined newly elected Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki's administration in 2003 as anti-corruption czar. Githongo's reformist hopes were betrayed when his investigation of a contracting scandal earned him the enmity of colleagues, death threats and smear campaigns. He fled to Britain in 2005, taking along secret recordings of conversations in which powerful officials implicated themselves in the scam. Githongo, a charming idealist with an "intransigence bordering on egomania," is a magnetic protagonist for Wrong's exposé of the machinery of corruption. She dissects the deeper problem of Kenya's patronage system, which exploits the state as a source of loot and makes allowances for the tribal parties in power. The resulting graft and discrimination-which Wrong argues fueled the communal slaughter surrounding Kenya's 2007 election-reinforces Kenyans' "view of existence as a merciless contest, in which only ethnic preference offers hope of survival." Githongo's saga highlights this pan-African problem and addresses possibilities for change. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Slate African affairs writer Wrong considers the life of a friend who exposed a Kenyan government-corruption scandal from the inside out. The author met 30-something John Githongo in the mid-'90s after relocating to Nairobi, where both worked as journalists. During the 2002 election, Mwai Kibaki, running on an anti-corruption platform, succeeded much-criticized outgoing President Daniel arap Moi. Kibaki appointed Githongo as Permanent Secretary in Charge of Governance and Ethics, a watchdog role that Wrong cautioned her peer could nullify his party neutrality. Though the imposing Githongo believed he was a perfect fit for the position, little more than a year passed before Wrong began receiving a barrage of messages about the enemies Githongo had accumulated. Soon after he appeared on her doorstep, desperate to resign, alleging major interadministration corruption. Accusations of complicity festered among Kenya's political insiders, followed by a government-sanctioned manhunt. Githongo taped conversations and secured informants who fed him classified information on bribery, scams and weapons procurement. When he launched an aggressive investigation into a leasing-company contracts scandal, Justice Minister Kiraitu Murungi admitted that the company was actually a governmental operation. Wrong makes clear that whistle-blowing often results in the charge of high treason, punishable by death in Kenya. Githongo went into exile in 2005 in Britain, then rallied the media and exposed evidence of what would become known as the Anglo-Leasing scandal. In a well-rounded approach, Wrong dispatches details on her parents' genealogies and worldviews, Githongo's heritage and an extensive discussion ofKenyan government, demographics and the multifarious history of corruption under both the Moi and Kibaki administrations. A solid investigative expose.
Newsweek (International Edition)
"A tumultuous journey through the official networks of sleaze that drained billions of dollars from Kenya’s coffers... The extent of the fraud, and the level of destruction it wreaked, is shocking…"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061346583
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/16/2009
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Michela Wrong has worked as a foreign correspondent for Reuters, the BBC, and the Financial Times. She has written about Africa for Slate.com and is a frequent commentator on African affairs in the media. Her first book, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, won the James Stern Silver Pen Award for Nonfiction. She lives in London.

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Table of Contents

Map viii

Prologue xi

1 The Big Man 1

2 An Unexpected Guest 21

3 Starting Afresh 33

4 Mucking out the Augean Stables 41

5 Dazzled by the Light 65

6 Pulling the Serpent's Tail 77

7 The Call of the Tribe 99

8 Breaking the Mould 121

9 The Making of the Sheng Generation 145

10 Everything Depends on the Boss 163

11 Gorging Their Fill 183

12 A Form of Mourning 205

13 In Exile 227

14 Spilling the Beans 247

15 Backlash 255

16 A Plaza Paradise 279

17 It's Not Your Turn 295

Epilogue 317

List of Key Characters 336

Glossary 337

Acknowledgements 339

Notes 341

Index 345

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 10, 2010

    Essential for Anyone Working in Kenya or Africa

    This is excellent resource, not only in understanding the current state of government corruption in Kenya, but Africa in general. It also provides a strong source for understanding the history of Kenya and anthropological understanding of the East African mind.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2009

    For all those who have ever asked "what is wrong with Africa"

    Amazing revelations

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