NAIROBI (Reuters) - The United States, Britain and nine other countries pledged on Thursday to help Kenya to try to beat corruption, promising to step up efforts to prevent funds leaving the country and pushing for those who commit graft to be prosecuted.
Fresh cases of brazen sleaze, including disclosures that one ministry spent public funds on buying sex toys and $85 ball point pens, have led to public and media calls for resignations and put further pressure on President Uhuru Kenyatta to tackle Kenya’s rampant corruption.
Saying Kenya faced a “corruption crisis,” ambassadors from 11 mainly Western countries issued a statement pledging to help return stolen assets to Kenya and impose travel restrictions on those responsible for graft.
“People should not be allowed to enjoy the ill-gotten gains of corruption in London, Geneva, New York or anywhere else, and we have a responsibility to ensure that those assets are returned to their rightful owners - the Kenyan people,” said Christian Turner, the British High Commissioner to Kenya.
The statement was also co-signed by ambassadors from the United States, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
During a visit to Kenya this July, U.S. President Barack Obama said corruption “may be the biggest impediment to Kenya growing faster.” But some see the problem getting worse in spite of the negative attention it has attracted.
“There is now a general atmosphere where grand theft is normal,” John Githongo, Kenya’s former anti-graft czar and the most outspoken anti-corruption crusader, told Reuters. “There’s a looting spree and clearly there’s no fear of prosecution.”
As negative headlines about graft have filled Kenyan newspapers, authorities have come under fire too for trying to muzzle the press and stop media investigations of graft.
On Tuesday, police briefly detained a journalist from the biggest-selling Daily Nation newspaper who wrote an article questioning spending at the Interior Ministry.
The newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Tom Mshindi, said detectives wanted to know the source of the article, which detailed ministry spending of 3.8 billion shillings ($37.20 million) in a single day - even though a parliamentary report detailing the spending was available to public.
Angered by the article, Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said there was a well-choreographed campaign of “economic sabotage” to ignite mass action against Kenyatta’s government.
($1 = 102.1500 Kenyan shillings)
Editing by Richard Balmforth