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Story Publication logo April 12, 2016

How Widespread Corruption Is Hurting Kenya


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A rare, detailed look at one of the world’s most important battles against terrorism. PBS NewsHour...

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we continue our series Inside Kenya.

The World Bank says Kenya is growing faster than any other sub-Saharan African country. But there is one major impediment to the country's continued growth.

Tonight, in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, special correspondent Nick Schifrin and producer Zach Fannin examine the reality of Kenyan corruption.

NICK SCHIFRIN: In Kenya, even the world's fastest men can't outrun corruption.

The Rift Valley is known as the Valley of Champions. The best marathon runners are born here and train here.

Mind if I join you?

Hillary Kiplimo runs three times a day. He is tireless and fast. He averages about 4.5 minutes a mile. It's tough to keep up.

Whoa. He's good. And that's slow for him.

After years of training, he finally broke through. He finished third in last year's Nairobi Marathon.

HILLARY KIPLIMO, Marathon Runner: This is for position.

NICK SCHIFRIN: So, it says number three, because you came in third.


NICK SCHIFRIN: He and his wife thought he'd finally fulfilled his dream of running his way out of poverty. But his dream's been denied.

So, you got your medal, you got this number three, you got the jersey and you got this, but you never got a cent.

HILLARY KIPLIMO: I never got a cent.

NICK SCHIFRIN: On the results Web site, his name was replaced. And his $3,500 winnings vanished.

So, where's the money going?

HILLARY KIPLIMO: I think those people, they kept the money.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Athletics Kenya, the race organizers.


NICK SCHIFRIN: Last November, dozens of runners protested at Athletics Kenya. The group has exclusive oversight of all Kenyan athletes.

Kenyans hold records in nearly every distance. They say, as they run faster, Athletics Kenya steals more. Athletics Kenya didn't respond to a half-dozen e-mails from PBS NewsHour. Hillary suspects there's only way to get their attention.

HILLARY KIPLIMO: When you go to explain, they ask you for something.

NICK SCHIFRIN: They're asking you to give them some money?


NICK SCHIFRIN: The problem extends far beyond athletics. There's a saying here: Kenya is the homeland of the bribe. And in the mostly Muslim neighborhood of Eastleigh, Nairobi, the victims of those bribes point their finger at one perpetrator.

ABDULLAHI MOHAMED, Kenya: If you look at the police who are meant to protect them, they just arrest them to extort cash.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Abdullahi Mohamed and most of this community are Ethnic Somali. He says police come here not to patrol, but to get rich.

ABDULLAHI MOHAMED: You see cars from all police stations in Nairobi converging here.

NICK SCHIFRIN: They refer to this neighborhood as what?


NICK SCHIFRIN: An ATM machine, because they take so much money.

ABDULLAHI MOHAMED: They take so much money.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Police officers, when promised anonymity, admit they're more focused on keeping the cash than keeping the peace.

How were police officers extorting people in Eastleigh?

MAN: The little amount that you are paid as salary cannot get up for you and your family. So, if somebody gives you some amount somewhere, you have to take the money and then you forget about work.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Is this corruption being practiced by so many police officers in so many different areas?

MAN: Of course, of course. It's right from the junior officer to the higher-most.

NICK SCHIFRIN: And the problem is, when the police are for sale, criminals buy their freedom.

MAN: A criminal can come, do anything that they want, they go free. You will pay and you go free.

NICK SCHIFRIN: And while police let criminals free, they arrest anti-corruption campaigners like 32-year-old Boniface Mwangi. In a country where activist is a dirty word, Mwangi is a fearless, relentless firebrand.

BONIFACE MWANGI, Activist: The corruption in this country starts from the presidency to the judiciary to the legislature. So, all arms of the government are rotten.

We are here today because the people we elected are thieves.

NICK SCHIFRIN: He is a former journalist whose political activism is often a performance. He covered pigs with fake blood outside Parliament.

BONIFACE MWANGI: Pigs are selfish. And our members of Parliament are like pigs. If you steal a lot of money, you go into politics and you buy yourself immunity. You can get away with anything in this country, provided you have the money to buy your way off.

Every sector in this section is affected by corruption.

NICK SCHIFRIN: He might be considered over the top, except what he's fighting is so outrageous. Last year, schoolkids protested when a landowner confiscated their playground to build a parking lot.

BONIFACE MWANGI: They tear-gassed innocent kids who only wanted to access their playground. Other countries have mafia. In Kenya, the mafia have a country.

NICK SCHIFRIN: The wealth gap here makes the corruption more egregious. According to one study, Kenyans pay on average 16 bribes every month. And in a city where the bus fare is less than a dollar a ride, members of Parliament here makes 188 times the average salary, which is the equivalent of a member of the U.S. Congress making $8.5 million every year.

JOHN GITHONGO, Activist: The moral authority of this regime to do anything about corruption is zero. We have never had that before.

NICK SCHIFRIN: What do people know you as?

JOHN GITHONGO: The anti-corruption guy.

NICK SCHIFRIN: John Githongo knows better than anyone how a government becomes corrupt. He was the former government's anti-corruption czar who became a whistle-blower. He says today's corruption is getting worse.

JOHN GITHONGO: The corruption we have now poses an existential risk to Kenya. Before, we stole from ourselves. Now, with the Eurobond, we are mortgaging the futures of our children.

WOMAN: The alleged missing Eurobond funds.

MAN: The Eurobond money had been misused.

MAN: We are in the middle of a great con game.

NICK SCHIFRIN: What's missing?

ALEX OWINO, Whistle-Blower: Nine hundred and ninety-nine U.S. dollars.

NICK SCHIFRIN: So, $999 million are missing?

ALEX OWINO: I would prefer the word unaccounted for.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Alex Owino used to work at the national treasury. Last year, he blew the whistle on Eurobond. He calls it a scheme to steal a billion dollars.

A billion dollars goes missing. I mean, how is that even possible?

ALEX OWINO: It's almost brazen. If you look at it, it's almost like a smash-and-grab heist.

NICK SCHIFRIN: In 2014, the Kenyan government issued a bond on the Irish Stock Exchange known as a Eurobond, $2.85 billion invested by J.P. Morgan Chase and Citibank.

PRESIDENT UHURU KENYATTA, Kenya: By accessing these external funds, we will spur economic growth, and provide more employment opportunities to our people.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Was the pitch a lie?

ALEX OWINO: As it turned out now, the pitch and what exactly transpired are very different.

NICK SCHIFRIN: What transpired were violent protests, because the treasury was so empty, the government couldn't issue student loans or pay teachers' salaries.

ALEX OWINO: If you just borrowed $2 billion, why are we in this problem?

NICK SCHIFRIN: Late last year, the treasury released documents it called proof the money arrived in Kenya, according to Kenya's top anti-corruption officer, Halakhe Waqo.

HALAKHE WAQO, Kenyan Anti-Corruption Official: All the money that was intended to be brought to Kenya has been brought back to Kenya.

NICK SCHIFRIN: But Owino says those documents are fake. The invoice numbers seem falsified.

ALEX OWINO: For instance, start at number 25. The second one is going the wrong way and the third one is number 25, which is the same as the first one.

NICK SCHIFRIN: And another document is redacted, hiding the recipient of the money.

ALEX OWINO: It definitely casts doubt immediately on whether they're authentic or not.

NICK SCHIFRIN: How do you investigate the government when it is the government that is allowing you to keep your job and that is funding this organization?

HALAKHE WAQO: Thank you very much.

We are investigating government projects on a daily basis. It is our responsibility to investigate the government.

NICK SCHIFRIN: President Uhuru Kenyatta has denied wrongdoing. And he threatens anyone who a accuses him of corruption without proof.

UHURU KENYATTA: If you make accusations, and fail to prove them, you too will also be held accountable.

MAN: Thank you very much.

NICK SCHIFRIN: The threats are effective. When average Kenyans stand up to corruption, they often lose everything.

What happens to people in Kenya who try and fight corruption?

DANIEL MWIRIGI, Kenya: You will be targeted, and you will be very unfairly treated.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Fifteen years ago, Daniel Mwirigi investigated fraud at a Kenya's Postbank. He discovered bank officers were stealing Western Union transactions. But when he reported the crime, he says his bosses colluded to frame him with the very crimes he had exposed.

DANIEL MWIRIGI: The fraudsters were within.

NICK SCHIFRIN: You found these fraudulent transactions?


NICK SCHIFRIN: And you investigated them.

DANIEL MWIRIGI: I investigated them.

NICK SCHIFRIN: And, eventually, they would charge you.

DANIEL MWIRIGI: With the same.

NICK SCHIFRIN: With the same exact things.


NICK SCHIFRIN: It took him nearly two years to clear his name. By then, he'd lost his job, health, and reputation for good.

DANIEL MWIRIGI: My father was alive that time. He has died thinking that I am a thief. My mother was alive. She has died thinking that I'm a thief. There's no point of doing a good job in this country. The future generations are doomed.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Kenyans refer to stealing as eating. Today, Kenyans say they watch the rich and the powerful get fat, while the people starve.

For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Nick Schifrin in Nairobi, Kenya.



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