‘It’s Our Turn To Eat’: final excerpt

In the final chapter of the book, author Michela Wrong laments the prevailing attitude amongst Western donors who have, by and large, been more interested in disbursing ever-larger sums of money to recipient nations than in ensuring accountability frameworks are adhered to.

She suggests that Western qualms and sensitivities are in fact encouraging political elites to become more brazen in their abuse of state resources, as well as giving credibility to governments that don’t deserve it. She writes (pp326-327):

“If they only set foot on the continent, idealistic Westerners would be astonished to hear how often, and how fiercely, politically engaged Africans call for aid to be cut, conditionalities sharpened.

Kenyan journalist Kwamchetsi Makokha is not alone in detecting an incipient racism, rather than altruism, in our lack of discrimination. ‘Fundamentally the West doesn’t care enough about Africa to pay too much attention to how its money is spent. It wants to be seen to do the right thing, and that’s as far as the interest goes.’

One of the many lessons of John Githongo’s story is that the key to fighting graft in Africa does not lie in fresh legislation or new institutions [per se]. Most African states already have the gamut of tools required to do the job. A Prevention of Corruption Act has actually been on the Kenyan statute books since 1956. ‘You don’t need any more bodies, you don’t need any more laws, you just need good people and the will’, says Hussein Were [a quantity surveyor].

Rather than dreaming up sexy-sounding short cuts, donors should be pouring their money into the boring old institutions African regimes have deliberately starved of cash over the years: the police force, judicial system and civil service.”

‘It’s Our Turn To Eat’: insightful and easy-to-read

I’ve just finished reading Michela Wrong’s ‘It’s Our Turn To Eat’, an insightful and easy-to-read book on state corruption in Kenya.

I like her style.

One interesting thought from the book … state corruption as a threat to national security. I’d never really given much thought to that. She writes:

“Corruption can reach a point where an entire nation is there for the taking [by the political elite and its foreign friends], where sleaze has security implications not just for the nation concerned, but for its neighbours and allies.”

She quotes the former US Ambassador to Kenya, William Bellamy:

“The reason Al Qaeda came here in the 1990s wasn’t for the scenery. If you can lie your way through immigration, if you can get your goods through customs, if you can induce law enforcement to turn the other way, if you can sort out your legal problems with a few attorneys and judges, if you can launder your money and invest in legitimate businesses, well, why wouldn’t you come to Kenya?”

An interesting point I thought.

Despite focusing specifically on Kenya, the book presents many thought-provoking lessons for other African states especially around issues of history, ethnicity and governance. I’ll attempt a book review once I’ve gathered my thoughts.

Speaking of book reviews, look out for something I’ve written on Heidi Holland’s ‘Dinner With Mugabe’ later this week.

Thanks 😉

Rich and poor, side by side

Photos courtesy of Peroshni Govender (Reuters)
Alexandra township, South Africa. Photo courtesy of Peroshni Govender (Reuters)

An excerpt from ‘It’s Our Turn To Eat’ (p148), a book by Michela Wrong:

Among the most squalid the continent has to offer, these settlements nuzzle against well-heeled residential areas in provocative intimacy. ‘What’s striking about Nairobi is that each wealthy neighbourhood lies cheek by jowl with a slum,’ remarks former MP Paul Muite. ‘It’s almost like a twinning arrangement. Poverty and wealth stare each other in the face. And that’s simply untenable. Those slum-dwellers know what they’re missing, they’re educated now. I tell my wife: “There’s no way, long term, those guys are going to accept to die of hunger when the smell of your chapattis is wafting over the wall.

Apart from really enjoying the use of language here, it strikes me that this image of stark social contrasts can fit the vast majority of our large African cities quite easily. Remove all references to Kenya (Nairobi, Paul Muite) and you could well be speaking about Lusaka, or Johannesburg or Lagos.

A frightening thought.