Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wilfred Karuga Koinange: Was this the Goldenberg Fall Guy?

By John Kamau
Sometime in January 2009, Goldenberg suspect Dr Wilfred Karuga Koinange, who died yesterday, walked us past his empty car yard in Kiambaa where two rotting tractors, a broken down lorry, and other vehicle shells lay. Apart from a water bottling plant – he bottles Broomhill Springs water brand – there was little other economic activity in this expansive farm. Down the undulating hill lay a spring which Dr Koinange protected as his last source of income. “It is the only naturally carbonated spring in Kenya”, he says. From here, ever since he was accused of stealing Sh 5.8 billion via the Goldenberg scheme – a fictitious mineral compensation project that was hatched by Kamlesh Patni – the former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance had retreated into this farm with well-trimmed cypress hedges. “I usually come to this house for solace,” he says without coaxing. [We walked on] The house, a colonial bungalow with aging terracotta tiles and polished wooden floor, has a backyard with a round hut. “I can spend my day there reading books and listening to music.” Dr Koinange cut the image of a lonely man and this was no longer his family home. His well stocked library had many interesting biographies – including President Moi’s ironic biography “The Making of an African Statesman.” “Do I look like a person who swindled the country billions of shillings?” he asked as we sat at the backyard. We opened the backdoor to a tiny sitting room that had a well stocked fridge: Wines, spirits, sodas, beers and Broomhill water. “Take whatever you want,” he offered me and a senior Oxford University historian who was researching on the Koinange family. Unknown to many, Koinange was a history buff. He has one of the best collections of history books and rare colonial documents. He was also a great collector of African music and plants that dot his farm. Each flower type, he told us, had a history, and each tree told a different story. “The next time you come, I will play for you the banned Muthirigu songs”, he promised. Muthirigu was a Kikuyu dance banned by the colonial government for ridiculing the settlers. Koinange loved to sing too – and would mellow when asked something historical: But not on Goldenberg scandal and the tribulations he was going through ever since he was first arrested over the Goldenberg scandal. “This case has exhausted me,” he tells us long before he pleaded to the courts to give him a defence lawyer. Dr Koinange was angry that after all those years in government service, he was left fighting to clear his name over the theft of billions of shillings via a signature he had appended. In his court papers he does not deny that he authorized the three payments to Goldenberg International but told the Commission of Inquiry investigating the matter that he was commanded by President Moi to do so. He told Bosire: "I telephoned the president and told him I have been informed by Prof Phillip Mbithi that I should pay out all the amount outstanding to Goldenberg International and the president said yes, I have spoken to Prof Mbithi." Koinange signed three letters: 19 April, 1993, 28th June, 1993 and 8th July 1993. They sealed his fate. Moi, through his lawyer Mr Mutula Kilonzo, denied ever ordering Koinange to make the payments which left him as the fall-guy in the unending drama. Koinange’s letter were given to Mr T. K Werunga, an assistant Principal in the CBK’s banking division. Werunga, photocopied the letter and instructed a Mr Muraya (a clerical officer) to carry out Dr Koinange’s instructions. Although Dr Koinange’s specimen signature was not with the bank, since as the PS is not the accounting officer ( a position held by the financial secretary), the CBK went ahead and made the payments. “I am writing a book that will tell the story,” he told us. Fortunately, Dr Koinange died without telling his side of the story. During the Goldberg hearing, Dr Koinange acknowledged the illegality of his actions. Dr Koinange was at the Treasury at the wrong time. A man who had no knowledge of the workings of the Ministry of Finance, he had been catapulted from being Director of Medical Services (1979 – 1987) to PS ministry of research, science and technology. Here, he seemed to fit the professional bill, though this was far removed from his training as a medical doctor; a man who was proud to be a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians Edinburg. Because he could not understand the inside workings of Treasury, senior officials at the Treasury, including his co-accused, the late Eliphaz Riungu, a former Central Bank deputy governor, would cook figures on foreign exchange to impress both the World Bank and IMF on the government performance. When Riungu was asked by the Justice Bosire Commission why he did that he would simply say: "We were cornering the IMF, we were being cleverer than them." Was Dr Koinange part of this syndicate? Perhaps. During the Goldenberg hearing, it emerged that Dr Koinange had sought the CBK Governors word on the payments. He told the Commission that indeed it was the then CBK Governor. Eric Kotut who authored the infamous authorization letter. Mr Kotut denied this on oath. The Justice Bosire Commission appeared to absolve President Moi from blame which left Dr Koinange holding the smoking gun: “There is no clear evidence that the President asked for money to be paid which was in fact due to Pattni or Goldenberg International., and it would certainly have been possible for Dr Koinange to tell the President that the money was not due.” [Justice Bosire was found unsuitable to be in the judiciary for failing to summon senior government officials, including President Moi who had been adversely mention during the sittings.] The death of Dr Koinange has left many unanswered questions on his role in this fictitious export compensation project that saw mandarins behind the Goldenberg scam penetrate CBK and milk Sh5.8 billion from the coffers. “There was no legal claim to the money, in the manner in which it was paid out….Dr Koinange purported to rely on a letter from Customs which cannot be interpreted to be a statement that any money was actually due,” said the Goldenberg report which recommended Dr Koinange’s prosecution. “The PS Treasury Dr Koinange, the Governor and his Deputy Mr Riungu were personally responsible for this (loss). Dr Koinange’s assertion that he was ordered by the former President to pay out Sh 5.8 billion is doubtful. He and the Governor of CBK, among others both in Treasury and CBK, were the economic managers….if as he says a decision was reached to pay out in a discreet manner it is only fair that they bear the responsibility for the illegal payments.” That haunted dr Koinange for long. He hired good lawyers. Kept tabs on his case and never missed a mention. He looked weathered in court appearances as his co-accused succumbed to cancer. With his resources dwindling and his frantic efforts to clear his name coming a cropper, Dr Koinange died with a huge burden. “My main worry is that my name will forever be tarnished…I am not a thief” I recall him saying. We went to his father’s grave, where the notables of the Chief Koinange wa Mbiyu’s family were buried: took photos and left. Only one man knows whether Dr Koinange was innocent: Former President Moi. Did he make the call that changed Dr Koinange’s life? john.kamau@gmail.com

Friday, September 09, 2011

John Ainsworth- the man who built Nairobi

The name John Ainsworth may mean little today.
But this was the man who built Nairobi and planned it from scratch albeit with little support from London.
After arriving in town from Machakos, much to the chargrin of the railway administration Ainsworth built his house at Museum Hill to oversee the government administration.
Although he stayed for a little period, upto 1906 when he was transferred to Naivasha, Ainsworth had left a legacy.
By the time he left in the town had naturally sorted itself into seven districts then named Railway centre, Indian Bazaar, Railway Quarters, European Business and Administrative Centre, The Dhobi Quarters, European Residential Areas, and Military Barracks Lions normally laid a state of siege near the Norfolk Hotel while down at the swamp, frogs kept the town busy as they croaked in unison.
The demarcation of roads and plots had began in 1900 and four streets were planned in the Bazaar to be called Station Street, River Street, Punjabi Street and Khoja Moholo Street. But after the 1902 plague it was moved towards the current Biashara street.
Elspeth Huxley recorded the events in her book White Man's Country: "The town consisted of one cart-track recently labelled Government Road (Moi Avenue) flanked by Indian Dukas. Beyond lay the swamp where flogs lived…every night at dusk they used to bark out their vibrant chorus and spread a cloak of deep, incessant sound over the little township. The frogs were accepted as regular inhabitants of the town".
"Lions lurked in the papyrus swamp, and I really should not like to say how many were shot by the present sub-commisioner".
It was Ainsworth who started planting the blue gum trees that now stand in Nairobi today. He started by planting the trees around Moi Avenue, next to the Central Police Station and moved to other highways. Majority of these trees can be found in upper hill.
A treeless plain bored Ainsworth and he brought the seedlings from Machakos where he had been based.
He also lined the muddy strets of the railway town, a legacy that is still visible today in many parts of the town.
The European surburbs were at the hill (upper hill and State house road area) while the indians crowded at the Baazar. The Africans were to the east with the exception of Kileleshwa where a large African village existed.
In 1902 Mayence Bent had opened the first hotel in Nairobi on Victoria Street (now Tom Mboya) the second floor of on a store owned by Tommy Wood. The store also served as a post office. Tommy Wood is remembered as the town's first Mayor. Soon the hotel became too small and moved next door and renamed Stanley Hotel.
A proposal to build a church was accepted and the construction commenced just at the same time A.M. Jeevanjee started work on the first town hall. Also construction of Racecourse Road began. The first mishap for Nairobi happened in 1904 when the "great fire of Victoria Street" consumed Mayence Bent's Stanley Hotel just at the time Major Ringer and Aylmer Winearls were building Norfolk Hotel.
This was a blow to Nairobi and Mayence had to move her clients to another building. She named it Stanley Hotel.
When the notorious Meinertzhagen visited Nairobi in 1906 after his 1903 visit he was surprised by the changes.
"Trees have sprung up everywhere. Hotels exist where Zebra's once roamed. Private bungalows in all their uglines mark the landscape where I used to hunt waterbuck, impala and duicker", he wrote.
It was in 1909 that Mayence bought a plot at the corner sites of Sixth Avenue (Kenyatta) and Hardinge Street (Kimathi) to put up a hotel. The plot went for £350. Construction started in 1912 and by 1913 the first New Stanley Hotel was opened. The old Stanley Hotel continued to operate. (Excerpt from A Short History of Nairobi by John Kamau, coming soon)

Friday, June 10, 2011

When History caught up with Nancy Baraza

History caught up with Nancy Baraza this week. It will soon catch up with many others aspiring for high office.

It was in 1990 that Ms Baraza - the lawyer who wants to be our deputy chief justice- joined hands with Aaron Ringera, Phillip Kandie, and Nesbitt Onyango (then all Law Society of Kenya council members) to seek orders to have Paul Muite, then LSK chair, barred from releasing “political” statements on behalf of the legal fraternity.

Others sued with Muite were then LSK’s vice-chairman, Willy Mutunga, who wants to be our Chief Justice, lawyer Mr Japheth Shamalla, Mr Charles Nyachae, (now the chairman of the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution, Ms Martha Njoka (now Martha Karua), Mr F. Kagwe and Mr G. B. M. Kariuki.

The Nancy Baraza group wanted this group sent to jail for contempt of court after they defied orders issued by Justice Norbury Dugdale and Mr Justice Joseph Amonde Mango, barring them from making political statements.

When this question was thrown at her - thank you Millie Odhiambo - during the parliamentary vetting exercise, Baraza said she was then naive and wanted to save the law body from being proscribed by President Moi. Perhaps, some of us do not buy that line, but an activist wag told me this week that she was forgiven by Muite and the civil society.

Again, she managed to redeem this black spot on her career by becoming an activist - for the better.

And that is a lesson that all those who aspire for higher offices should learn. What you do, in your moment of naivety or madness, will always haunt you. Remember Bill Clinton on the marijuana: “Yes, I smoked, but I did not inhale”, he said.

For those who followed the Muite case those days, it came at a time that only LSK dared to confront the excesses of President Moi. The judiciary was rotten to the brim and failed to protect the rights of citizen.

Muite stood out. He told the court that it was the business of LSK to talk on human rights violations, over concentration of powers in the presidency, subordination of other institutions and emasculation of parliament. These are the issues that would later inform the struggle for multi-party politics and the Constitution that we have today.

The Nancy Baraza group felt that LSK should restrict itself to the narrow objective of disciplining and licensing of lawyers and that the Muite group was out of tune.

Muite finished his tenure without doing too much as this group managed to scuttle his efforts to use the LSK to raise serious issues of political leadership in this country.

Which takes me to the next issue. Moi had a rotten Judiciary. I recently fished out correspondence, which I have on former Chief Justice, Cecil Miller (then chairman of Kenya Law Reform Commission) as he spent time in Mombasa looking for beach plots. He would write secret letters seeking favours from Kilifi District Commissioner S.M Komu, Coast Provincial Commissioner Yusuf Haji, and his predecessor, Luka Daudi Galgalo, on the same. He would drop the name of President Moi as he did this.

Miller did this immediately he finished nailing Charles Njonjo during the Njonjo Commission of Inquiry of 1984. So what do we see here? Abuse of office. If Miller was alive today, he would be embarrassed if these letters are read in public.

And that is a lesson to all those who want high office. Look back and be afraid. Very afraid.