Kenya’s Watergate

I walked into the bookstore and spotted the owner behind the counter. We made eye contact and I moved toward him. With a quick glance around, I leaned in and said, in a self-conscious half-whisper: “That book that everyone wants — do you have it?”

The man shook his head. “Ahh, no more,” he said. “Too hot, bwana, too hot.”

The sold-out book in question is It’s Our Turn to Eat, the story of whistleblower John Githongo’s crusade against political corruption in Kenya, written by the veteran British journalist Michaela Wrong. The publisher calls it a political thriller — “a gripping account of both an individual caught on the horns of an excruciating moral dilemma and a continent at a turning point.”

So why the coded language and “Spy Game”-style intrigue at the bookstore? Wrong’s book, released in the UK last week, portrays President Mwai Kibaki and his ethnic group — despite pledges to clean up one of the sleaziest bureaucracies in the world — as bent on making themselves rich and keeping power at all costs. Githongo, who fled the country after uncovering details of a $750 million scandal involving fraudulent security contracts, has the goods on some of the most powerful people in the country, according to Reuters:

We are told that, as Githongo’s investigation deepens, the circleof suspects widens to include many senior officials, members ofthe Kikuyu tribe, Kenya’s biggest, to which Githongo andPresident Mwai Kibaki belong. When he made his findings publicin 2006, Githongo was vilified by critics for betraying his tribe inexposing “Africa’s Watergate.”

From Somewhere in Africa (via Eric Green’s excellent favorites feed). Wrong is a talented writer, and Githongo is a tireless crusader. I have no doubt this book will be interesting. One of Wrong’s previous books, on Mobutu’s Zaire, is among the best of the Western-reporter-in-Africa variety. Nobody, though, can touch Kapuscinski.