Thursday, October 28, 2010

October 28, 2010 - Bedrest Book Review

This week I only managed to read one book, not necessarily for lack of wanting to read more, but this particular read was one that required a little more time and attention than anticipated. Note, this review is a long one.

Chosen for a "book club" that Kristoffer and I have started with each other; he is also reading it. Recommended by several friends in Nairobi.

I am not 100% a fan of Michela Wrong's style of writing; I think she often uses 20 words when she really only needs 10 and unnecessarily peppers her writing with dramatic cliches and proverbs. That aside, this was a very interesting and useful book to read and I learned a lot about the country I have lived in for almost 3 years now.

Wrong tells the story of John Githongo, a Kenyan man who, in his role as the government's anti-corruption czar beginning in 2003, uncovered an expansive corruption scheme within the government that robbed Kenyan taxpayers of over $1 billion (the scandal is known as Anglo-Leasing). The book recounts a lot of Kenyan history, much of which I didn't know, and specifically explores the roots of corruption at all levels of society. It provides an indepth look at the history of Kenya's tribalism - the good, the bad, and the very very ugly - and how corruption was more than just an extraneous factor in causing the post-election violence of 2007/2008. Wrong uses Kenya as one example to explore different opinions about what can be done to actually improve the biggest factor impeding Africa's development. She presents a balanced view of the strengths and flaws of Githongo - not ever completely glorifying him as a hero, to my surprise - and she does not hold back in describing in detail the conclusions to which his evidence pointed. It is a pretty scathing picture - true, no doubt - of the Kenyan government (past and present, equally) and the elite of Kenyan society, while also questioning the intentions and actions of the larger donor community and their actual commitment to ending corruption.

The last two chapters of the book cover the time period when we arrived in Kenya and what happened in the 2007 election. Reading this journalist's experience of our first days and weeks in the country was sort of a WOW moment for me. I can't believe we were here for that! Honestly, if I had read this book before our move, I am not sure that we would have ever made it...because those were extremely dark days for the country, and now I realize that they were much, much darker than we ever knew at the time. But, of course, John Githongo's story gives hope - not that corruption in Kenya is going to end any time soon, but that if more and more individuals stand up against corruption - regardless of the personal risk to themselves and even if only in very small ways - several generations down the line might have a chance of knowing a different Kenya.

If you are interested in learning more about "real" Kenya - not the cozy, expat, safari-on-the-weekend, easy-Africa Kenya that Kristoffer and I live in, but - the real Kenyan's Kenya, you should read this book (unless you're my mother. Then don't read it. Ever.).
*Note: almost every bookstore in Kenya refuses to sell the book out of fear of retribution from the government, so it is only sold at the UN and on the black market. That tells you something!


Anonymous said...

Nice post, Fist of all the authors name is Michela Wrong. the book was an amazing read and it did bring out a few issues that had to be brought out. There is also another book by the same author called 'In the footsteps of mr kurtz' which i suggest you read. (especially if you have read the heart of darkness). But if you do nothing else, make sure you read 'Africa' by Richard Dowden. This will atleast introduce you to what lies around the part of the world you are living in right now. There is also a book on kenya's history by Caroline Elkins (American) calles 'Imperial Reckoning' that might also help you understand kenya's past and present. Good luck

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