Tribal paranoia

Ethnic polarisation is taking hold in Kenya reports Michela Wrong Photos by Peter Chappell

Samuel jabs his finger at the television screen, which is broadcasting images of opposition supporters lobbing tear-gas canisters back at the riot police who fired them. "They say these are ODM supporters. But look, he's a Luo, she's a Luo; that's another one. That one, he could be anything. But these are all Luos, not just 'opposition supporters'."

I stare at the screen, comparing the faces to those of Samuel and his brothers, all of whom are Kikuyus. After 15 years reporting Africa, I can usually distinguish a Dinka from a Maasai, a Tutsi from a Hutu, an Eritrean from a Djiboutian, but I'm struggling here. "How can you tell?" "Luos are stocky, very well-built. They have big jaws. It's just obvious."

It was a conversation that would have been inconceivable a fortnight ago, clunkily tasteless five years ago. Samuel, a talented painter, comes from a section of Kenyan society I have come to know and admire, and on which rests this country's future. Born in a multi-ethnic slum, he has rubbed up against members of the Luo, Kamba, Luhya and Kisii communities all his life. He belongs to a cosmopolitan urban generation that always used to bristle when asked the question "Which tribe are you?", responding defiantly: "Actually, I'm a Kenyan."

Like many of that generation, he voted across tribal lines during the recent elections, choosing the Luo opposition leader Raila Odinga - whose Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) he regarded as a force for change - instead of the Kiku yu incumbent, Mwai Kibaki. Today Samuel, who abandoned his shack when Luos set the neighbourhood aflame, is reassessing some fundamental beliefs. He would never vote that way again. And he will be very, very careful in future to live among his own. "I'm becoming more tribalistic with every passing day."

Those who know Kenya have winced at the international media's portrayal of the crisis as some sort of Rwandan Genocide Mk II, with Luos and Kikuyus pitched against one another in the wake of "tribal voting" that reflected ata vistic hostilities. Kenya's violent explosion was rooted, rather, in cynical governance, the ruthless ambitions of its politicians, the yawning divide between prospectless poor and the smug elite, and the generational exasperation of millions of youngsters chafing at the indifference of a geriatric leadership.

But if the factors are complex, their expression has been horribly crude. And the lynchings, church-torchings and manhunts have triggered an accelerated process of ethnic polarisation - mental and physical - in a country that believed it had reached a level-headed accommodation with its tribal differences. As the atrocities mount up, Kenyans are starting to think of themselves in radically different ways.

Nowhere more so than in the slums. "In my area, the kiosk owners are now asking for people's IDs before they sell you anything," says Joseph, a taxi driver who lives in a largely Kikuyu slum and is himself a Kikuyu. "If you're a Luo, they won't serve you. And everyone is saying no Kikuyu will ever rent premises to a Luo again. The Luos in Kawangware will have to leave and no new ones will be allowed to come in."

But the middle classes also feel they are being forced to choose their camp, having brushed off ethnic sensitivities along with the mud of the upcountry samba (farm). "I went to dinner with colleagues recently and there was silence round the table," says Ruth, a young journalist. "We were so aware of the landmines in the conversation - because it was a mix of ethnic groups - that no one dared say anything."

A kind of reckoning

Even mzungus (westerners) are having to recalibrate, sprouting ethnic antennae they possessed when it came to hot spots like Rwanda, but never seemed necessary in Kenya. "Somehow, we've managed to send a Kikuyu camera crew to Kisumu," one television producer confessed with embarrassment. Stuck in a Luo stronghold, his Kikuyu reporters didn't dare venture out, let alone film. Western employers are chartering planes to scoop up employees whose ethnicity was regarded as irrelevant on appointment, but who are now regarded as being at risk.

"There's been a kind of reckoning with the idea of Kenyan-ness," says Parselelo Kantai, a Kenyan writer. "It was something we'd all been talking about but hadn't got round to. Now people have to make a hard decision about whether it's a viable concept or not."

In Kenya, as in most African states, self-image cannot be disentangled from colonial story. The British imperialists who settled the country did not invent its tribal configuration. Speak to any elderly Kenyan and they will tell you that their gran dparents were keenly aware of differences between Kamba and Kikuyu, Kikuyu and Maasai, with cattle raids and small wars against rivals across the lines peppering village existence.

But historians say that ethnic identity was a surprisingly malleable concept, becoming set in stone only with the colonial state. As white settlers rushed into Kenya in search of land, indigenous people were allocated "tribal reserves" and issued with the kipande, a pass defining their ethnicity. Some of Kenya's ethnic labels today did not exist before the colonial experience - the term "Kalenjin", for example, started being used only in the late 1940s, as a convenient way of grouping the Nandi-speaking peoples.

Acting on the well-established principle of divide and rule, British administrators allotted certain tribes certain functions: Maasais made good soldiers, the farming Kikuyus - deemed money-hungry and too clever by half - were meant to feed the nation, Kambas made for excellent houseboys. Those stereotypes are still in common use today, bandied about among Kenyans as though they capture eternal truths.

Under Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, a cynical system of presidential patronage reinforced these distinctions. In the top-heavy post-colonial state, prosperity depended on access to State House. Encouraging his fellow Kikuyus to settle outside their usual confines, Kenyatta made clear that those groups which supported the opposition would not be invited to "eat" from the national table, paying for their disloyalty by blocking their way to civil service jobs, private sector contracts and infrastructure. It is no coincidence that Kisumu, Odinga's home town in western Kenya, is today a decaying urban centre, its fish, rice, sugar and cotton industries either stagnating or dead in the water.

As poverty levels soared under Daniel arap Moi, ethnic hostility simmered. Moi, a Kalenjin, capitalised on the suspicions of the smaller tribes, presenting himself as the only leader who could keep the Kikuyus' vaunting ambition in check. You could detect the antagonism in the coded language: politicians railed against "a certain community" (the Kikuyus) or "the people of the lake" (the Luos). But the lid stayed on, thanks to Moi's iron grip. Kenyans of all stripes came to see themselves as brothers in suffering, victims of a sleazy and brutal leader.

When Mwai Kibaki won the 2002 elections at the head of a multi-ethnic coalition, many expected such tensions would dissipate. But the new president threw out the draft of a new constitution trimming his executive powers, sacked his coalition partners and withdrew into an ethnic citadel. While western governments expressed delight at the new administration's economic performance, Kenyans complained that the Kikuyus were at it again. The "Mount Kenya Mafia" - cronies from Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe and its neighbouring Embu and Meru groups - was playing the old patronage game.

Important ministries, critics noted, rested in the hands of "a certain community", with only inconsequential portfolios going outside the ethnic circle. With them went dodgy procurement contracts, local investment and jobs for the boys. "Go to any government department and you will be able to tell the minister's eth nicity by looking at the faces of the staff," one Nairobi-based journalist told me.

The conviction that only Kikuyus and their cousins were "eating" meant Odinga's campaign promise of majimboism - federalism - found a ready audience. The notion sounds uncontroversial to outsiders, but ordinary Kenyans interpreted it very differently. To their ears, maj im boism meant that, in future, only Luos would be allowed to own land in Luo areas, only Kambas would be allowed to run shops in Kambaland.

Raila Odinga was officially declared the loser of the rigged elections, but majimboism is in effect already being practised on the ground. The old kipande, with its ethnic labels, may have gone, but Kenyans can usually pinpoint tribal affiliation on the basis of name alone, spelled out on national identity cards. These are now being demanded at makeshift barricades by young, angry men wielding machetes and clubs. Already, a quarter of a million Kenyans - most of them Kikuyus fleeing Rift Valley homes - have been displaced and made homeless.

"Majimboism is already here in our country," says one Kikuyu kiosk owner, who, like many Kenyans in an increasingly paranoid nation, does not want his name used. "People have learned never to move to an area where you don't belong. Or go there to work but never move your family there. Then, if there is trouble, you can pick up and go. It's good to stay where you belong."

It is too early to say how far this de facto ethnic partition will go, how deeply the scars of the past weeks reach. Working against the trend is urbanisation, which forces tribes to live cheek by jowl, socialising and working with each other, dating and marrying one another. What is undeniable is that ruthless politicians, seeking the most effective issue around which to rally support, in the age of multiparty democracy, have pushed the concept of the nation state to breaking point.

"This crisis is a direct result of Kibaki politics," says Kantai. "Five years ago, no one was talking about Kikuyus or Luos. It just wasn't an issue."

Kenya's ethnic groups

The population is roughly 34 million, made up of more than 40 groups, the largest of which are the Kikuyus, Luhyas, Luos, Kalenjins and Kambas.

Ethnicity has seldom been an issue in Kenyan politics and some group labels such as Kalenjin became common only in the 1940s under British rule.

The largest group, the Kikuyus, makes up 22 per cent of the population. Their traditional home is central Kenya, to the north and west of Nairobi. Mwai Kibaki, the incumbent president, is a Kikuyu.

The opposition leader Raila Odinga is a Luo. Luos and Luhyas together make up 27 per cent of the population; they traditionally come from western Kenya.

Kalenjins, from the Rift Valley district, are the next-largest group. Kibaki's predecessor Daniel arap Moi is a Kalenjin; he was elected with support and opposition from both Luo and Kikuyu politicians.

This article first appeared in the 14 January 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Obama unmasked

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Enough to educate 17 million children: the true cost of Brazil’s Car Wash scandal

As a new Netflix series dramatises one of the world’s largest corruption cases, Global Witness puts a figure on the cost of the scandal.

In the 1980s, Alberto Youssef was, alongside an older sister, smuggling whisky and electronic products from Paraguay to Brazil. Once, while being chased at a high-speed by police, VCRs kept falling out of the pick-up truck he was driving. Few would have guessed that this almost comical character would, one day, become a key player in what has been called the biggest corruption scandal in history. But then, the Car Wash, or as it’s known in Portuguese, Lava Jato, stretched far and wide across Brazil at a huge cost.

New research by Global Witness shows the damage caused by the Car Wash scandal far exceeds the sums stolen. The cost to the Brazilian treasury may be nearly eight times higher than the £1.4bn actually taken, enough to cover the salaries of more than a million nurses or provide a year’s education for over 17 million children.

Police only began to uncover the extent of the Car Wash scandal in 2013, when they became suspicious about the sheer quantity of cash churning through a bureau de change in a humble petrol station in the country's capital Brasilia. That led to the arrest of Youssef, which in turn led to further arrests. It soon became clear that this was no ordinary money laundering operation. Police had stumbled upon a racket that would involve at least 28 major corporations and 20 political parties, resulting in over 100 convictions. The list of those implicated reads like a Who’s Who of the Brazilian political elite, including two of the country's presidents.

Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been sentenced to more than 12 years, after it emerged he took bribes for helping a construction company win contracts with Petrobras. Lula says the case is politically motivated and remains free while appealing it. A ruling in a federal court on Monday, however, could send him behind bars, even as he takes the case to the Supreme Court.

Current president Michel Temer has also been at the centre of corruption investigations, most recently over allegations of bribery concerning a deal for operating services at the Port of Santos, Latin America’s largest container port. Congress has twice blocked Temer from standing trial on corruption charges while in office, and he denies the allegations.

The scandal has also inspired The Mechanism, a new Netflix drama from the director behind the biopic of Pablo Escobar, Narcos. The sums of money involved in Car Wash were almost at Escobar levels, but the billions lost to Brazil’s hard-pressed public services mean the scam might also have caused harm on a scale comparable to the druglord’s activities.

The fraud revolved around Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned oil company. Instead of awarding huge contracts for construction projects, oil rigs, shipping and so on in the normal manner, the work was rotated around a cartel of companies in orderly fashion. Petrobras would over-pay the companies by at least 3 per cent, with the extra money forming a kickback to the directors responsible for awarding them the contracts. These directors would pocket some of the money, and hand the rest to the politicians who had appointed them to their lucrative posts. The money then went to the campaigns of Brazil’s political parties and provided backdoor funds that kept otherwise unstable governing coalitions together.

The result was a Byzantine racket of astonishing intricacy and scale in which everyone took a cut. Bribes came in the form of bricks of cash, expensive art works, aircraft and yachts; anonymously-owned companies in tax havens and foreign bank accounts helped launder the loot. One Petrobras director alone channelled €20m to banks in Monaco from accounts in the Bahamas, Panama and elsewhere.

“Once the mechanism is established, only the corrupt can take part,” says José Padilha, the Brazilian writer and director of The Mechanism. “If you’re an honest politician you’re doomed. The honest businessman will not get any contracts. There are only crooks.”

This “mechanism” had been running uninterrupted for at least 12 years.

Was this really the biggest corruption scandal of all time? Virtually every Car Wash explainer in the UK press poses the question – but none provides an answer. That’s probably because it’s notoriously hard to quantify value throughout history. In 193 AD, the Roman Praetorian Guard assassinated their emperor and held a fraudulent auction to appoint his successor, striking a deal worth 250 pieces of gold for each soldier in the army. (The empire was not theirs to sell). If not the earliest documented fraud, it was surely the most audacious – but trying to convert the ransom into modern currency is a fool’s errand.

But Padhila has no doubt. “It’s the biggest corruption scandal in the history of mankind,” he says. “It involves a mechanism which has been operating in Brazil in one form or another since at least the Eighties. Too many Brazilians fall into the trap of ideology, but the mechanism has no ideology. It is left wing and right wing. The whole political system is corrupted. Democracy has failed.”

Regardless of whether Car Wash is the biggest bribery case of all time, it certainly features in the ranks of the world’s corruption mega-scandals, sitting alongside mammoth state-thieving operations such as Malaysia’s recent “1MDB scandal” – US lawsuits claim an estimated $4.5bn has gone missing from a state development fund – and France’s Elf scandal, which shook the body politic and in which at least $400m was creamed off international oil contracts. All these scandals were linked to illicit political funding.

Taking a look at the cost of Car Wash to Brazil, first off there is the amount filched from the state oil company in improper payments. A Federal Police report seen by Global Witness conservatively estimates this at £1.4bn – all of which had to be laundered, sometimes moved physically. To put this logistical feat in context, if withdrawn in £10 notes the sum would make a stack eight miles high equivalent to almost 16 Burj Khalifas, the tallest building in the world (or, if you like, 343 Christ the Redeemers). The 119 tonnes of cash would take a fleet of 97 Ford Transit vans to deliver.

Then there is the £2.1bn fine Petrobras has agreed to settle a US investors’ class action, already bigger than the amount actually stolen. But both the theft and the losses are dwarfed by (and reflected in) the collapse in Petrobras’s share price. Before the scandal broke in September 2014, shares were at $19.33 but as of March 2018 they had dropped to $14.07. The government suffered a paper loss of £14.1bn for its 29 per cent stake in the company.

September 2014 was also the moment that global oil prices began a long decline, but the damage was too great for Petrobras to hide. “I would say 90 per cent of the fall in share price is due to Car Wash,” says Tiago Cavalcanti, a Brazilian economist at the University of Cambridge.

Petrobras’s 3.7 billion shares are supposed to furnish Brazil with a healthy income, and in the three years before Car Wash exploded, they provided Brazil with an average annual dividend of £360m. No dividend was paid in 2015, 2016 or 2017, costing the country £1.1bn.

Then comes the kicker. So vast was the upheaval  with billions slashed in investment   that some believe it helped bring about the worst recession in Brazil since records began. In March 2014, when the first Car Wash arrests were made, the Brazilian unemployment rate was 7.1 per cent. By last summer it was at 13 per cent. São Paulo consultancy GO Associados, headed by economist Gesner Oliveira, calculated that the fallout from Car Wash hit GDP by 2.5 per cent in each year the investigation was going on, from 2015 to 2017. The consultancy has now told Global Witness it has revised those figures up to an extraordinary 3.6 per cent — which would mean almost the entire drop in output during 2015 and 2016 was accounted for by Car Wash.

GO Associados said that would imply an annual $4.6bn (£3.3bn) in lost tax for each of the three years the fallout from Car Wash was at its most extreme £9.9bn. This figure would appear to be on the conservative side: it is based on the hit to the economy from Petrobras’s reduction in spending plans  but does not take into account the wider impact on Brazil’s giant construction companies, many of which lost contracts elsewhere in Latin America as a result of the scandal. Such firms were also banned from any public contracts in Brazil. The figure also fails to include the reduction in foreign investment in Brazil as a result of the political turmoil.

So even setting aside Brazil’s paper loss – Petrobras shares may well continue to rise  Lava Jato could have cost the government at least £11bn in revenue in lost tax and lost dividends from its stake in the company. That’s almost eight times the amount stolen from Petrobras in the first place.

“That number sounds very plausible and the calculation is logical,” says Cavalcanti, who has himself calculated that without Car Wash and other governmental policies Brazilian GDP would have grown by 1.2 per cent in 2015 and 2016 (as opposed to an actual fall of 3.8 per cent and 3.6 per cent). “Another reason for the recession was the falling price of commodities, but Peru and Chile did not have the fall Brazil had. Certainly Car Wash was a very big factor in the recession.”

Who knows the real difference that £11bn could have made in a country where universal healthcare is still some way off and about 7 per cent remain illiterate. The real price of Car Wash is incalculable.

“I feel disgust and exasperation,” says Padilha.

You might think that at such terrible cost, the Brazilian public would rather the fraud had never been exposed. But a recent poll suggests 94 per cent of Brazilians think the investigations should continue despite the current turmoil. For many, this is a golden opportunity to tackle the corruption that has afflicted the Brazilian body politic for decades before the mechanism started turning.

Because according to the filmmaker, Petrobras is the tip of the iceberg.

“There is no public contract in any village, town, city or state that is not affected, from the tiniest new road to the biggest government project,” he says. “All are corrupted - and none of this is exposed yet. In my country you can turn any stone and there will be cockroaches underneath.”

Ed Davey is an investigative journalist for Global Witness.

This article first appeared in the 14 January 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Obama unmasked