UK backs envoy in Kenya corruption claim

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Indy Politics

The Foreign Office backed Britain's high commissioner in Nairobi yesterday after he branded the Kenyan government arrogant, greedy "gluttons" in a blistering attack on official corruption.

Chris Mullin, a Foreign Office minister, said that Edward Clay's highly unusual comments on corruption under President Mwai Kibaki had been approved in advance.

Mr Clay said: "Evidently the practitioners now in government have the arrogance, greed and perhaps a desperate sense of panic to lead them to eat like gluttons. But they can hardly expect us not to care when their gluttony causes them to vomit all over our shoes."

He added: "Do [Kenyan officials] really expect us to ignore lurid and mostly accurate details conveyed in the commendably free media and pursued by a properly curious parliament?"

Mr Clay's speech to British businessmen, published in the African press, caused a major diplomatic row. He was summoned to the Kenyan Foreign Ministry yesterday to explain his outburst, which went far beyond the normally dry language of diplomacy, and give details of alleged corruption.

Kenya's Foreign Minister, Chirau Makwere, said: "The high commissioner was here on my request on behalf of the government of Kenya to give facts and figures and to name names of the people who took the money. We are not gluttons, we do not vomit on their shoes. This criticism amounts to a personal attack on Kibaki.

"We take them as words from the British government, and not his personal statement. Whether it was a statement made by the high commissioner as a person or not we need a justification."

Mr Mullin told the BBC: "We had the speech in advance and we did clear it. He is only reflecting concern that is certainly expressed very widely in the Kenyan media and also among the entire donor community in Nairobi. All the donors put out a statement on 5 July drawing attention to some of the statements which were circulating."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The sentiment is our policy. What we're saying is that we've followed with increasing concern the allegations of unsatisfactory tendering and contracting procedures in which senior members of the Kenyan government are involved."

Mr Clay gave a half-hearted apology yesterday, but said he was right to criticise the government. He said: "I regret if my language offends anybody," but added that his strong words were "like the skin of a fruit or a nut - the fruit wants to draw attention to itself and invite people to peel it, and then to look at the fruit inside and to see whether it's good to eat, whether it agrees with you".

Mr Clay has received support from pressure groups, the Church and opposition parties who said he was right to have spoken out against the government, which came to power 18 months ago on an anti-corruption ticket. Gladwell Otieno, head of Kenya's leading anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, said: "Corruption is sneaking back in. We have been surprised at the magnitude of arrogance and obfuscation from ministers in this government.

"High officials believe they are not accountable to anyone. They make statements that do not clear things up ... The government made a commitment to clear up corruption. It is a shame they have to be reminded about it by a foreigner."

The European Union, the United States and Japan warned Kenya last week that it could lose funding because of the corruption.