Leading article: Empty promises, aid and corruption


The relaxed manner in which the world has reacted to the accusations of corruption against the Kenyan government is as bizarre as it is indefensible. Last year, Kenya's respected anti-corruption chief, John Githongo, released a dossier accusing four Kenyan ministers of setting up bogus contracts with the intention of stealing millions of dollars from public funds. Mr Githongo also claimed that President Mwai Kibaki knew about the scam, but had decided to take no action. One might have expected that the international community would have at least put its annual $500m (£281m) aid donations on hold in light of these accusations. But not a bit of it. Last week, the World Bank revealed it will be proceeding with a fresh $120m loan to Kenya. And our own Department for International Development has pledged to make good on a £55m aid donation.

President Kibaki was elected in 2002 on a promise to stamp out corruption. But his administration seems to have sunk as low as that of his predecessor, Daniel arap Moi. These donations look all the more questionable in the light of Monday's revelation that, since 2002, the Kenyan government has spent $12m on official cars, including a fleet of 57 Mercedes. By some estimates, $1bn was lost in corruption over the past four years in Kenya.

Mr Githongo appears an impressive figure. The proper course of action for the international community would be to support him, or at least investigate his claims. But sending more money to Kenya undermines him, and everyone who has been fighting corruption in Kenya. DfID argues that it is impossible for these aid donations to be stolen because they will be channelled to specific development projects. This may be true in a strict sense. But aid helps relieve the Kenyan government of its responsibilities to its own people. And by taking the pressure off government finances, it widens the scope for graft.

It has been suggested that, after pushing hard last year for more aid for relatively progressive states such as Kenya, it would be politically embarrassing for our Government to withhold aid now. It would certainly be unfortunate timing coming so soon after the cut in aid to Ethiopia, prompted by the political crackdown by Tony Blair's fellow commissioner for Africa, President Meles Zenawi.

But whatever twisted reasoning lies behind these decisions, the world must reconsider. The evidence of corruption mounts up. The G8's talk of promoting good governance in Africa is looking increasingly empty. And pouring aid into a corrupt regime will do Kenyans no good. The international community - including our own Government - seems to be making the same mistakes all over again.

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