Reviewed by Benjamin Moser
The situation Michela Wrong describes in It's Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower (Harper, $25.99) is both absurd and upsetting, because one suspects that her book is so urgent and important that almost nobody will read it. It is the third installment of Wrong's epic trilogy of modern Africa, which includes a book on Mobutu's Zaire and an unforgettable recounting of the travails of Eritrea. It's Our Turn to Eat opens with the unexpected arrival at Wrong's London apartment of the charismatic chief of Kenya's anti-corruption authority, John Githongo. Wrong had known him distantly from her work covering Africa for the Financial Times, and the story she recounts, ranging from the disaster of British colonial rule in Kenya to its disappointing existence as an independent state, focuses above all on corruption, the one evil she, like John Githongo, sees as the source of almost every other African problem.
Githongo arrived at Wrong's flat bearing cargo dangerous to many powerful people: the tapes he had secretly made of his discussions with Kenya's leading authorities about his investigations into the country's endemic sleaze, the very affliction that the new president, Mwai Kibaki, was elected to stamp out. With this massive payload, Wrong sets us up for a grand finale that never comes: as we root for Githongo to use his carefully catalogued recordings to take down the crooks who have kept Kenya tribally Balkanized and economically Sicilianized, we begin to realize that catharsis isn't coming, that the system is stronger than this courageous and patriotic man; and that instead, as one revelation after the other is buried by a seedy judiciary and ignored by international donors too busy with "the big picture" to notice that the country is collapsing, Kenya nears the edge of a precipice. When it careens over that edge, in the form of the devastating race riots that followed Kibaki's "reelection" at the end of 2007, the very idea of Kenya -- the postcolonial hope that large and diverse societies could develop the political and economic institutions that would offer their peoples genuine freedom in the modern world–seemed doomed. The existence of people like Githongo shows that these promises may yet be redeemed, but only if they are willing to keep up their dangerous and unequal struggle.
Books mentioned in this post