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November 20, 2018

A foundation complex or a lavish Nkandla? Lifting the veil over Raila Odinga’s monstrous Kisumu jewel

ZUMA'S CASTLE IN NKANDLA: Madonseli rebuked Zuma for having unduly and disproportionately benefitted from upgrades at his private residence that she estimated at about Sh30.8 million (R246M). Consequently, she has ordered, among other far-reaching remedial measures, that Zuma must refund “the illegal benefits” to the state.
ZUMA'S CASTLE IN NKANDLA: Madonseli rebuked Zuma for having unduly and disproportionately benefitted from upgrades at his private residence that she estimated at about Sh30.8 million (R246M). Consequently, she has ordered, among other far-reaching remedial measures, that Zuma must refund “the illegal benefits” to the state.

On Wednesday, March 19th, 2014, the South African Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela (the equivalent to our Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission) released an earth-shuttering 447-page report on President Jacob Zuma’s unauthorised and unlawful use of R246 million (equivalent to $23 million) to upgrade his private family complex in KwaZulu Natal Province, otherwise known as Nkandla.

 The investigations were ordered by Ms. Madonsela after she read an article by a member of the public in the Mail and Guardian newspaper of November 11th, 2011. Under the heading, “Bunker, bunker time: Zuma’s lavish Nkandla upgrade,” the writer expressed concern over the upgrades and requested investigation to verify allegations of impropriety relating to them. More complaints were published in the South African media between December 2011 and 2012.

 Madonsela, a very courageous lady, acted with alacrity and informed the Presidency of the request for an investigation. On January 12, 2012, she met with the Director of the Presidency and set in motion a framework for a thorough, objective and credible investigation on the allegations she had received from the published newspaper articles and letters to the editor. She did this less than one month after the first ‘complaint’ was published.

 She did not wait for or demand “sworn written complaints.” She did not second guess the motives of the complainants. She did not entertain any diversionary tactics or strategies. She wasn’t intimidated by power or wealth.

 And in a ground-breaking and stinging report titled, “SECURE IN COMFORT: Report on an investigation into the allegations of impropriety and unethical conduct relating to the installation and implementation of security measures by the Department of Public Works at and in respect of the private residence of President Jacob Zuma at Nkandla in the KwaZulu-Natal Province,” Ms. Madonsela all but calls Zuma a thief and a perjurer.

 On Zuma’s claim that the state had not built any parts of Nkandla for him and his family, Ms. Madonsela states that, “This was not true. It was common cause that in the name of security, government built for the president and his family a cattle kraal, chicken run, a clinic, culverts, a visitors’ centre and an amphitheatre and the relocation of neighbours’ houses.”

 The report concludes that Zuma had lied to Parliament when he had denied knowledge of the visitors’ centre and amphitheatre.

 Madonsela rebuked Zuma for having unduly and disproportionately benefitted from upgrades at his private residence. Consequently, she has ordered, among other far-reaching remedial measures, that Zuma must refund “the illegal benefits” to the state.

 “The amount in question should be based on the cost of the installation of some or all the items that can’t be conscionably accepted as security measures. These included the cattle kraal, chicken run, swimming pools, visitors’ centre and amphitheatre…The President and his legal advisers did not dispute this during the investigation,” she stated.

 At least a significant number of South Africans have liberated themselves from some of the most archaic and annoying colonial hangovers that still bedevil Kenya’s justice system. If it was in Kenya, a mere article by a member of the public – a ‘nobody’ so to speak - would never have precipitated a serious investigation from the country’s top anti-corruption agency, leave alone against a sitting head of state, head of government and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

 Anyone who dares to imagine or demand such investigations in Kenya – forget about Modensela’s bold findings – would not only be called a heretic, a madman or whatever even by our hypocritical and self-righteous media that wouldn’t have the Cajuns to publish the article calling into question any powerful and wealthy individual’s conduct; anti-corruption crusaders in Kenya are routinely stigmatised, alienated and even murdered.

 In one of the complaints quoted in the “Secure in Comfort Report,” a taxpayer wrote: “Like all South Africans, I have recently read in the media the appalling story of the sums of taxpayers’ money being spent on the private residence of President Jacob Zuma. This is opulence on a grand scale and as an honest, loyal taxpaying South African; I need to understand how this is allowed to happen. Strangely, civil society is quiet. This is wrong and highlights the complete disregard which this government has for the citizens of this country. Where is the money coming from and how has it been approved?”

 These pertinent questions bring me to the mother of all issues this past week in Kenya: Where did the Sh1 billion Mr. Raila Odinga has used for the opulent private complex in Kanyakwar in Kisumu come from?

 If the lavish 74-room complex is not Mr. Odinga’s private residence and is only intended as foundations for charities and environmental entities as he belatedly claimed, how were the funds for its construction and future operations sourced?

 Does anyone need a 74-room house on Riat Hills in Kisumu?

 Who is overseeing the expenditure of such publicly-sourced amounts? If the monument is purely a private fair, like I have heard it is, why has Mr. Odinga implied that it is not?

 But even more fundamentally, does it matter whether Mr. Odinga calls his Nkandla a private residence or a complex for (private) foundations?

 Don’t get me wrong. I love big houses. I enjoy space whether it is the fresh smell and aroma of a nice, spacious park, or that of a private garden. I also love huge, nicely stocked libraries. I’ve spent most of my life ruminating inside libraries.

 However, I also care very much how the libraries and private gardens were built, or acquired. I’ve spent my entire life avoiding private and public spaces that are known either to be owned or frequented by drug dealers, organised criminals and/or looters. That’s also why I studiously avoid private clubs belonging to cults or secret monasteries.

 When an active public figure or politician anywhere in the so-called free world constructs an opulent complex that is estimated at Sh1 billion, any sensible and ethical person must immediately be shocked. We must ask how the person got the money. Thirdly, we must – naturally – demand to know the sources of such funds.

 I consider these basic civic duties for law-abiding citizens! The amounts involved are too staggering to be ignored.

 It is egregiously immoral for anyone to spend Sh1 billion whose sources remain shrouded in mystery in a private house - whether it is called a complex for foundations or not is pure nomenclature – in or around Kisumu where the average monthly income for the citizens is less than Sh2,500.

 It is unconscionable for any public figure –and Mr. Odinga remains a leading public figure - to spend such colossal sums of money in such opulence barely one year after serving as the Prime Minister of Kenya during which period unresolved corruption cases ensnared his office.

 It’s repulsive and should offend our sense of decency for a leader of an official opposition coalition whose employees have been demonstrating for the past three months because of alleged poor terms of service and six-months of unpaid wages to suddenly be exposed as obscenely wealthy.

 Why hasn’t he used the billions of shillings he has to address the economic problems facing his constituents in Luo Nyanza and in Africa’s largest slum – Kibera? Wouldn’t it have been nice to hear that Mr. Odinga has used the Sh1 billion to construct health and educational institutions in Nyanza? Wouldn’t it have been refreshing for Mr. Odinga to surprise Kenyans with an Agricultural Marshall Plan for Turkana and other pastoralist communities?

 Sh1 billion is about US$12 million, depending on the time of conversion. That’s a tidy sum for a presumably former revolutionary and ‘People’s President.’ It shouldn’t just be wasted on primitive opulence.

 In 1989, Houphouët-Boigny used USD 300 million to construct his obscene Yamoussoukro Basilica. Many would say that no matter how grotesque Houphouët-Boigny’s wastage was; he had constructed a house of worship; not a private residence. But Mr. Odinga’s Nkandla is gaudy.

 Bill Gates used USD $63.2 to build his mansion on the Medina Hill overlooking Lake Washington, in the USA. But Gates isn’t just the wealthiest man who has ever lived; he is the world’s greatest innovator, inventor and entrepreneur! Hallo?

 But I’ve read Mr. Odinga’s expected protestations hardly a day after the Kenyan media published stupendous photographs of the lavish 74-room private complex. Significantly, he has admitted that the land on which the lavish complex stands and the Nkandla itself, are his private property. Although he has clumsily quibbled with the Nkandla’s intended purpose; he has nonetheless, indicated that he plans to do business there: renting out its 74-plus rooms for conferences, events and for running a variety of other businesses.

 Make no mistake: Raila’s Nkandla is not a public foundation. It is not like the Clinton Foundation, for example. Mr. Odinga’s so-called ‘foundations’ are unknown and don’t have a charter. We are not aware of their boards. We have not seen any charitable functions they have organised.

 As far as we are aware, the Kisumu Nkandla’s foundation stone was laid by Mr. Odinga in a private ceremony. The foundations he claims will operate from there are certainly not public entities.

 I heard as far back as 2011 that Mr. Odinga was building a palatial home on Riat Hills complete with a helicopter landing pad, ‘in preparation for when he would be president.’ According to information I obtained from reliable insiders, the original plan was that ‘with his sister Ruth Adhiambo as Kisumu Governor and his elder brother Oburu Oginga as Siaya Governor, Raila would arrive in Kisumu aboard Air Force One helicopter, be met at the Kisumu International Airport by the Governor and together, they would leisurely fly to his Hill-top Palace, before taking off from the private helicopter pad to Siaya where Oburu would be waiting for them at the Siaya Airstrip before they retire at the Opoda Farm!’

 Even in the United States where Presidential Libraries are routinely built by the National Archives and Records Administration as repositories for processing and making available papers, records, collections and other historical materials of every American president since Herbert Hoover (31st President, 1929-1933), funding for such projects don’t cost $12 million of shadily procured funds. More significantly, their constructions aren’t shrouded in secrecy; their accounts are transparently released for both public and legislative scrutiny.

 But I end with Madonsela’s conclusion in the “Secure in Comfort” report. Quoting the former South African President Nelson Mandela, she wrote: “Let it never be said by the future generations that indifference, cynicism, or selfishness made us fail to live up to the ideals of humanism which the Nobel Peace Prize encapsulates.”

 And I ask: What happened to the Civil Society, the Auditor General, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the Media?

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Mr. Miguna Miguna is a lawyer and author of Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya and Kidneys for the King: Deforming the Status Quo in Kenya. [email protected]

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