In Summary
  • Newspaper headlines paint a picture of the cons in the sugar, energy, health sectors or at the NYS, for instance, as terrible incidents of corruption.
  • The book Looters and Grabbers should scare any Kenyan who reads it.
  • It begins at the beginning: with the land grabbing frenzy of the years after the end of colonialism.
  • Joe Khamisi chronicles a range of issues, from one of the earliest scandals by a senior government official, the Paul Ngei maize scam; to the grabbing of beach plots at the Kenyan coast; to the dictatorship and tribalism of the Kanu regime in the 1980s to the 1990s; to the rise of the bribery menace of ‘kitu kidogo'.

As the drama over several scams (thefts) in Kenya involving politicians and government officials continues, a raging public debate on morality shadows it.

If you listen to the radio, there are shrill call-ins rebuking the immorality of government officials, politicians and businessmen for the many grand thefts and breaking of the law.

Newspaper headlines paint a picture of the cons in the sugar, energy, health sectors or at the NYS, for instance, as terrible incidents of corruption. Even the clergy seems to have come back from consulting the Almighty on what the mere mortals are doing here on earth and are angry at the depravity of the Kenyan fat cats. Really?


Well, but why are these moralists not calling the rip-offs by their real names? Why aren’t the importers of the deadly sugar not being called murderers – which in a moral society they really would be called?

Why can’t the fellows who have surcharged Kenyans for electricity be called fraudsters? Aren’t the NYS schemers, the whole lot of them, thieves? Yeah, yeah, I can hear the same moralists claim that we should let the accusations against the scoundrels be decided by a court of law before we can call them by their rightful names! Really?

Why don’t we do as Joe Khamisi has done in his book, Looters and Grabbers: 54 Years of Corruption and Plunder by the Elite, 1963-2017 (Jodey Book Publishers, 2018)? But in a twist of irony, the grabbers have plundered Khamisi’s book, forwarding pirated e-copies to anyone who wants to read it for free.

In other words, just like the public resources – mali ya umma – whose owner is supposedly absent and therefore can be stolen without fear of the thief being caught, the anonymity of the Internet has enabled ‘small’ Kenyan grabbers to swindle Khamisi of earnings from his book. But what does Khamisi say in his 756-page volume?

Nothing really new. All that he offers in the book is in the public domain. You can read the Auditor-General’s reports from way before Kenya became independent to today and you will know how much has been stolen from the public coffers all these years.

The Kroll Report, for instance is available online for those curious about the rip-offs of the 1980s into the early 2000s. The Goldenberg scam report is in the public domain. Anglo-leasing scam is still fresh in the minds of many.

There are numerous other reports on misappropriation of public resources in parastatals, annexation of public land, seizure and transfer into private ownership of public motor vehicles, for instance.

However, for the first time a Kenyan chronicles the looting of national resources in a book, in a language, style and tone that is easily accessible to the public. This is not some report by an NGO or government watchdog, full of figures, graphs and illustrations to show the enormity of the theft.

No, this is a collection of narratives of daring, outrageous and unbelievable self-service by the Kenyan elite at the buffet of state and non-state resources.

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