Few countries have more experience of the power of WikiLeaks than Kenya. In recent interviews Julian Assange has claimed that WikiLeaks “changed the result of the Kenyan general election” in 2007. Now, three years after that disputed ballot, newly released WikiLeaks cables indicate that that Kenya is still plagued by rampant corruption and at risk of renewed violence.
The latest cables quote the director of the Kenyan Anti-Corruption Commission Patrick Lumumba as saying he is “convinced that there is hardly a single minister in the country’s bloated, 42-member cabinet, that doesn’t use their position to line their own pockets”. Given the prominent role that WikiLeaks has already played in rocking Kenya’s political landscape these latest revelations have the potential to be explosive.
The timing of the latest leak comes at a critical time in Kenyan politics. This Wednesday the International Criminal Court will release the names of prominent Kenyans — including at least one former minister — who will be charged over orchestrating Kenya’s post-election bloodshed. Even before the latest leaks this announcement was expected to be met with protests. Meanwhile, electioneering has already begun for the next Kenyan election scheduled in 2012. The current WikiLeaks scandal will make it harder for the government to maintain its already thin veneer of credibility.
As Kenya struggles to comes to terms with the newest leaks, it is worth re-examining the contentious role that WikiLeaks played in the 2007 election.
In August 2007 WikiLeaks released a report on corruption in Kenya by the international risk assessment company Kroll. The 2004 report, commissioned by President Kibeki into the previous administration led by the notorious Daniel arap Moi, had never been publicly released. It detailed shocking abuses by Moi and his cronies relating to about $3 billion of misused and stolen government funds.
When the election was held three months later it became apparent that corruption was going to be more than just a campaign issue. International observers reported widespread manipulation from both sides. In the ensuing violence about 1500 Kenyans were killed and up to 600,000 displaced. It was WikiLeaks’ biggest coup. The Kroll report and its political fallout put WikiLeaks on the global media map.
Answering questions about the morality of WikiLeaks, Assange has also made reference to Kenya. In August Assange told The Guardian: “1300 people were eventually killed, and 350,000 were displaced. That was a result of our leak. On the other hand, the Kenyan people had a right to that information and 40,000 children a year die of malaria in Kenya. And many more die of money being pulled out of Kenya, and as a result of the Kenyan shilling being debased.”
These comments were made in defence of WikiLeaks, but some commentators — particularly on the right — have labelled them a “shocking admission”. And to a certain extent they have a point.
In his op-ed for The Australian, Assange states: “We have changed whole governments, but not a single person, as far as anyone is aware, has been harmed.” On the face of it this would seem to flatly contradict his earlier statement on Kenya. If WikiLeaks is responsible for the election outcome — as Assange claims — then surely WikiLeaks must also bear some responsibility, even if indirectly, for election-related violence.
Which brings us back to the potential fallout from the latest leaks. If the Kroll report was capable of such a profound effect on the 2007 election as WikiLeaks believes, then it seems that Kenya again is set for troubled times. In the context of an already shaky political backdrop, these leaks are at least as dramatic as those of three years ago.