Goldenburg: Story of a whistleblower
Billy Kahora describes, how, after an article by a Nation journalist appeared, the IMF and World Bank cried foul and president Moi called for investigations to pacify Bretton Woods. Then the Economic Review got its teeth into the story ...
The Goldenburg scandal first surfaced in 1993, when Opposition MPs Anyang’ Nyong’o and Paul Muite revealed in Parliament what was going on in the Central Bank of Kenya.
At the time, all that existed of the scandal were torrid debates in Parliament and a series of dry and technical pieces about the scandal written by Nation Business Editor Peter Warutere, a whole year earlier.
Mostly documentary evidence and business journalese, the pieces had gone largely unnoticed and hardly spelled out the implications of the largest financial pata potea in Africa at the time (pata potea is a rigged street card game popular in Nairobi’s downtown back alleys).
Then, former corruption czar John Githongo, at the time a freelance journalist, responding to a report in The Independent of London, wrote a prescient passage in his “Political Diary” column in the July 1993 issue of the Nairobi-based Executive magazine: “To me, the Goldenberg saga marks a turning point in the development of corruption in Kenya. For the first time in this nation’s history, a single set of deals is having macroeconomic implications… it is shaking the very foundations of Kenya’s economy… The country has started to consume itself, like the Chinese serpent that is depicted as eating its own tail…”
But it was a single article by a Nation journalist, Sarah Elderkin, a little later, that started the hue and cry.
After the article appeared, the IMF and World Bank cried foul and (president Daniel arap) Moi called for investigations to pacify Bretton Woods.
Then the weekly Economic Review got its teeth into the story and refused to let go till Kamlesh Pattni was arrested, for the first time, in March 1994. The Goldenberg circus had begun.
In retrospect, Goldenberg seems to have started the decline of the gilded age of the Moi years.
It seems that after the Kanu victory and resurgence in 1992, there was no force capable of challenging Moi and the ruling party.
Then Goldenberg began triggering exposure of scandal after scandal and the hounds started nipping at the old man’s heels.
Even if it would take another 10 years (far short of the 100 years the old man had prophesied Kanu would rule) for Moi to finally leave State House and the real story of Goldenberg to emerge.
Twelve years ago, before David Munyakei’s life turned on itself, he had come to Nairobi as a young man with a sense of entitlement and great plans for the future.
His high school record was exemplary and he was someone who had held positions of responsibility in both his O level and A level schools.
Before Munyakei was offered employment at the CBK he had also been accepted as a cadet in the Army.
He was planning on accepting when the CBK offer came through and he opted instead to become a banker.
After being in the service of the state in a uniform, his mother felt this had more attractions than a career in the service of the state, and also an opportunity for someone in the family to branch out.
CBK positions were prestigious and difficult to come by.
Munyakei knew that the job also included opportunities for further studies: “I applied for my job and I was qualified and I was employed in the proper procedure. I went for all the tests and I qualified.”
So he joined the CBK in 1991.
The Central Bank is both a citadel and behemoth; its design communicates all the finesse of muscle.
Until the late 1990s, the Bank building dominated Haile Selassie Avenue.
Then Times Tower was completed, all 30 storeys of it.
Now the two, with their constant supply of armed guards, dominate the street like bullies at the back of the class.
Somewhere inside the Central Bank is the Development Department where Munyakei started working in 1991.
Created in 1966, the CBK is a hierarchical institution, an offspring of the Bretton Woods philosophy that created financial institutions central to the economy of developing countries back in the 1950s and 1960s.
At the head of the Central Bank of Kenya is the governor — a position curious in the government bureaucracy because of its power and autonomy, like being both CEO and chairman of the board.
The governor is a presidential appointee but with security of tenure.
In Moi times, the governor was directly answerable to the president. In President Mwai Kibaki’s different ruling style, the position pays allegiance to the Finance Minister.
A CBK insider who has worked in mostly senior positions since the 1990s describes the institutional philosophy of the organisation: “Mediocrity was the single most obvious character trait at CBK. And this showed itself through the single most important trait, and this misplaced loyalty, loyalty to individuals, not commitment to banking rules, regulation and practice.”
He adds: “There was a chain of inter-linkages formed from the bottom to the top, especially in departments where money flows. If you were out of favour you were relegated to the so called non-cash departments. Things haven’t really changed since Pattni and there is still an Old Boy network with those who really benefited still in place.”
At the CBK, the Pattni times are still remembered with fondness. Many are still living off pesa ya Pattni.
So this was the kind of place David Sadera Munyakei, a young man with large ambitions, found himself: “When I went to the Central Bank I was supposed to go to college but it was decided that this young man should be recruited at the Central Bank and after three years that he should be given a scholarship because he was qualified to go to university. I was very qualified to study economics and it was agreed by the bank that I should be recruited and after three years I should be given a scholarship which is within the banking provisions for training. That’s why I joined the central bank; otherwise I wanted first to go to school and finish my education, get my degree, get my Masters degree, get my PhD degree and now come and settle.”
But though this did not come to pass, David immediately realised he was lucky to get the job.
It is not clear whether he got the job without any political canvassing — a cousin claims that David got the job through the influence of the man David would claim is his father, a local Maasai politician.
David would deny this, saying he got the job fair and square, an unlikely occurrence but not impossible.
David conceded that “there was a lot of political patronage,” adding: “If you were qualified you could easily get the job. I was very happy because my ambitions were very high. I had a very big vision. I joined banking in 1991. I admired banking and decided to be a banker. It is a suitable profession. Okay especially at that time. It was also a place where one could advance.”
Like many boys, David had always wanted to become a pilot when he grew up.
Now 23, he was a clerk in the Central Bank. The boy’s dreams had been replaced by the man’s need to survive in the real world, in Nairobi. “After completing school things change. Reality changed. Becoming a pilot was a childish dream,” he would say.
By coming to Nairobi, Munyakei had stepped way outside the protection of the Maasai nation where he had grown up.
Though he realised there were different rules to Nairobi and the larger Kenya, he probably didn’t realise the degree to which this was a reality.
This has happened to many a Maasai who has had dealings outside the Maasai nation.
“I was very happy at the Central Bank when I started and I was very young. I joined CBK and only knew something was wrong after a whole year. I realised that something was wrong … the working procedures. Something was not right.”
The following is an unedited transcript of David Sadera Munyakei’s recorded account of what took place from the time he discovered something was wrong in the department he worked for, then exposing it and being arrested. It also contains his account of fleeing Nairobi for Mombasa.
Munyakei: When I realised things were not right, I consulted Onyango Jamasai who was a friend of mine.
He was senior and was available. I often discussed with him what was going on and he agreed that something was wrong.
We would go out of work and socialise. We were very intimate. I could tell him these things.
Jamasai said to me, “These transactions are illegal. It’s common sense: Where does gold and diamonds come from in Kenya to warrant these millions? Please be careful.”
Apart from another man, Kiambati, who was also a friend, the atmosphere in the office was not very free.
They [Munyakei’s bosses] were a bit aloof.
They were my bosses and they used to keep to themselves very much. Maybe by virtue of knowing what was going on.
They were not open. Jamasai was very open. They behaved like they didn’t care.
Everything happened for a long time, about one year. After 1992 elections this thing became very rampant and became open stealing.
I said no. I’d never told anyone, not even my brother.
The only person I discussed this issue with was Onyango Jamasai and he was a stickler to the rules and regulations within the banking procedures. I could go to him and I liked him because he would tell me “Munyakei this is wrong, and this is right.”
Jamasai was a very diligent man.
If something is wrong he could tell you to your face… And you know we were young and wanted to build our careers.
We were aiming high and Onyango Jamasai was one of the people we would go to.
I knew he was one of the people who could build somebody young like me. You cannot be built by somebody who is dishonest.
From High School I was given leadership because I was honest and very loyal. There was no way I could do anything wrong.
After 1992 elections things went haywire and there were no rules, no regulations.
I said no this is wrong and after that Mr Kiambati who had actually been in the system, gave me a lot of advice.
I had consulted with the management and raised complaints, and they did nothing.
I decided to go ahead and expose what was going on. I remember my colleagues asking me, “Mister, where exactly is the gold you seem to be clearing?”
The joke became irritating.
We used to meet at Kiambati’s office in Uchumi house, 6th floor. He had a tour firm.
We agreed that the economy could not grow with this kind of thing happening, and we decided to approach the MPs.
Kiambati introduced me to them. We met several times. I told Anyang’ Nyong’o and Paul Muite what was happening and after I gave them the proof they believed me, saying Kenya belonged to everyone and that this needed to be exposed.
I was trying to draw the attention of the government. I initially thought that the government was not aware what was going on at the CBK… I was not aware…I would come to learn later that this thing was a big thing.
It took three months after I met the MPs for the story to come out in the newspaper.
I have never met Pattni. He did not talk to people like us. Pattni only talked to the governor.
My bosses were not open. If you took anything to them they would tell you to go ahead and process it. They knew what was going on.
You being down there, you wouldn’t know. They would tell you to ignore. You are told to ignore. I used to drink everyday because of stress. The moment I leave the office I leave work. I never told anybody what was going on. I used to go out weekends to drink.
Kiambati must be the one who gave Warutere the information.
What I thought and what I expected is that the beneficiaries of the scheme will follow the rules and regulations of the scheme.
And that the culprits will desist from doing what they were doing.
When I saw the newspaper I was very, very happy. I even talked to people in my office about it.
We were several in the department. I showed the whole department.
On processing the vouchers, I did the most though Esther Karimi and Mrs Bett, also clerks, would do it when I asked for help.
Nobody reacted to the newspaper story. It didn’t last two days.
There is a lady who came and told me that she had heard a rumour but everything in that story was correct.
So after that there was a big story; to cover up the CID were ordered to investigate.
Wakauliza hii kazi inafanywa kwa department gani.
Kukuja kwa department wakauliza hii kazi inafanywa na nani.
Wakaambiwa ni Munyakei. They were talking to the bosses.
The bosses told them it was Munyakei who did this and that’s what happens when you go to a department and need to know what goes on.
So that’s when they came to arrest me.
They came to the head of department and they were told it is Munyakei and since I had been complaining they knew and were not happy.
Are you getting me?
If you are head of department, you know everything.
Some CBK security officers found me at the canteen and told me that I was wanted at the security office at CBK.
I didn’t know why they wanted me. I met two gentlemen, one was called Mr Macharia.
Brown and of average height. The head of security told me I was under arrest.
Under arrest for what? It was then that things changed…It’s like I tell you ebu kuja kidogo and on reaching outside nikudunge kisu!
It was such a surprise! I asked them what’s happening they could not talk and told me “Twende kwanza, tutaongea mbele.” CID headquarters.
Along the way it’s when they told me “Oh, it has been claimed that you are the person communicating with members of the Opposition. You are the one who is giving them information.”
Kuenda tuu. No interrogation. So I stayed there for a whole day. I just sat in the office. Nobody was talking to me. Kukaa tu for the whole day.
When 5 o’clock reached I was expecting to be released to go home.
Nikaambiwa hapana, you are going to sleep in a cell. Me I was very OK, I knew I was very innocent.
No problem, I was very relaxed. Saa kumi na moja ilipofika wakasema twende. Singewaulilza kwa nini wananipeleka kwa cell, Macharia na jamaa mwingine walinipeleka. Kunipeleka Kileleshwa, I stayed there for about 3 days.
I landed in Nairobi High Court and they charged me with communicating information with unauthorised persons in contravention of the Official Secrets Act.
They said until I hear from the A-G, we cannot give you bail.
My family was in court but they did not know what was going on. My bosses knew what was going on.
I was denied bail till the A-G communicated to me and so I was taken to Industrial Area Remand.
Nikakaa one week. Kukuja for mention after one week nikakubaliwa bond ya 200,000.
Wakati my mother alisikia nimeshikwa ndio akapata shock.
She was very shocked and could not believe it when she came to visit me in remand.
Lakini, she could not believe. We talked for a very short time — five minutes.
Alikuwa amekasirika sana, she was very disturbed.
Alikuwa ananiambia nimwambie vile nimefanya. Nikamwambia I’m very innocent.
So she thought I was lying and she was very much annoyed.
So ndio akapata stroke two days later na akapata depression. So she came to be admitted to hospital. Kwa sababu ya hii maneno tu.
Before that she was healthy lakini vile alisikia nimeshikwa she got mad! Because she could not reconcile why I was arrested.
Are you getting me?
She said, “Wamekushika, wamekushika! Watakuachilia? Umenifanya nini?”
When I was released after bond tayari alikuwa hospital so, naenda kotini, naenda kumwona. Alikaa hospitali karibu mwezi moja alafu she passed away. I was already on an interdiction and you just report at the security office and you leave.
Are you getting me?
Unareport alafu unaenda, unasign then you go on your way. I was being paid half salary. I had a case in court.
After a month my mother passed away. It took a month for the A-G to say that there was no case against me.
My state of mind then was confused. Well, my family was supportive to some certain extent but it was not easy.
Two months after mention the AG released me. I wrote a letter to CBK showing that the AG had entered a nollé prosequi.
They told me the bank no longer had confidence in me. After about a year I fled to Mombasa.”
David's brother, Daniel, also gives his and the Munyakei family’s impressions of the trying time of David’s arrest.
Daniel is a master of understatement and though he describes his relationship with his late brother as cordial, he is the ideal bigger brother, someone who felt obligated enough to relieve their mother of paying David’s school fees once he, Daniel, started working.
This is in spite of the fact that their mother could still afford it and Daniel had only left school two years earlier.
It is characteristic for Daniel to simply say: “I would treat him as a younger brother.” Sturdy, serious and organised, Daniel Munyakei’s only frivolity is being an avid Manchester United fan.
This belies the logistical and emotional support he has provided David with over the years.
All the more amazing when you learn that Daniel only got to know the real truth of his brother’s involvement in the Goldenberg issue a few weeks before David testified in 2003. A weaker human being would have been swept away by insidious doubts and speculation.
Another important cog in David’s CBK years is the friend he had in the institution.
In December 2004 David Munyakei met this friend, mentor and confidante. Meshack Onyango Jamasai for lunch at the Nairobi Club. Mr Jamasai, then a Deputy Director at the Central Bank, resembles a kindly uncle.
At the lunch, David Munyakei was very deferential towards Jamasai whose reaction to seeing his old friend was encapsulated in a question he posed to David: “Munyakei, my friend let me ask you: How did you manage to do the thing that you managed to do?”
That query shows the esteem in which both men hold each other even after all these years.
Munyakei blinked several times and after trying to utter a few words was silent, almost shy. Nothing more needed to be said.
Back in the 1990s, when a banker was thrown in jail it could only meant one thing — fraud.
But even with that as a possibility after David’s arrest, his brother Daniel fully supported him.
“Basically, my brother had pointed out that there was something fishy that was going on. I told him to be careful and try and find out what was going on,” Daniel says.
“But one thing about David you must realise is that he was a very courageous person. Basically he was born that way.
He can easily reveal anything. Hii ni kitu imetoka utotoni. Brave.
In school he was very open.” Daniel says that David was seriously disgruntled a year after being employed and often talked of seeking a departmental change.”
Eventually when he was relieved from Central Bank and put in, the word that was going around was that there was some confidential information that had been leaked from the Central Bank to the public through the MPs.
We didn’t even know my brother was involved — this was just something I overheard. Fununu za Nairobi. We did not connect the two.”
It took three days for Daniel to know that his brother had been ‘put in.’
Daniel says their mother knew almost immediately but she was so disturbed that she did not even tell him immediately: “I tend to think that my mother got to know almost immediately. I could not ask why she did not tell me because I saw that, that thing affected her very much. We did not want to dwell on that. We wanted to get him out.”
“Our mother did not accept that someone could just be wrongfully arrested and be accused of big things like that. More so her son. She could not believe that he could be involved. She initially thought that he had stolen. Open theft, forgery. Things like that. There was a heap of speculation.”
Daniel says that the fact that their mother worked in prisons and had seen men and women who were hardened criminals made it seem worse for her.
“She could not imagine her son one day becoming a prisoner. She changed immediately. After that she died on 10th July.
Watu wakaanza kusema David amefanya mathee akufe because of criminal activities … “
“I went to see him in the Remand prison. He told me there was some confidential information that had been leaked and maybe that’s why he was there. We left the matter there. It was very torturing. We did not involve any big figures to get him out because we did not know the core of the problem. It was a big surprise. This man has never been implicated in anything. And during those Moi times anything could happen. They were not allowing you to talk. Even when I went I could not speak to him alone. Those guys even interviewed me: ‘You are his brother, where do you come from? Come and see him another day.’ It was a big thing. We could see. There was a block between him and the public.”
“After our mother died, at the funeral we were imagining many things. I remember very well we buried our mother and then we travelled to be at the law courts on Monday.”
Another important cog in David’s CBK years is the friend he had in the institution.
In December 2004 David Munyakei met this friend, mentor and confidante.
Meshack Onyango Jamasai for lunch at the Nairobi Club.
Mr Jamasai, then a Deputy Director at the Central Bank, resembles a kindly uncle. With his large frame and small, warm, intelligent eyes behind round spectacles he looks like Eddie Murphy’s character Professor Klump in ‘The Nutty Professor.’
At the lunch, David Munyakei was very deferential towards Jamasai whose reaction to seeing his old friend was encapsulated in a question he posed to David: “Munyakei, my friend let me ask you: How did you manage to do the thing that you managed to do?” That query shows the esteem in which both men hold each other even after all these years. Munyakei blinked several times and after trying to utter a few words was silent, almost shy. Nothing more needed to be said.