Kenya-US arms deal fails the smell test, says John Githongo

Thursday March 09 2017

Kenyan anti-corruption campaigner John Githongo. FILE PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Kenya's proposed $418 million purchase of a dozen armed border-patrol aircraft and related items from a US manufacturer “fails the smell test,” says anti-corruption campaigner John Githongo.

Mr Githongo suggests that the pending deal with New York-based L3 Technologies could involve corruption on the part of Kenyan officials.

He notes that a different US company has indicated it could supply Kenya with the missile-bearing and intelligence-gathering planes for about $130 million less than the price L3 is said to be charging.

This apparent discrepancy exhibits “stark similarities to corruption scandals” in other cases involving Kenya's security sector, Mr Githongo argues.

He adds, however, that he has no evidence to support suspicions of graft in this instance.

Mr Githongo spoke on Wednesday when he was hosted in Washington by US Congressman Ted Budd who has urged a US government watchdog agency to investigate Kenya's tentative agreement with L3. Mr Githongo said he had come to Washington to offer his support to Congressman Budd and to “encourage him to stay the course.”


READ: Githongo, US arms sale critic to expose graft deals online

The Republican lawmaker represents a district in the state of North Carolina that is home to military contractor IOMAX.

That company says it is the sole source of the type of aircraft Kenya is seeking for use against al-Shabaab in Somalia, and can supply the planes and related elements for less than $290 million.

IOMAX was not given an opportunity to bid on the Kenyan acquisition, Congressman Budd has said.

“I've seen enough to want an investigation,” he told reporters.

Congressman Budd also offered no evidence of corruption in the Kenya-L3 deal, which has been approved by the State Department and the US Congress.

"Begging for aid"

The purchase has not been finalised, however, and US Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec has said the Ministry of Defence can still negotiate terms with L3.

Mr Githongo commented that the Kenyan government has seemed willing to spend nearly $200 million more than necessary at a time when it is “begging for aid to feed people who are starving.”

“It's $130 million we can't afford,” Mr Githongo said, noting that Kenyan doctors have been on strike for months as they demand a pay raise.

Congressman Budd suggested that US officials may not have provided Kenya with appropriate guidance regarding the source of the weapons it was interested in obtaining.

“An ally came to us seeking help for their fight against Al-Shabaab, and said they needed help immediately, and we give them the slowest, most expensive option.”

IOMAX President and CEO Ron Howard told the Nation in an email message earlier this week that his company “can provide a superior, tested product within six months at a significant savings.” L3 would likely require a much longer period for delivery because it and a partner firm would have to “build and test the planes from scratch.”

Mr Howard also suggested that Kenyan officials may not have been given proper advice regarding the arms package they want to procure.

“I have spoken to them personally on the highest levels and can confirm they were totally unaware that IOMAX was the actual sole source of the Border Patrol Aircraft,” Mr Howard said.

L3 has defended its role and capabilities in regard to the proposed deal with Kenya.

“Any allegations questioning L3’s experience producing this equipment or the 'fairness' of the process are misinformed or being intentionally perpetuated for competitive reasons," the company was quoted as saying in a March 3 Fox News report.

"L3 recently received approval from the US State Department for a possible sale to Kenya of aircraft and related support, including Air Tractor AT-802L planes," the company added.

"L3 has delivered multiple missionised Air Tractor aircraft, which were similar to our offering to Kenya.”

Kenyan officials in Nairobi and Washington have not responded to Nation requests for comment on the controversy involving L3 and IOMAX.