WikiLeaks will kill Kenyan careers in 2011

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The Year 2011 was never much on Kenyans\’ minds before it dawned at midnight on Saturday January 1. The year Kenyans have long waited for with bated breath is 2012, the magic year of the 11th General Election, with 2011 being just the footbridge to the polls.

But Kenyans had better begin paying very close attention to certain events that are scheduled by faraway forces beyond our control for rollout this year, with far-reaching implications for the 2012 General Election.

I am referring to the WikiLeaks phenomenon, particularly the third very large whistle-blowing dump on the Internet in 2010 of secret US documents – the embassy cables from around the world. Of the 250,000 cables, about 1,800 were from the US Embassy in Nairobi.

For some reason which remains unexplained, the entire Kenyan cache was given to the Der Spiegel newspaper of Germany, which has been releasing only significant teaspoonfuls of it, which are then immediately picked up by English language newspapers and broadcasters around the world, including Nairobi, with dramatic effect.

WikiLeaks distributed the full cache of a quarter-million cables to just five newspapers with a global reputation – the New York Times, the Guardian of the UK, the London Times, Der Spiegel and El Pais of Spain.  Unlike the leakage of US military secrets earlier in 2010, the diplomatic cables were read and redacted (edited to remove some names of persons and institutions, to protect informers) before publication.

At year\’s end, only a handful of the Kenya files had been released and they caused both a scandal and a sensation, including the first ever investigation of prominent Kenyans on drug trading charges also tied to money laundering, gunrunning and human trafficking.

Many more Kenya files are going to be leaked in this New Year and it is time Kenyans begun bracing themselves for the contents of many of those secret cables – whether as individuals, the State, the corporate sector or as the national body politic.

All indications are that the going is about to become nasty. Prominent wheeler dealing, dirty power games, sexual proclivities, health secrets, banking habits, inhibitions, deviance, all manner of secrets, excesses and shortcomings, will be hung out to dry in the biggest public washing of personal and corporate dirty linen since the foundation of this Republic.

And the media will no doubt lap it all up and transmit it to a bemused population, blown out of all proportion, without perspective and without a sense of discretion, comparison and contrast.

Among other things, we need to be alive to the fact that high State officials who have suffered the indignity of stepping aside in the past but have been restored after a while could well be required to re-step aside, this time for good.

The case of Charterhouse Bank is highly instructive in this regard. It was shut by the Central Bank of Kenya four years ago but was, after prolonged investigations, cleared of all wrongdoing by the Parliamentary Committee on Trade, in early December 2010, with the Treasury, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) and the CBK itself offering no dissenting voice. But Charterhouse remains firmly shut, courtesy of the WikiLeaks Cablegate scandal and US renegade envoy Michael Ranneberger.

Indeed, by Easter 2011 the number of prominent Kenyans who will have been required to step aside for one reason or another, both in the private and public sectors, could reach crisis proportions.

What\’s more, the cumulative effect of seeing their leaders and other eminent persons in this country being serially embarrassed and exposed could have totally unintended and unexpected impacts on Kenyans, who are slow to anger but occasionally prone to mass madness. If the impression is created that the leaks are clearing the decks for 2012 for one political faction or combination of factions, there could well be riots in the streets asking that the deluge of secret information be stopped.

Ordinary Kenyans who do not understand the workings of diplomacy and its intersection with governance, the law and internal security will suddenly demand to be told why grown men and women – national leaders in their own right – are being bundled out of public office and felled like dominoes.

The political class could be forgiven for beginning to fear that a year from now so many of them will have been tarred with the brush of WikiLeaks and other expose mechanisms (for instance a resurgent KACC under eloquent Prof PLO Lumumba\’s stewardship) that the electorate might well develop an appetite for candidates drawn from civil society.

And then there is the national security factor. At what point could the leaks reach a national security critical mass? If the leaks concern the military, intelligence service and details of VIP security arrangements, they will have breached certain non-negotiable national security parameters. Already, there has been a much-redacted cable on Kenya leaked by Der Spiegel and pointing an accusing finger at China and a number of high-ranking Kenyans, but it sounds like procurement envy and sour grapes.

Perhaps Kenya should urgently adopt and adapt a DA-Notice system such as the one that Britain has had in place since 1912. This is a Defence Advisory Notice (known as a D-Notice, for Defence, until 1993). It is an official request issued directly by Her Majesty\’s Government to news editors not to publish or broadcast specified items for reasons of national security.

The DA-Notice system, a voluntary arrangement by a joint committee headed by a senior civil servant and a representative of the Press Association, has served Britain well for 99 years, without compromising freedom of information or access to information.

Think about it.

The writer is the Director of Information

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