Once upon a time journalists were called just that, ‘journalists’: now they are often referred to as ‘investigative journalists’, a term that gained currency 40 years ago after two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, led the investigation that became the ‘Watergate scandal’ resulting in the resignation of US President Richard Nixon in August 1974.
Could it happen in Kenya? Perhaps so, but only if our journalists and editors have the courage to ask, and keep asking, the simple question that Woodward and Bernstein kept asking: to date they have singularly failed to do so. Whether this has been due to a lack of professionalism, cowardice or collusion will have to be left to Kenya Forum readers to decide for the time being.
THE WATERGATE SCANDAL
First a very quick summary of the ‘Watergate’ saga as most of our readers will be too young to remember it.
In June 1972 five people were arrested when they were found at 1am in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex in Washington D.C. in the United States. It took time but it was gradually revealed that they were operating under the direction of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, i.e. the re-election of Republican President Richard Millhouse Nixon.
Two journalists, Woodward and Bernstein, were put on to the investigation by The Washington Post and as a result of their work and other journalists at Time Magazine and The New York Times, the truth was gradually revealed.
‘SLUSH FUND’ AND WIRE TAPS
First it was revealed that the five burglars were paid from a ‘slush fund’, a secret fund, operated by the
Committee for the Re-Election of the President; that they had placed wire taps in the Democratic Party’s headquarters in May 1972 and returned a month later to steal documents.
As the journalists went on asking the questions and gradually getting answers it was revealed that Whitehouse staff, Republican aides and Committee members were involved in and colluded with the illegal activity, and later that some were involved in trying to cover the whole story up. The question was: how high up did it go?
Wood ward and Bernstein were aided by a ‘mole’, someone from the inside of the establishment who fed them information, known as ‘Deep Throat’. ‘Deep Throat’s’ real name was not known to the outside world for over 30 years but was later revealed to be William Mark Felt Sr., the Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It seems likely that he passed on the incriminating evidence because he was angry at being passed over for the job as Director of the FBI and wanted to undermine the man got the post instead of him.
“WHAT DID YOU KNOW AND WHEN DID YOU KNOW IT?”
Woodward and Bernstein, and then the politicians, including some Republicans, went on asking questions and essentially they went on asking the same question of each individual: “What did you know and when did you know it?”
As the truth was gradually uncovered, each time the question was answered, the two journalists were able to more and more precisely fix the position of the truth in the matter. Eventually of course, the question had to be asked: “What did the President know and when did he know it?” And when that was revealed President Nixon had to go before he was impeached.
[Woodward and Bernstein subsequently wrote a best-selling book, ‘All the President’s Men’ that in turn was made into a film of the same name starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford in 1976].
MIGUNA MIGUNA’s ALLEGATIONS: IS THE PRESS ASKING THE QUESTION?
Unless you live in a cave then just about everyone in Kenya now knows of Miguna Miguna’s allegations in his book ‘Peeling Back the Mask’. The former aide to Prime Minister Raila Odinga alleged corruption in the Office of the Prime Minister, particularly against two individuals that he named.
Like ‘Deep Throat’ forty years before him, Miguna Miguna’s motives may not be absolutely pure: he lost his job, he is angry and he could be seen as a man who wants to get even. But like ‘Deep Throat’ his allegations must not be ignored.
FIXING THE POSITION – THE SARAH ELDERKIN LETTER
Miguna Miguna himself gives the first bearing that helps, perhaps, to fix the position of the truth in the corruption allegations, when he quoted in full in ‘Peeling Back the Mask’ a letter sent to the Prime Minister on August 6, 2001, by another aide, and sometime freelance journalist, Sara Elderkin.
As far as the Kenya Forum is aware, Sarah Elderkin has never denied sending the letter, or claimed that Miguna Miguna misquoted her.
The key paragraph in her letter to the Prime Minister, reads:
‘You have people around you playing major roles who are irredeemably corrupt. Two of them were suspended earlier and then incomprehensibly reinstated. They were suspended on full pay and benefits. Now you have a man [Miguna Miguna] who is totally loyal and not involved in your office staff’s blatant, well-known all over town, corruption, yet he is ‘suspended’ without pay and this is activated by one whose integrity I wouldn’t trust beyond a yard from me, someone the whole town talks about.’
Sarah Elderkin’s letter appears to refer to the same two people that Miguna Miguna alleges were corrupt and she, like Miguna, was alleging of corruption in the Prime Minister’s office.
SARAH ELDERKIN DEFENDS HER POSITION
Since the publications of Peeling Back the Mask, Sarah Elderkin has been afforded a great deal of space, page and pages of it, in at least two of Kenya’s newspapers, The Daily Nation and The Star, to defend her position and that of the Prime Minister.
At no point has either newspaper, or any other printed publication in Kenya that we know of, for example the Nairobi Law Monthly, taken the view that Ms Elderkin is not just someone who has the right to comment on this story, she is also part of the story, and none have had the sense or the courage to keep asking her, “What did you know and when did you know it?
ALLEGED CORRUPTION IN THE PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE – THE QUESTION MUST BE ASKED
Miguna Miguna, apparently corroborated by Sarah Elderkin, both people who were or are associated with Prime Minister Raila Odinga, alleged blatant corruption in one of the highest offices of state in Kenya.
The Kenya Forum takes the view that so far Miguna Miguna has not actually made an allegation of corruption against the Prime Minister himself stick.
It seems, however, that Kenyan press will not, or dare not ask the question that will help validate or demolish Miguna Miguna’s allegations. Neither The Daily Nation or The Star seem to aspire to be Kenya’s equivalent of The Washington Post. Are there no Woodward’s and Bernstein’s among Kenya’s journalists?
It appears that it is left to The Kenya Forum therefore, to ask in the first instance of Ms Sarah Elderkin, about the allegations of corruption in Prime Minister Odinga’s office that you referred to in your letter of August 6, 2011: “WHAT DID YOU KNOW AND WHEN DID YOU KNOW IT?’
P.s. Senior editors and journalists at The Daily Nation, The Star and the Nairobi Law Monthly have been notified of this Kenya Forum posting.