Word on the street, or rather the inter-web or Internet super highway, is that the ‘leadership, governance, accountability and media watchdog’ known as Mars Group Kenya, is for the time being at least, no more.
The Mars Group, formed by Mwalimu Mati former Director of Transparency International Kenya (see also http://kenyapolitical.blogspot.com/), has for some years now ‘blown the whistle’ on skulduggery and fraud in high places in Kenya, even one occasion forcing Kenya’s Finance Minister to re-check his figures in the 2009 budget, but since some time in December the Mars Group’s website has been down and its leaks plugged.
For some this is bad news. ‘Unfortunate’ was how it was lamely described by blogger Bankelele (http://bankelele.blogspot.com/) , who reported that the collapse came about after “someone tried to create an application to access their vast database – and this provoked the founders to take down the site”.
The reason given on the CIO East Africa site ) was that the “Mars Group was not comfortable with accessibility of information the group had published on their website. It has been claimed that Mars Group closed the website after a developer published an application that pulled information from their website”.
Both theories are viable but this being Kenya it might just have been that the database guys hadn’t been paid!
However, not all the chatter on the Internet regretted Mars Group’s demise. “Hee hee, the Mars Group, aka ‘KenyaWiki’ ‘s site is down…looks like they may need to rebuild their database…maybe 6-12 months work or more”, one correspondent gleefully commented. Others suggested (see www.rcbowen.com/) that the Group was pro ODM and only investigated PNU corruption.
Dennis Mbuvi, writing on the CIO East Africa site did make the point that, “It is baffling that an organization devoted to making information open does not support open access policies, given that browsers perform the same function”.
Most commentators drew the comparison between Mars Group and Wikileaks but perhaps they didn’t realise that the link between the two was, or has been, closer than they thought. It’s not just that Mars Group and Wikileaks have been noticeably lacking in transparency about how they are funded and who really runs them, they have worked hand-in-glove together in Kenya before.
THE KROLL REPORT
Some Forum readers may recall the ‘Kroll Report’ on corruption in Kenya that was published on Wikileaks just before the election in 2007. There has since been much speculation that it was in fact the Mars Group that leaked it to Wikileaks.
The Kroll Report, the enormous cost of which was paid for from Kenya’s taxes, has never been released (no transparency there then). It certainly did no harm to Raila Odinga’s chances of election (he had sat on the committee that commissioned the report and supervised its drafting), the timing of its release coming just after two of the ‘targets’ had declared for Kibaki.
Before being leaked several pages were removed (and have yet to be published). The index refers to ‘targets’ 1, 2, 3, and 7 but the report does not mention targets 4, 5 and 6 and their identities have never been revealed. Who were they? The report itself was so littered with elementary mistakes that it was rendered all but useless. Not surprisingly, Kroll rapidly closed their Nairobi office soon after their report had been leaked.
This is the point: Mars Group, Wikileaks and even the company Kroll have done good work in the past “afflicting the comfortable” but ironically and rather hypocritically the all share a deep reluctance to be open about their own operations. And none of them allow comment or the opportunity for their targets to rectify mistakes made in their reporting.
The Forum hopes the Mars Group will rise from the ashes. We hope that Wikileaks will continue to leak and even Kroll to report. But all involved should remember that transparency works both ways (or should do) and that the right to reply and to correct published mistakes is vital in a free and fair country that Kenya aspires to be.