What is Good for Safaricom is NOT Always Good for Kenya and Kenyans!
By Dorcas Sarkozy
Charles Erwin Wilson, a former CEO of General Motors and President Eisenhower’s nominee for Secretary of Defense was forced to sell his GM stock during his confirmation hearing back in 1953.
Wilson did this to avoid a conflict of interest appearance.
Before liquidating his portfolio, then-valued at $2.5million, the engineer and car industry executive explained to the Senate Armed Services Committee that he had not foreseen anything wrong simultaneously owning GM stock AND being SecDef “because for years he thought what was good for America was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”
The foregoing expression has been misquoted and misused by many, including yours truly, to warn about the oftentimes incestuous relationship between big corporations and governments; this even though qualities of successful corporations can impact governments in positive ways.
On the other hand, it was the same US president – Dwight Eisenhower – who warned Americans about the budding “Military Industrial Complex” (MIC). This he did during his farewell speech in 1961 when he warned the nation about the increasing power and influence of the unspoken alliance/relationships between a nation’s military and its private industry/corporations.
The alliance is oftentimes shrouded in conflict-of-interest layers because both sides benefit from it – the government receives materiel (especially for war) and industry/corporations get paid – oftentimes handsomely – to supply said goods and services.
I, along with others would argue that the (MIC) alliance oftentimes drives/influences public and foreign policy as exemplified by the narrative about “the invasion of Iraq for its oil”.
Companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop-Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics are some of the best-known members of the MIC. Lesser-known but increasingly more important ones are collectively under the US DeptDef umbrella known as “DARPA” or Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Additionally, Palo Alto-based Plantir Technologies, while private, is one of the newest members of the alliance who specialize in big data analysis for the American government in this era of cyberwar and technology-driven military hardware.
FYI: Both BMW and Mercedes Benz were integral cogs in Germany’s war supply chain during WWII.
Bob Collymore is a Guyanese-British national running Safaricom – one of Kenya’s most valuable AND strategic companies – both from a market-cap AND national security perspective. This is the relationship Eisenhower was alluding to and can only be so blatant in the corrupt environment that is Kenya. And the argument that Safaricom employees “lots of Kenyan nationals” only furthers that concern – the real risk of a non-Kenyan running a company that is vital to the country’s national security AND employees a lot of Kenyan nationals.
In his book “Kenya: A History Since Independence” Charles Hornsby writes that while the internet gave Kenyans access to the rest of the world, the government/law still required all ISPs to use the government-owned Telkom Kenya’s infrastructure. The St. Antony’s College professor weaves an interesting narrative about a supposedly private company – Safaricom – whose ownership skirts private (Vodafone) and government (GoK) partnership that only deepens the already suspicious and biased relationship between the company, the government of Kenya and unnamed private investors rumored to be Nicholas Biwott (RIP) and Gideon Moi.
(Telkom Kenya was previously a part of the Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (KPTC) which was the sole provider of both postal and telecommunication services.)
Given the significant role information & communications technology (ICT) played in the just-concluded and annulled 2017 presidential elections, any investigation into what happened during said elections would be incomplete, indeed shambolic, were it not to delve into Safaricom’s role in the process. This is particularly true given the role the company had in transmitting the results from the Kenya Integrated Election Management (KIEMS) kits at polling stations to the IEBC servers.
Questioning Safaricom’s role in the 2017 Elections is given further urgency when one considers the October 5, 2017 article in the Daily Nation which revealed that the service provider had “sacked 52 employees suspected of involvement in fraudulent activities in the year ended March…..16 more than the 36 it sent home the previous year.”
The company said that the fired employees were accused of involvement in “theft, asset misappropriation as well as policy breaches involving unauthorized access to data systems…..fraudulent SIM card swaps and breach of rules governing money transfer service M-Pesa start key issuance.”
Not surprisingly, Safaricom’s CEO Collymore had previously dismissed disconcertingly similar accusations by the opposition party NASA as “reckless, callous and unnecessary” when responding to NASA’s claim that his company’s employees “…..acting in concert with others intentionally and or recklessly damaged and interfered with Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS) kits used in the polls.
Anyone doubting the ease with which technology can be manipulated to affect the outcome of the re-election of two demonstrably corrupt former crimes-against-humanity suspects is either naïve, ignorant or both! They should also read up on Diebold Inc.’s role in the 2004 presidential race in Ohio.
The slippery slope from “theft of asset….policy breaches….breaches of rules….and fraudulent activities” to “intentionally or recklessly damaging…..interfering with KIEMSs kits” by employees (of Safaricom), in the hotbed of corruption that is Kenya, is thus not far-fetched, circuitous nor implausible.
This is one possible outcome of the MIC relationship Dwight Eisenhower warned Americans about:
The seamless almost indistinguishable relationship between connected/favored private businesses and their dealings with the American government. It sets the stage for abuse on either side – private industry and government – oftentimes to the detriment of the country and its citizens.
The foregoing scenario is fully captured by University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) Professor of Sociology William Domhoff in his lengthy but well-researched and corroborated piece aptly titled “Why and How the Corporate Rich and Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Reshaped the Global Economy after WWII…and Then Fought a War They Knew They Would Lose in Vietnam”.
Unfortunately, the same level of critical and in-depth investigative research into the relationship between government and private industry is not readily available in Kenya – if at all – for very obvious reasons. To wit, efforts to unveil who owns Vodafone’s secret partner Mobitelea Ventures Ltd. have repeatedly run in obstacles with claims of “confidentiality agreement” preventing revelation of the who Mobitelea IS – this in a partnership partly owned by Kenyan citizens! (“Investigation into Vodafone’s mystery partner in Kenya” – UK Telegraph February 2007).