Kenya: How Graft Ended Hassan Wario’s Diplomatic Career

Hassan Wario’s Twitter page states that he is Kenya‘s ambassador to Austria. Not correct.

It should have been three years ago. Instead, he stares at the jail sentence if he fails to pay a fine for money embezzled as Cabinet Secretary for Sports and Culture.

It should never have been like that. First dismissed as sports cabinet secretary in January 2018, Wario, like several of his colleagues, fell on softer ground in the cabinet after the president had sent him to Vienna. There he would be Kenya’s permanent representative to the UN in Vienna and ambassador to Austria.

After a review by the National Assembly, Wario was declared fit for service. He would be one of 13 diplomats to be deployed at this point.

work experience

While holding a State House role to officially appoint them, President Kenyatta told the group later in June he trusted that their work experience would serve the country better.

“I expect a lot from you in order to achieve our agenda. We expect a lot more than the usual diplomatic relations. I expect better results,” the president told the new ambassadors.

“You are the voice of our country through engagements that foster good partnerships in trade, investment and the blue economy.”

Little did we know that Wario’s seed, sown two years earlier, sprouted into a scandalous eyesore on its reputation. On Wednesday, the judge said Wario was guilty of abuse of office and was punishable for the abuse of Sh55 million destined for the Kenyan Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The theft happened under his supervision as Secretary of the Sports Cabinet.

The case may have marked an important point in the fight against corruption: large fish are rarely caught. But it can also permanently close off his diplomatic career.

Envoy

When he was arrested on October 18, 2018 – he actually presented himself to a police station and was arrested – he had already been accepted by Austria as Kenya’s new envoy. Vienna had meanwhile sent him an agrément, a diplomatic document that serves as a “certificate of acceptance” for new ambassadors, so to speak. He told the police that he had already packed his bags and would fly out to report to the new station.

With a touch of corruption, Wario’s government presence was no longer tenable and President Kenyatta dismissed him again in May 2019. Robinson Njeru Githae, a former Treasury Secretary posted to Washington DC, took his place in Vienna.

Now, a forgotten man, Wario fought his court battles while the world went on. His case, like many others, dragged on as the parties presented technical reasons for delaying the proceedings. However, he had no escape.

Guilty

On Wednesday the judge said he was guilty of abusing his office for Sh55 million in connection with the Rio 2016 Olympics scandal.

Wario, along with former National Olympic Committee of Kenya (Nock) official Stephen Soi, is faced with a mandatory fine equal to twice the benefit or loss suffered by the public as a result of their behavior.

Is his story from grass to grass to grass? Perhaps the fines or prison terms won’t impoverish him. But as the first cabinet secretary in President Kenyatta’s administration to be found guilty of corruption, it could indelibly mark him as greedy.

When he was born in Moyale 50 years ago, his family was poor, lived on a few pets, and survived at the grace of well-wishers. An entry on a Chevening Fellowship Directory says that a charity funded his secondary education after learning of his conditions. He had 10 other siblings.

Smart student

And he was a smart student, the entry says, which enabled him to pass with good grades and go to the University of Nairobi on a national government scholarship. He later studied in the UK under the Chevening Scholarship Program.

A University of East Anglia alumnus and an anthropologist by profession, Wario’s life was largely out of the public eye as he worked for museums in the UK and later in Kenya.

Things went uphill in 2013 when President Uhuru Kenyatta named him Sports CS. Part of a pastoral and long-marginalized group – the Borana Congregation – his appointment to the executive branch at the age of 43 was a great achievement.

technocrat

He joined the cabinet as a technocrat, and when pastoral communities complained about marginalization by successive governments.

All was well until reports surfaced in July 2016 of mismanagement by the Kenyan team at the Rio Olympics, with Wario being verbally abused on social media and blamed for the multi-million shillings financial scandal.

The evidence presented in court shows that he abused his office by ordering three people to be included in the list of the delegation to accompany Team Kenya to Rio.

The beneficiaries are Adan Omar Enow, Richard Abura and Monica Sairo. The three were traveling on visas issued by the Brazilian embassy and were not part of the delegation, despite being part of the Kenya team after all.

Rio de Janeiro

Wario accompanied the Kenyan athletes to the Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and returned home with 13 medals – six gold, six silver and one bronze medal.

The medals are hailed as the best Olympic achievement in Kenya’s history, although the athletes returned to Nairobi silently and without celebration.

To his credit, Wario used to honor almost all events that fell under his files.

He avoided the cameras at the beginning of the trial, but stopped later, perhaps after learning that journalists’ attention to his presence in court had continued.

During the trial, the slender and towering man rarely mingled with his five co-defendants. When he wasn’t reading the newspaper, he would scroll his cell phone or talk to his lawyer.

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