Eyebrows raised as Ruto meets with shadowy Belgian ‘investor’
A shadowy organisation based in Belgium which has gained a reputation for entering into multimillion dollar deals with struggling countries by pitching projects that it never delivers has set its sights on Kenya.
The Bridgin Foundation, a private foundation registered in Brussels, that claims to be bankrolled by wealthy Jewish people in their twilight years, has managed to get its way into Kenyan President William Ruto’s seven-month old administration.
On March 22, Kenya’s embassy in Brussels, the European Union headquarters, announced that President Ruto had held a meeting with the president of the Bridgin Foundation Tanko Mouhamadou, in which they “discussed possible projects to be undertaken in the country.”
The meeting took place in Nairobi before President Ruto visited Belgium. The nature of the projects that the foundation promised the Kenyan leader are yet to be disclosed, but a background check of the organisation’s activities around the globe since 2016 showed that President Ruto could have become the victim of influential officials of the foundation with high-level contacts.
Other African states waiting for his largesse are Uganda, Malawi, Ghana, Zambia, and Liberia. In Malawi, Bridgin Foundation made the state pay for flights and accommodation for its top leadership to attend a much-hyped signing ceremony.
Not dug background
The EastAfrican has established that senior government officials who attended the meeting alongside Kenyan President had not dug the background of the group to find out the past controversies and only came to learn of it when the newspaper reached out.
Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Dr Korir Sing’oei confirmed the meeting with Bridgin Foundation officials but could not divulge details of the discussions.
President Ruto later travelled to Belgium and Germany on official visit. He met diplomats from Africa, Caribbean and Pacific, besides the Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, European Union Council President Charles Michel. A dispatch indicated that in Berlin, he held a meeting with organisations and more than 100 companies who wish to invest in Kenya and the African continent.
President Ruto’s meeting with Mr Mouhamadou came at a time when Malawians had started demanding answers from President Lazarus Chakwera’s administration about a purported deal worth $6.8 billion to fund major infrastructure projects in the country.
Fund major projects
According to a Malawi government announcement, as part of the deal signed in November 2022, the Bridgin Foundation was set to fund major projects that included a $3.3 billion power plant that would produce 1GW, which would end the country’s perennial electricity shortages.
The foundation promised to invest another $1 billion in a modern teaching hospital and $750 million in the construction of Malawi’s first high-tech fertiliser plant.
After the fanfare that characterised the signing ceremony, President Chakwera’s administration did not factor the promised cash in the 2023/2024 budget, prompting analysts to question the authenticity of the foundation’s grant. In fact, when pressed on the status of the grant in January, Finance minister Sosten Gwengwe said: “No one signed for $6.8 billion or something like it. That’s just nonsense.”
Bright Msaka, a former Cabinet minister under former president Peter Mutharika’s government, said it was becoming clear that Malawi was tricked into a non-existent deal and suggested that President Chakwera’s administration did not do due diligence on the Bridgin Foundation.
“We in (the opposition Democratic Progressive Party have said all along that the Bridgin finance facility is a marvellous monument of the Tonse administration’s ineptitude,” Mr Msaka told Malawi’s The Nation newspaper. “How could a government that is supposedly advised by experts be fooled to that extent?
“As the Finance minister he admitted during budget consultations, the Bridgin finance matter was nonsense.” Reports show that the Bridgin Foundation was registered on November 18, 2014 in Belgium as a private foundation and it had four directors.
Limited online presence
The foundation has limited online presence and on its website’s homepage there is a line that says: “For confidentiality and security reasons, this website is intentionally left without detailed content, should you need further information, please contact us using the button below.”
The EastAfrican tried to contact Mr Mouhamadou using the provided link, but there was no response. He was, however, quoted by South Africa’s Amabhungane investigative journalism unit saying: “I know that I have been contacted by several journalists in Malawi.
Reporting by Aggrey Mutambo, Kitsepile Nyathi and Onyango K’onyango