Oxfam International facing questions over decision to move HQ from Oxford to Nairobi

Winnie Byanyima
Winnie Byanyima

British charity Oxfam is facing questions regarding its controversial move from Oxford, where it was founded in 1942, to the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

The decision to move the Oxfam International (OI) headquarters and control of its £1 billion aid programmes to East Africa has been met with concern among some British MPs and aid workers, coming while the charity is still reeling from the scandal in Haiti.

OI’s new home is a stunning new office block in Nairobi, which it shares with corporate giants IBM and Nestle, surrounded by foreign embassies.

The decision to relocate is believed to have been led by the £112,000-a-year charismatic boss of OI, Ugandan born 59-year-old Winnie Byanyima, who is fast becoming the most powerful female African political figure in the world.

Mr Byanyima has been OI’s executive director since 2013 and having left her Oxford home, she now lives in Nairobi and flies between OI offices in New York, Washington and Brussels, rubbing shoulders with world leaders such as Donald Trump and Theresa May.

According to the Daily Mail, the mystery over Oxfam’s Kenya move has been fuelled by a secret Memorandum of Understanding and Host Country Agreement with Kenya.

The newspaper reports that “Oxfam says it gives it ‘tax relief’ on its HQ and ‘goods imported for official use’ but no ‘personal tax benefits’ or ‘immunity against law breaking’”, but declined to provide any further details.

It goes on to quote one aid expert as saying: “By cutting their tax bill in Kenya, Oxfam is depriving Kenya of cash to build its own schools and hospitals itself,” which appears hypocritical as charity leaders have criticised private companies which avoid tax.”

Ms Byanyima is also under scrutiny amid accusations she is using Oxfam’s new African base in an attempt to become Ugandan leader, whose current President she was previously in a relationship with.

The UK Charity Commission is one of the world’s strictest watchdogs and following its more, Oxfam says its new HQ answers to the Kenyan foreign ministry.

Conservative MP Nigel Evans, a member of the Commons International Development Committee, said: “Ms Byanyima should devote all her energies to the charity, not use it as a platform for a political career in Africa. 

“It is crazy for Oxfam to move to Kenya, which is riddled with corruption and brutally persecutes gays, when it should be cleaning up its act after Haiti. 

“It should have stayed in Britain. There has been a coup. They should rename it Kenfam.”

Following the Haiti scandal, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt suspended the Government’s £32million-a-year grant to Oxfam, which is registered in Britain as a ‘foreign company’ and not answerable to either the British Government or Charity Commission.

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