Kenya: Fury breaks out

Localised politics are a tinderbox that could erupt into an echo of the violence of 2007/Photo/THOMAS MUKOYA/REUTERSFrustrated by elite politicking in Nairobi, young activists at the local level are seizing the initiative to change the system from the bottom up – for better or for worse

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Kenya: Coalition of the damned

Those indicted by the International Criminal Court and those wedded to the old order have formed an alliance to take on Raila Odinga

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Win for ‘Yes’ camp brings political renewal to Kenya

altThe ghosts of post-election violence in 2007 were laid to rest on 4 August as Kenyans voted to endorse a new constitution that devolves power to the local level.

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Profile: John Githongo, Kenyan anti-corruption fighter


Githongo has announced he will work at the grass-roots level from now on, rather than in Kenya’s central government offices, to eliminate the scourge of corruption which continues ?to infect the two parties involved in the current government of national unity


“The next phase of the battle against corruption will be at the grass roots,” says Kenya’s leading anti-graft activist, John Githongo. “We all got it wrong,” he told a gathering of business people, diplomats and journalists at London’s Commonwealth Club in March. Dressed in jeans and a batik shirt, Githongo explained to them that his new strategy was to work with the people from the bottom up, on a national campaign for more honest and effective government. ?Relieved to be out of government, Githongo refers to the coalition formed last year between President Mwai Kibaki and prime minister Raila Odinga as a “government held together by the glue of corruption”. ?


Setting up state-financed anti-corruption agencies in Africa has been an expensive mistake, said Githongo. Years earlier, a friend had warned Githongo that his campaigns for governments to police their own corrupt officials would be fruitless: “You don’t expect these politicians to throw themselves in jail, do you?”?


Githongo graduated from investigative journalist to civic activist and then to his appointment as anti-corruption czar in the government under President Kibaki in January 2003. Days earlier, then a new president, Kibaki had proclaimed to cheers from jubilant supporters: “Corruption would now cease to be a way of life in Kenya.” ?

Githongo biograpy
1965 Born in the UK
1994-2002 Columnist
for The East African
1999-2002 Executive director
for Transparency International-Kenya
2003 Appointed presidential advisor
on governance and anti-corruption
May 2004 Justice minister Murungi
urges Githongo to ‘go slow’ on investigations
Jan. 2005 Githongo resigns during
a visit to the UK??
Sept. 2008 Returns to Kenya


The problems started with Githongo’s investigations into several corrupt deals, known as the Anglo-Leasing scandal, which implicated people in Kibaki’s government. “These ministers, my closest colleagues, sat there and told me to my face that they were the ones doing the stealing,” Githongo told his friend, the writer Michela Wrong. “Once they said that, I knew I had to go.”?


In fact, Githongo lasted just two years as anti-corruption czar before he turned up on Wrong’s London doorstep with a load of suitcases and a quartet of trilling cellphones. He had decided on self-imposed exile after ministers had sabotaged his investigations and Kibaki had declined to back him.


T?he Githongo dossier?


Friends advised him to keep quiet for his safety, but he wanted to go public. Having secured a fellowship at St Antony’s College at Oxford University, he invited journalists from Kenya’s Daily Nation for a briefing. The result was the ‘Githongo dossier’ – two weeks of headlining stories which left the Kenyan government’s reputation in tatters.?


Kibaki reluctantly sacked three of his ministers, although he reinstated two of them later.


The Githongo affair points to the weakness of Western and international financial institutions working in Kenya, most of which averted their gaze from the evidence of corruption. At the time, the World Bank saw no conflict of interest in its resident representative renting a house owned by Kibaki. Only a few rocked the boat, such as Britain’s dissident former high commissioner, Sir Edward Clay, much to the embarrassment of the British government, which wanted to open the aid taps wider.


?Just before Githongo swept through Europe on his latest trip in February 2009, Nairobi was grinding to a halt because of a chronic fuel shortage following the diversion of $100m of fuel from the state pipeline company. And there was an uproar in parliament about the involvement of senior figures in the Kibaki government in gross profiteering on the distribution of maize meal while hundreds of thousands of Kenyans were going hungry.?


Githongo returned to Kenya last September like an old warrior from a forgotten war. There was drama at Jomo Kenyatta airport, with TV cameras trained on his hulking figure as he strode into the arrivals hall. The newspapers documented his return – he had been invited to speak at a forum on corruption – but it seemed the media’s appetite for Githongo’s graft-busting activities was fading.?


Kibaki’s allies suppressed their feelings, with the exception of Chris Murungaru, the former interior minister whom Githongo had implicated in the Anglo-Leasing saga. Murungaru served notice that Githongo would be sued for defamation.?


Murungaru and colleagues pushed the idea that he was a traitor, passing government secrets to Clay, an accusation both denied. An espionage conspiracy was manufactured, linking Githongo’s birth in the UK, his university education in Wales, his international contacts and his self-imposed exile. The charge took on an ethnic significance. His family background – his father had been Jomo Kenyatta’s auditor – placed him inside the Kikuyu elite that had been the beneficiaries of Kenyatta’s largesse.


Growth from the roots


?Githongo always struck me as a very driven personality, first and foremost a person who wanted to change things. Recruiting people from across the country for the anti-corruption campaign, he resolutely opposed the idea of “ethnic entitlement”. He expected everyone to work as hard as he had.


Passing through London in April 2005, I visited him a few months into his exile. I sat talking with him and Mwalimu Mati, then deputy director of Transparency International-Kenya (TI-Kenya). A crisis was brewing in Nairobi. Gladwell Otieno, who had replaced Githongo as head of TI-Kenya, was under pressure from the directors to resign after she condemned the Kibaki government’s corruption. The board of directors was chaired by Joe Wanjui, who had founded TI-Kenya with support from Githongo’s father Joseph. Wanjui was one of a group of Kikuyu elders who had proposed Githongo for his appointment as anti-corruption czar in 2003. ?


Eventually, Otieno was forced to resign. With her departure and with Githongo in exile, the Kibaki government had cleared the decks. After our meeting, Githongo called me several times. He would usually be on a noisy street and out of breath. “I think there’s a guy following me, a Kenyan. Let’s keep talking. I’m trying to shake him off.”?


It was not clear who was following Githongo. He suspected the intelligence services, but there were others. He had spotted an Asian man with a video camera trained on his flat, a man he suspected had been hired by a businessmen implicated in Anglo-Leasing. Rather than intending to harm him, it appeared that they were letting him know that they knew where he was.


?The cloak-and-dagger era may be over, but Githongo still has enemies. He seems philosophical about that. More than ever, he says, a popular campaign is necessary to unite Kenya. “The violence of 2007-2008 shook the entire country. There is a widespread awareness that we are at a pivotal moment – the moment is pregnant with both hope and dangerous possibilities.”


Profile: Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya

Odinga cartoon

When Kenya attained self-rule in June 1963, every expectation was that the working arrangement between the new prime minister, Jomo Kenyatta, and the colonial governor, Malcolm MacDonald, would be difficult. Having been detained for eight years until 1961 (wrongly suspected of leading the Mau Mau insurgency), Kenyatta was expected to go on an avenging mission, dispossessing settlers of most of the arable land in the country. Settlers began emigrating in droves, leaving behind a haemorrhaging economy and a country in the grip of uncertainty. ?It came as a surprise therefore when a different reality began to take shape. Kenyatta, already in his 60s but showing few signs of his age or the trauma of detention, proved to be a pragmatic leader. He was a tireless worker and an effective administrator willing to learn from the colonials while managing his own team of ministerial novices. Even more surprising was his good relationship with the governor. ??


To many of Raila Odinga’s supporters, drawing comparisons between Kenyatta and Raila, who is only Kenya’s second prime minister after Kenyatta, would be shocking, to say the least. It was, after all, Kenyatta who betrayed Raila’s father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, his most vocal supporter while he was in detention. Kenyatta engineered Oginga’s isolation from mainstream Kenyan politics, then detained him and thus created the historical enmity between Odinga’s Luo community and Kenyatta’s Kikuyu.


?With the formation of the coalition government in April this year, however, history may be repeating itself. After only six months in government, Raila Odinga, 63, has won over critics in government and among the Kikuyu in much the same way Kenyatta did with the settlers 45 years ago. With all the uncertainty and suspicion within the coalition following the disputed December 2007 presidential election, Raila Odinga’s sheer drive and determination has kept the coalition together. Coming into a docket that had a vague job description, as Prime Minister he has carved out a niche, taking charge of daily government business and giving what many had expected would be a bloated and noisy coalition a semblance of direction. He has developed cordial working relations with cabinet ministers of President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity, while effectively holding the line for his Orange Democratic Movement. More importantly, his refusal to whinge even after his party was shortchanged in the distribution of government jobs has given the country some stability after the crisis of January and February 2008.


?Raila Odinga’s relationship with Kibaki has confounded both supporters and critics. Like Kenyatta and MacDonald, the two seem to have cultivated a warm relationship, frequently meeting in private to discuss government business.


?Like Kenyatta’s all those years ago, Odinga’s campaign for the presidency in 2007 generated fear, this time among the Kikuyu bourgeoisie who control much of the economy. The alarm was not unfounded. As a political activist in the 1980s, he was implicated in the abortive 1982 coup against Daniel arap Moi and detained for eight years. Calling himself a social democrat in the 1990s, he flitted between parties trying to forge an ethnic coalition to unseat Moi. In 2002, he midwifed the coalition that brought Kibaki to power.


?None of these repeat encounters with history was more telling than when, late in 2007, the Nairobi Stock Exchange (NSE)began to nosedive when it seemed Odinga could win. Having run his election campaign on an equitable wealth distribution platform, he found it hard to convince the business community that he would not be bad for business. That September, he visited the NSE and was confronted by angry officials. One demanded to know if he was a communist. When Odinga, whose family has extensive interests in molasses and petroleum, explained that he too had a personal interest in the NSE, it really did feel as if history was repeating itself. In the early 1960s and just out of prison, Kenyatta was confronted by angry settlers demanding to know whether he was a communist. He, too, answered in the negative.

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