- East Africa
- Corruption - Politics - Governance
Kenya anti-corruption chief back home with his whistle
John Githongo, Kenya’s former anti-corruption chief, has said the country’s fragile coalition government will succeed only if it tackles graft, as he returned home for his first visit since he fled fearing his life in 2005.
By Barney Jopson in Addis Ababa
Mr Githongo, who left after uncovering a series of corrupt government deals, was invited back by Raila Odinga, the former opposition leader who became prime minister this year as part of the power-sharing deal.
The formation of the coalition government raised hopes that Kenya was about to enter an era of more constructive politics. But while President Mwai Kibaki and Mr Odinga have won praise for their conduct, mistrust between the two sides lingers, and suspicions remain that official corruption is continuing.
“Now, more than ever, these issues of transparency and accountability in the conduct of public affairs are going to affect the way Kenyans view their government and its performance, and therefore will have a major political impact,” Mr Githongo said in a speech in Nairobi on Wednesday.
Mr Githongo, the former head of the Kenyan arm of Transparency International, the anti-corruption watchdog, resigned as Nairobi’s anti-graft tsar in February 2005 due to his mounting frustration over the government’s failure to tackle the problem.
He received death threats and sought refuge at Oxford University in Britain, from where he exposed a political sleaze scandal known as Anglo Leasing, which involved a phantom company receiving bogus government contracts.
On his return visit, which is due to last for only a few days, Mr Githongo made clear that he had “no political affiliations”.
Corruption was not directly implicated in the two-month crisis at the start of this year, during which more than 1,000 people died in post-election violence. But analysts say that graft exacerbated the extreme inequality – and the concentration of wealth in President Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group – that was at the root of tensions inflamed by a rigged election.
Critics of the government say a culture of impunity remains, and point out that no senior figures have been prosecuted on corruption charges, even though several ministers have resigned in recent years – while protesting their innocence – following allegations of wrongdoing.
Mr Githongo, however, said that in some cases it would be better to grant amnesties for economic crimes than to pursue prosecutions. Getting people to admit publicly “that they swindled Kenyans” could be more effective than allowing them to go to court and hire a lawyer who “will always be better paid than the government lawyer”, he said.