News 2008


Time to Rethink Kenya, Invent Africa


13. 02. 2008

OTTAWA/CANADA - (WTN) - After being a director on the global board of Transparency International, John Githongo continued 2003 in an official governmental position to fight corruption, under the presidency of Mwai Kibaki. In 2005, he left his position and denounced high-level corruption in Kenya. He is one of Africa's most renowned advocates for transparency and good governance.

On February 7th 2008 Githongo gave a talk in Canada: "Who pays for democracy in Africa: Examining politics and corruption" at the International Development Research Centre / Ottawa.

Taking Kenya as an example, John Githongo felt he should mainly address the conflict in progress, which in his opinion is a consequence of problems that have existed since long. He highlighted his point by refuting 5 myths about Kenyan politics:

First of all, that the head of state IS in control; he is not a mere puppet.

Second, the on-going conflict IS NOT based on tribalism. It is rather due to ethnicised perceptions of being unequal. The elite is manipulating these ethnicities for political purposes. Mr. Githongo witnessed the mistrust that appeared between long term friends from different ethnicities after the beginning of the conflict; he never thought something like that could happen in Kenya.

Third, democracy is not to blame for the onset of the conflict. Kenyans do believe in democracy as was demonstrated by the high turnouts during the elections. Only, they had deep resentment after the process appeared to have been manipulated. In Githongo’s opinion it is not about the absolute level of corruption but rather about perceptions of inequality that corruption entails. People have lost confidence in the process.

Fourth, the "African thing" CAN happen in Kenya. It is happening now. The world might not have known but there were always tensions surrounding elections in Kenya, since the rise of multiparty politics. Intimidation of the poor and marginalized tended to happen before elections. However, in the present situation, the middle-class is also affected and the violence is happening in cities and towns.

Finally, normal services will NOT be restored right after the conflict. For the first time in a long time, things were going pretty well in Kenya. Kenya forged itself a strategic position, both economically and politically. The present situation is affecting, among other things, provisioning to surrounding countries. Kenya was the country were East African parties would meet for mediation. Kenya was known as a place of wonderful landscapes, safaris and tourism, but Kenya is more than just that and it is only now that the majority of Westerners are being made aware of it. Now, due to this situation Kenya can never be the same. There will be consequences. It will take years to rebuild the country. But, most importantly, in Githongo’s opinion, it is an opportunity to address the key issues that led to the crisis.

According to Githongo:

1. presidential powers must be diffused and greater parliamentary accountability must be insured through constitutional reform;

2. abuses of the legal and constitutional systems need to be addressed;

3. there is a need for a civil service reform. It is not true that growth can be achieved at all cost without considerations for politics. Politics can have tremendous influence on growth as the present conflict demonstrates. Furthermore, growth must be accompanied by development (jobs).

4. The question of the land rights and ownership must be dealt with.

He concluded by saying that if the first republic was broken, a second would be born.

He invited Kenyans to rethink Kenya; innovative solutions must be found. And, according to Githongo:

There is no need to follow the West, the West was invented in its own time, now is a time to invent Africa.

The author Genevieve Gravel has a masters in environmental sciences. She traveled to Kenya in 2003 and 2005. She works in international development on issues related to health and the environment.