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Kenya Still Plagued by Graft, Ethnic Tensions, Says Githongo

Kenya is still plagued by corruption and the ethnic tensions that erupted into violence in the last elections and may resurface in 2012, the nation’s former anti-graft commissioner, John Githongo, said.

Kenya will probably experience more “localized” violence than in the 2007 elections when the Kalenjin and Luo communities clashed with the Kikuyu people, killing as many as 1,500 people and displacing 300,000, Githongo said. The fighting stopped after President Mwai Kibaki and his main opponent, Raila Odinga, formed a coalition government. Yet ethnicity will still be a factor, he said.

“People hate each other’s guts along ethnic lines. People who we used to go out to have a drink with no longer meet,” Githongo, 45, said in an interview yesterday in London. “Blood has been spilled and when people have died that takes time. Anyone who thinks that has gone away is joking.”

Government corruption and the election violence have taken a heavy toll on East Africa’s biggest economy, Githongo said. Kenya’s economic growth rate dropped to 1.7 percent in 2008 from 7.1 percent a year earlier. Revenue from the tourism industry, Kenya’s third-biggest source of foreign currency after horticulture and tea, was slashed by more than a third.

This year’s growth may surpass the government’s target of 4.5 percent, up from 2.6 percent in 2009, thanks to higher tea production and growing tourist arrivals, Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta said on Sept. 20.

“Kenya should be way ahead of where it is,” said Githongo, a former journalist and ex-head of the local chapter of Transparency International, the Berlin-based anti-graft watchdog.


He resigned as Kibaki’s corruption adviser in 2005 and fled the country. In January 2006, Githongo issued a 31-page dossier outlining corruption in the government. The report led to the resignation of then-Finance Minister David Mwiraria. Githongo returned to Kenya in 2008 and now runs a Nairobi-based non-governmental organization called Inuka Kenya Trust.

Corruption is still widespread in the government, he said. Transparency International last year ranked Kenya among the world’s 33 most corrupt countries in its perception index.

“Everyone is at the feeding trough,” Githongo said. “Impunity is still a major problem. Accountability goes down when you have a coalition because you don’t have an opposition.”

A new constitution enacted on Aug. 27, replacing one dating to Kenya’s independence from the U.K. in 1963, aims to spread political power across the country’s 42 ethnic groups, achieve more equitable land distribution and put checks and balances on the president.

‘Moment Of Hope’

While the new charter gives Kenya “a moment of hope,” it won’t “change things overnight,” Githongo said.

The new constitutional requirement for a presidential candidate to gain 51 percent of the vote should help “de-tribalize” the electoral process, he said.

International Criminal Court Court Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo will start prosecutions against as many as six people suspected of instigating the post-election clashes in 2008, he said on Sept. 21.

The court in The Hague in March authorized investigations into crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Kenya after the 2007 vote.

“The ICC is going to have to earn its salaries in Kenya,” Githongo said at a public lecture in London yesterday. “It’s a group of experienced politicians it’s taking on in Kenya.”

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