Kenyan Corruption Fighter is Hopeful About Clean Rule

Despite Setbacks, a Culture of Political Accountability is Beginning to Take Root

March 15, 2007

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WASHINGTON — Kenya’s political reforms may have stalled, but the process of democratization continues. In the Cato briefing paper “Kenya’s Fight against Corruption: An Uneven Path to Political Accountability,” author John Githongo, the former anti-corruption czar who fled Kenya after uncovering corruption among high government officials, examines political developments in Kenya over the past five years and assesses the prospects for a cleaner government.

The 2002 elections signaled a new beginning for Kenya as Daniel arap Moi and his KANU party were voted out of office after 24 years of a virtual dictatorship. “[Kenyans] voted for a change in the way they were governed and hoped for a more accountable and transparent government,” states Githongo. In the early months of the new ruling coalition, a number of substantial reforms were passed to combat corruption, crime, and fraud.

“What the reformers wanted was to implement bureaucratic and institutional reforms that were necessary for Kenya to move forward,” he writes. “Unfortunately, a more conservative instinct had kicked in at the same time. The fight against corruption came to a halt.”

Despite those setbacks, Githongo sees positive signs about the direction that Kenya is headed. “The good news is that vote buying no longer seems to work,” he writes. Additionally, he notes two important developments in Kenyans’ attitudes which are essential to a more democratic future: “First, Kenyans are learning that public service means service to the nation and not personal gain,” he explains. “Second, the setbacks on the democratic front are not causing a generalized feeling of decline, despondency, and failure.” 

He credits this shift in public sentiment to a number of factors, including a younger, savvier generation of Kenyans — a product of globalization — as well as a more active civil society and a freer media. “The kind of corruption that we have seen in Kenya in the past,” he concludes, “is unlikely to repeat itself in the future.”

Development Briefing Paper # 2