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Kenya's Civil Groups Want Head of Anti-Corruption Agency Reinstated

  • Raymond Thibodeaux

Kenyan civil society groups say the head of the country's most powerful anti-corruption agency should be reinstated. She was allegedly forced to resign late last week for being too critical of the government. The resignation is yet another setback in Kenya's efforts to fight graft.

Gladwell Otieno, Kenya director for the corruption watchdog agency, Transparency International, resigned Friday.

Kenyan civil society leaders say the agency's local board forced Ms. Otieno to resign, after a weeks-long battle with the government over her refusal to identify and provide evidence about a Kenyan official, she claims pilfered nearly $11 million in public funds.

Two-months ago John Githongo, a widely respected anti-graft crusader tapped to head the government's anti-corruption office, resigned.

The resignations are eroding the public's confidence, and that of Western donors, in Kenya's commitment to rein in graft, and, they signal growing antagonism between corruption watchdogs and a government plagued by one corruption scandal after another.

Haron Ndubi, who leads a coalition of Kenyan civil society groups that includes the Kenyan Human Rights Commission and the Federation of Women Lawyers, says Ms. Otieno's ouster is part of a wider effort to protect government officials from agencies and individuals fighting graft.

"I think it is the government that is now hell-bent on supplanting anyone, or crushing anybody, or any institution that is fighting corruption," said Haron Ndubi. "It is a bigger scheme of seeking to control, or to mute progressive institutions and individuals."

According Mr. Ndubi, the pressure on Ms. Otieno was led by Joseph Wanjui, chairman of Transparency International's local board, and a close political ally of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki.

Mr. Wanjui says the board pressured Ms. Otieno to either apologize to the Kenyan official she accused of corruption without citing evidence or resign. But Mr. Wanjui disputes Mr. Ndubi's assertion that his relationship with the country's president conflicts with his role on the corruption watchdog board.

"Am I supposed to be an enemy of the president to be able to lead Transparency International? Is it presumed that to be a good leader in Transparency International, you must be at war with the government that you are in the country of to be fair? We, as an organization, are there to be transparent [and] truthful, [and we] must be able to reflect that truthfulness and transparency," he added. "If we cannot do that, then what is our credibility?"

Kenyan civil society members say reinstating Ms. Otieno would restore public confidence in an agency that has had an excellent reputation for trying to keep governments honest.

"Assuming Gladwell [Otieno] was not reinstated, nobody would trust the TI reports as much as they have before, because they would think these reports probably are approved by the State House and its associates," said Mr. Ndubi.

Nearly a fifth of Kenya's $5.5 billion budget was swallowed up by graft last year, according to estimates by some watchdog agencies. And persistent reports of graft in President Kibaki's administration during the past two years have led the United States and Germany to halt millions of dollars earmarked for government anti-corruption efforts.

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