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Kenya’s Ex- Attorney General says He’s ‘Misunderstood’

  • Peter Clottey

Former Kenyan official Amos Wako has denied accusations he is to blame for the country’s “endemic corruption and impunity.”

Until he retired early last week Wako, a former human rights lawyer, was the longest serving attorney general since Kenya’s independence. He is often credited with overseeing the transition from one party state in Kenya to a multiparty democracy in December 1991.

He was also deeply involved in the transition process after the ruling KANU party lost the 1992 election to the opposition NARC party. That election was described by many as a free and fair vote. He was also instrumental in setting up of the now disbanded Independent Electoral Commission.

Regrets

The former attorney general is also credited with drafting the recently implemented Kenyan constitution. But Wako said he wishes it could have been drawn up and approved more quickly.

“My regret is that we could not realize the new constitutional dispensation faster. I drafted [one version],” he said, “[but] the ruling party at that time decided that what I drafted should be withdrawn. If it had been accepted at that time… we would have [finished] our constitution [sooner] and we would have spent more time on economic and social development.”

Fighting Graft

During his two-decades in office, critics say, Wako condoned corruption and often failed to prosecute senior government officials who are accused of committing graft in internationally renowned scandals. He denies the accusations.

“[They’re] absolutely not justified [because] a lot of those allegations were without foundation. If you are to ask the same people today, they will recognize that it was not the attorney general’s [fault]. People now recognize where the problem lay,” Wako said. “The problem lay in a dysfunctional Criminal Investigation Department [of the Kenya police], which is charged with the responsibility of investigating cases and which did not carry out proper investigations.”

He also denied accusations that political pressure made him ineffective in prosecuting corruption cases. He attributed the failure of some efforts to tackle the issue to corruption in court system.

Reform and Washington sanctions

Kenyans demanded reforms following violence after the 2007-2008 elections. Civil society groups, anti-corruption crusaders and critics of the government mounted protests demanding public sector reforms and a crackdown on corruption. Wako was blamed for playing a pivotal role in stonewalling the reforms.

Some observers say his inaction prompted the United States to ban him and three others from traveling to the United States. Washington cited his obstruction of the fight against corruption.

Wako said the allegations were false. He adds that many of his local and international critics fail to understand his mandate as the chief government prosecutor.

“All the sins of the government [were] visited on the attorney general,” he said. “Fortunately, the people here knew better [and] parliament knew better. And then I continued being the attorney general and I continued to play my role in the constitutional reform, until we obtained a new constitution.”

“I can tell you,” he said, “in the last few years or so, as you settle down under the new constitutional dispensation, people are now coming to realize who Amos Wako is: a great reformer.”

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