Accessibility links

Breaking News

Exiled Anti-Corruption Chief Returns to Kenya

Kenya's former top anti-corruption official has returned to the country for the first time since fleeing three years ago saying he feared for his life. John Githongo met with Prime Minister Raila Odinga and later addressed a public forum on corruption. Derek Kilner has more from Nairobi.

John Githongo was appointed Kenya's top anti-corruption official after President Mwai Kibaki came to power in 2002 elections. But after leading an investigation that exposed the so-called "Anglo-Leasing Scandal," in which over $1 billion in government contracts was awarded to fictitious companies, Githongo fled to Britain, citing threats on his life.

Githongo, who headed the Kenya chapter of Transparency International before joining the government, and who currently serves as a vice president for the international relief NGO World Vision, began his two-week visit on Wednesday morning by meeting with Kenya's new Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who along with Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, had invited Githongo to return to Kenya.

In the afternoon, Githongo addressed a public forum on corruption sponsored by the Kenya Human Rights Commission. Githongo discussed his reaction to the ethnic and political violence that followed December's disputed presidential elections, in which some 1,500 people were killed, and discussed the need to continue the fight against government corruption.

"I acknowledge that what I set in motion with regards to corruption lives to this day, and I make no apologies for this," Githongo said. "And I continue to believe that unless we address it, it will continue to haunt us, it will continue to create suspicion amongst our leaders and Kenyans causing us a paralysis as we set about making policy even in areas that are not directly related to corruption."

Githongo also described the need for constitutional reform devolve power from the presidency, and for economic reforms.

"We need to understand that high economic growth without direction, where good governance is abandoned is to create a society of victims, a brutal game of winners and losers instead of a situation where everyone feels they are participants in a successful project," Githongo said. "For this to happen, resources generated by high growth must be used to tackle some of the fundamental, underlying inequalities in our society."

Githongo was joined at the forum by another former head of then Kenyan chapter of Transparency International, Gladwell Otieno, who currently heads the Africa Center for Open Governance.

"Those of us who are fighting for a new Kenya have not done enough to get the ordinary wananchi to feel that yes it is a problem that this man is stealing all that money and I sonly see him once every five years when he wants a vote from me. We need to create a new culture and we do need to take responsibility for doing that," Otieno said.

The Anglo-Leasing scandal exposed by Githongo caused several top government officials to resign, including Finance Minister David Mwiraria and Justice Minister Kiraitu Murungi. After leaving for Kenya, Githongo released tapes of conversations he had recorded with the two ministers, who urged him to slow down the investigation.

Githongo has been hailed as a hero by many in Kenya and abroad, particularly among activists. But he also maintains many enemies within Kenya's senior political class, particularly among the Kikuyu ethnic group to which both he and President Kibaki belong.

The new coalition government that was created following December's disputed elections, with President Kibaki as president and Raila Odinga, his main challenger, in the newly-created post of Prime Minister, has pledged to tackle the long-standing problem of corruption. Many Kenyans are watching to see if the new governing arrangement breaks with its predecessors and upholds the pledge.

Some hope that the two rival parties in the coalition will keep an eye on one another's behavior. But others worry that having more groups in government means that there will simply be more mouths to feed.