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Kenya: Anti-Corruption on the Agenda
Africa Policy E-Journal
January 21, 2003 (030121)
Kenya: Anti-Corruption on the Agenda
(Reposted from sources cited below)
This posting contains excerpts from an interview with John
Githongo, who was appointed on January 15 by Kenyan President Mwai
Kibaki as Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President in
charge of Governance and Ethics. Mr. Githongo has been the
executive director of Transparency International(TI)-Kenya, and a
member of the global board of TI.
Kibaki Has Two-Year Window To Tackle Kenya's Corruption And Deliver
On Promises, Says Analyst
Interview with John Githongo
January 1, 2003
By Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, Nairobi
[Reposted with permission. Excerpts only: see full interview at
Corruption, and the battle to curb it, was the oft-repeated
election campaign message of both Kenya's new president, Mwai
Kibaki and his National Rainbow Coalition (Narc), and of the man he
beat to the top job, Uhuru Kenyatta, the candidate of the outgoing
governing Kenya African National Union (Kanu). ...
John Githongo, a political analyst and former journalist, is
currently the executive director of Transparency International,
Kenya, a watchdog organisation that monitors levels of corruption
in and out of government.
In the run up to Kenya's general election on 27 December, Marianne
Kihlberg of Swedish Broadcasting and allAfrica.com's Ofeibea
Quist-Arcton caught up with Githongo for his predictions on what
the outcome would be. He correctly forecast a sweeping victory for
Kibaki and Narc in the voting, which has been declared orderly,
free and fair by observers.
Githongo also explored the pressing issue of corruption in Kenya,
its origins, impact and implications. He again rightly predicted
that corruption, and how to fight it, would dominate the initial
utterances of the new administration in Kenya.
Q: How would you assess corruption in Kenya?
A: Corruption in Kenya is systemic, it's endemic. It affects every
institution. And at the lowest levels, the simplest corruption is
not seen as wrong in the eyes of most Kenyans. They don't see it as
being that much of a problem. That is the petty corruption, which
takes place at low levels involving small amounts of money.
Grand corruption, which usually involves kickbacks in public works'
contracts and that kind of thing, is still very prevalent and is a
The third type of corruption is particularly prevalent in countries
that are undergoing political and economic transition - we call it
looting here. It is a type of corruption which is politically
driven, in many parts of Africa. It is used to finance militias. It
is used to finance elections and competitive politics - that kind
of corruption has declined in Kenya. But still Kenya remains in the
bottom 10 percent of Transparency International's Corruption
Perception Index (CPI), always has. That persists which seems to
show that, at least in terms of perception, Kenya is one of the
world's most corrupt countries.
Q: Give us an example of the three types of corruption you've
A: The petty corruption you will see on the side of the road. If
you drive out of here, ask your driver to take you up the Ngong
Road, stop there for half an hour and you will see a lot of it,
because the police have a roadblock there and they are taking money
from every public service vehicle that passes by. That's quite
Grand corruption usually involves the government purchasing goods
and services at an inflated price, because some of the money is
going into the pockets of senior officials - either political or
bureaucratic. We have a study called "Public Goods, Private
Purposes," which details the way it happens, how grand corruption
The third type of corruption, which we saw a bit of in Kenya
particularly in the early 1990s and which Mobutu made famous in
Zaire, is where the political leadership of a country becomes
delinquent with a country's resources and uses them as personal
resources, usually for political purposes to keep themselves in
power. That destroys all the institutions.
In grand corruption, a service is still delivered. So, if a
kickback has been paid to build the road you just drove on, on the
way here, the road is still there, it's just that you are paying
what you should not be paying for it.
In the looting type of corruption, no goods and no service are
delivered. Money is paid, but nothing is delivered for it. This is
very premeditated. What it does is really undermine the main
institutions of any country. It causes increased money supply,
exchange rate falls, banks collapse and it has the effect of
undermining the very institutions on which it itself is dependent.
So, it's very cannibalistic.
In a country where you have that type of corruption, the main
government institutions are deteriorating steadily.
Q: But does Kenya fall into that category?
A: Kenya fell into that category briefly in the early 1990s, when
we first went into multiparty politics. We had a series of scams
that is now called 'Goldenburg,' where a lot of people were paid
money for export compensation for exporting gold, ostensibly, which
they never exported.
That could have set us back, the estimates vary, but about half a
billion US dollars. Kenya's entire GDP is US$10bn. That's half a
percentage. It's really an extraordinary amount of money. The
economic effects of that scam are still being felt to this day in
A: I'll give you an example. The 'Goldenburg' saga took place
really from around 1991 into 1993. In late 1993, the government
recognised that things were going wrong, inflation was over 100
percent and there was excess money supply and government had to
pull all this money out of the economy. How did they do it? By
raising interest rates on government securities, especially
What then happened is that the entire banking sector started buying
treasury bills, instead of lending money to Kenyans, because it was
much easier. At one point, they were earning 70 percent. So we had
a huge amount of money which also came from overseas into Kenya.
You bring money in, you earn 70 percent on that and you send it
It means a huge percentage, I can't remember the figure, 40 percent
of government revenue goes to the paying of interest on debt. That
is money that should be going into buying medicines for schools,
books for school children and that kind of thing, but it's not
doing any of that.
You can tell it if you go into our hospitals and schools, you can
tell it. It goes back to 1994, so the impact of that was immediate
in a very real sort of way, in practical things. It also affected
the psychology of the Kenyan people, in that if a scam of that
scale could be perpetrated by people who remained in power, and
remained in positions of authority and public trust, it undermines
people's faith in their own institutions.
Q: What about the looting type of corruption - has that ended in
A: It has almost gone now, partly because of the work of the media,
civil society, NGOs and the international community. The levels of
vigilance are very high on this, so the government is not able to
get away with it.
Q: How corrupt or how corruptible is the Kenyan?
A: That's a difficult question. We did a survey on this in 2001,
called The Bribery Index, and we found that the people on whom
corruption has the biggest impact, or the corruption that captures
the imagination of the international community and international
press is a scandal like 'Goldenburg,' involving hundreds of
millions of US dollars.
But the most insidious and the most destructive type of corruption
happening in Kenya is the low-level corruption, petty corruption,
because it affects the poor and women most and our study found
this. The less educated you are, the more likely you are to suffer
it. And at that level, we are beginning to have a debate within our
own organisation asking to what extent is it corruption? It is
The best example - and I always give it in the case of Nairobi,
because it happens every day in the city centre in the evening -
you have policemen walking about and many people going home and, if
you don't have your national identity card, they say 'give us 100
shillings or 200 shillings'. If you don't have the money, then they
And if you are arrested on Friday night, you will only be able to
go to court on Monday morning. So it's hugely disproportionate
punishment for not having this useless little bit of paper. And you
can go into a Kenyan police cell for 48 hours. It's horrific for a
young woman going home at 8 o'clock in the evening. That's very
Now if that individual pays 100 shillings to those police, to what
extent is that corruption? It is a question we have been asking
ourselves. Obviously a corrupt transaction has taken place, because
a sanction has been avoided. But we are beginning to say: how do we
deal with and how do we categorise this class of corruption where
it's the poor, hawkers on the side of the street being chased
around by City Council people?
It happens right in front of our building here. The only way to
stop it happening is to give these people something, otherwise
they'll beat you and confiscate your goods and that takes food away
from the table for families.
So, how corruptible is the Kenyan is a question that has to be
asked together with how weak and how poor is the Kenyan? Those
questions go together. ...
Q: Have the institutions and mechanisms set up to combat corruption
made any difference? Are they effective?
A: So far the different institutions and legal instruments that
have been put in place to fight corruption, particularly since 1997
at the instance of the International Monetary Fund, have not been
effective. Every time they seem to start becoming effective, some
apparently very good reason for them not working is found. And then
they stop working.
So, so far I would say that different instruments that have been
there for fighting corruption have not actually work. What they
have done, however, is raise public awareness about the fight
against corruption which is important also. ...
The conclusion has been that a lot of what has been lacking to make
these instruments work is political will. And I would tend to agree
with that. The top leadership felt that if some of these
instruments came into power, it would affect them.
The challenge now with the new government is that there will be an
opportunity to implement some of these measures. ...
Our experience at Transparency International, and we have about 30
chapters across Africa, our experience is that, regardless of who
takes over, whenever you have a major transition and especially
when the incumbent who is leaving power has been in power for a
long period of time - and when patronage elites have consolidated
around this leader for a long period of time - that when that
leader goes, you have a window of opportunity that lasts about 24
It doesn't matter who takes over. They are going to be
anti-corruption. I can almost write their speeches. It doesn't
matter who wins. Corruption is going to be number one. It is the
same across Africa. Even when you have coups in Africa, where you
have the former presidents being taken to a peace and shot, people
will say it was because this person was corrupt.
So, the new president is going to be anti-corruption.
Q: And after that 24-month grace period even if the person in
charge appears sincere?
A: I think this is the lesson of Kenya and the lesson for all of us
in Africa. Will he be sincere is not only dependent on him and the
people around him but on us, as Kenyans. Kenyan civil society,
Kenyan media and Kenyan people - we have to keep them sincere. They
are going to make promises; it is our duty to hold them to those
promises. It's our duty to keep on putting pressure. ...
So the sincerity of politicians . . . I say the anti-corruption
spirit lasts for 24 months and that goes for Kenya, for Ghana, it's
the same 24 months in the UK, where the prime minister Tony Blair
came in saying that he wanted to remove Conservative (party)
sleaze. After a few years, things start happening and people start
to see some of the old sleaze coming back.
Politicians are politicians. The strength of civil societies and
other institutions and key government institutions like parliament
and the judiciary and that kind of thing are absolutely essential
to maintaining this sincerity.
If we sit back and wait for a president and a group of politicians
running Kenya to be sincere about the fight against corruption, we
shall be disappointed! ...
And now the great thing is that, even in the last days of the Moi
government, senior officials in his government came to us for
advice, many times, quietly. They didn't want to be seen to be
doing it publicly, but it was positive. There is still a bit of
nervousness and tension, but I think Kenya is a different country
in that respect.
Q: What advice?
A: Advice on anti-corruption measures that they were thinking of
implementing, anti-corruption laws that the government was working
on. I will give one good example, because it's public knowledge
now. The attorney-general's office came to us and said listen, we
are drafting an anti-corruption law, we have been instructed by the
cabinet to do that. So, we rustled up some of our experts
internationally who looked at this law and gave a commentary to the
They didn't take all our suggestions and comments on board, but I
think that kind of relationship - of using the expertise of a
global network such as Transparency International - is a very good
Q: So will we see a cleaner and more transparent Kenya in the
A: I think we will definitely see a more transparent Kenya. The
irony is that it might not initially be cleaner, because cleaning
up takes time. What's going to happen is that corrupt networks and
systems are going to be disrupted and disorientated. It's
The president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, is a former chairman
of Transparency International's Advisory Council. Look at the kind
of difficulties he's having dealing with corruption in his own
So, the corruption networks will try to reorganise themselves in
the new year. It takes them about 18 months, during which time they
buy lunch for so and so and their contracts can be sorted and then
these relationships start to consolidate. But I think it will be
more transparent, simply by the nature of the opening up of
The new leader of Kenya won't have the myth of the 'Big Man' that
Moi carried with him, that inspired a kind of fear and awe which
was efficient at keeping secrets. That's gone. Moi's successor
won't have that same myth around him. So, Kenya will be more
transparent. Will it be cleaner is a different question.
It's one thing being more transparent, so the press will be
reporting these horror stories every day - a bit like Zambia and
Malawi in that respect - but I think that Kenya will be more
transparent. We have a fairly strong civil society and very, very
good media. The private sector is now getting more and more unhappy
about corruption, so I think there is an opportunity for a cleaner
government as well.
And I think there is a feeling that it is not really possible to
have a government that is dirtier than the Moi government, in that
it has been fairly special. Some of the scams and deals that have
been perpetrated and are in all these reports are quite
mind-boggling, in terms of the complications that people have had
to subject their minds to, to cook them up.
But I would say that I'm optimistic. We have had ten years of
multiparty democracy, very imperfect multiparty democracy. The
economy has done badly in those years. Our economy has not
recovered from the political competition of 1991.
It is a question for the whole of Africa. Who pays for democracy?
We talk about democracy and multiparty politics. But who is paying
for it? Who paid for all these candidates to drive around the whole
country and to hire helicopters during the campaign? Who pays for
this, who pays for democracy?
And I believe this is the same in all societies. These are where
the big problems of conflict of interest and corruption in
political systems start. And it starts in the United States, it
starts right there. You have lobby groups and hundreds of millions
of dollars being pumped into the campaigns of different
politicians. Even Tony Blair has had difficulties with it in the
UK. Chancellor Helmut Kohl had problems with it in Germany.
How do we pay for democracy?
So these questions that we are asking ourselves here in Kenya and
across the border in Tanzania, are important global questions now.
We are not just talking about the looting of roads, we are now
talking about things at a higher level.
Date distributed (ymd): 030121
Region: East Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+
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