- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

The man whose corruption probe shook Kenya’s government says democracy is making gains in his homeland in spite of problems that force him to live in self-imposed exile in Britain because of risks to his safety at home.

Urban voters are growing more sophisticated, the young are less willing to sell their votes to the highest bidder and citizens are viewing campaign promises with greater skepticism, John Githongo told a Washington audience on Wednesday.

“In the 2002 election, even with enough resources to shake the country, the ruling party still lost,” Mr. Githongo said at a press conference at the Cato Institute. “People lined up to get free T-shirts and food, but they wouldn’t vote for the party.”

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, who came to power in December 2002 with a pledge to end decades of corruption under Daniel arap Moi, promptly named Mr. Githongo as a permanent secretary in his own office with a mandate to root out the nation’s culture of corruption.

But the government’s enthusiasm for Mr. Githongo waned when, some nine months later, his revelations turned from the misdeeds of the former administration to those of serving Cabinet ministers.

Several high-ranking officials were implicated in a multimillion dollar scam involving the procurement of sophisticated passport equipment that came to be known as the Anglo Leasing Scandal. Three Cabinet members eventually were forced to resign after Mr. Githongo exposed the deal in which the government poured tens of million of dollars into a phantom company.

The revelations resulted in death threats that prompted Mr. Githongo to flee to Britain, taking with him critical documents that were cited as evidence in a Kenyan parliamentary report yesterday implicating the vice president in the scam and demanding prosecutions, according to a Reuters news agency report.

At the Cato Institute on Wednesday, Mr. Githongo said the failure of the Kibaki government to deliver on its anti-corruption promises had resulted in a nationwide loss of faith. But, he said, “People are becoming increasingly mature and sophisticated about politics.”

He said the private-sector press had broadened the democratic space in Kenya, and had mobilized citizens to oppose corruption. Despite recent police raids on the Standard newspaper and a sister television station, Mr. Githongo said the press continued to speak out.

He accused the government of misusing national security issues as “a last refugee of corruption,” and called for more parliamentary oversight. He suggested that foreign aid directed toward democracy-building in Africa should be more closely scrutinized, saying as much as 80 percent of funding for political campaigning ended up in private bank accounts.

The African Union recently calculated that corruption costs Africa $148 billion yearly, or one-fourth of the continent’s gross national product.

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