The Africa Center for Strategic Studies welcomed the 2009 ACSS Visionary Award winner, Mr. John Githongo, to ACSS headquarters, June 1 2011 to discuss security trends and constitutional reform in Kenya. Mr. Githongo is a former Kenyan journalist who was appointed the Permanent Secretary for Ethics and Governance in the Office of the President following the election of Mwai Kibaki to the presidency in 2002. During his tenure as Kenya’s “anti-corruption czar”, Mr. Githongo uncovered corruption at the highest government levels. Despite his mandate, high-ranking interference in his investigations led him to resign his position in 2005 and he went into exile in the United Kingdom. Mr. Githongo returned to Kenya in 2008 to found Inuka Trust, a grassroots advocacy group aimed at creating an informed citizenry. He is also the head of Twaweza Kenya, an organization that seeks bottom-up reform, and the founder of Kenya Ni Yetu (Kenya Is Ours), which aims to mobilize Kenya’s youth through social media and other forms of communication.
Mr. Githongo addressed high ranking governance specialists, economists, diplomats and business leaders. He highlighted key issues currently facing the Kenyan people: issues of identity, such as ethnic and religious tensions; corruption and inequality; as well as widespread insecurity and unemployment. He stressed the effects that the rising price of food (and fuel), the growing youth bulge, and rapid urbanization have on the livelihoods and standard of living of Kenya’s poor. Mr. Githongo criticized government corruption for sapping finances and state resources. He pointed out that entrenched corruption in the government perpetuates inequality and political instability, stating that “conspicuous consumption by a small elite is easy to politicize” and is a root cause of much of Kenya’s violence and unrest. He conceded that development in Kenya was increasing, but that the overall growth in prosperity was not shared with the people. Citing his experiences in government, Mr. Githongo suggested that “bottom-up reform” was the key to lasting, effectual governance reform. He stated that elites regulating elites is inherently ineffective. Much of Mr. Githongo’s work with Inuka Trust and his other grassroots organizations aim at establishing an informed citizenry that can hold government accountable.
Mr. Githongo also discussed reforms related to the new constitution promulgated in August 2010. He specifically highlighted the new Kenyan constitution’s devolution of power to Kenya’s counties, which he considered “essential to Kenya’s future constitutional stability.” He argued that devolution is easily understood and supported by voters and serves to make the central government liable to local governments, similar to the federal system of Nigeria. Stating that “there are parts of Kenya where the government’s monopoly on violence has been lost”, Mr. Githongo hopes the devolution of power to the counties will help create localized bases of stability. He also argued that Kenya’s new constitution was composed in the context of international pressure that followed the 2007 elections. He discussed ongoing efforts to “Kenyanize” the constitution by adapting international standards to local needs. Finally, Mr. Githongo touched upon challenges such as drug trafficking that are severely undermining the authority and credibility of government. Mr. Githongo concluded by stressing the importance of grassroots organizing and the use of social activism to mobilize Kenya’s young people to institute real, lasting reform.