Sunday, February 10, 2008

"The postcard Kenya is gone..." - John Githongo - 2/10/2008 - World - 'The postcard Kenya is gone'

Anti-corruption fighter says violence has exposed urban reality of slums, need for `reconstruction'

February 09, 2008
Les Whittington
Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA–Canada and other countries must realize Kenya has changed forever and helping the troubled East African nation will require a major new commitment of assistance from abroad, says renowned Kenyan anti-corruption fighter John Githongo.

"The postcard Kenya that everyone sees with elephants and nice sunsets is gone," he said in an interview. "We have to now deal with the reality of Kenya, which is the majority of people who live in slums with no toilets and have a very hard life."

The current violence in Kenya reflects deeply embedded problems of corrupt government, poverty and out-of-control urbanization, said Githongo, who fled his country in 2005 after being threatened for exposing misdeeds at the highest levels of government. He is on a research fellowship at the Ottawa-based International Development Research Centre.

More than 1,000 people have been killed and 300,000 uprooted from their homes in the rioting that erupted after it was announced that Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki had narrowly won a Dec. 27 election widely seen as having been rigged.

"We should not consider what has happened an aberration that can be corrected," Githongo remarked. "We need to realize that the elections were merely a trigger for problems that have been there for a long time."

Speaking of Canada and other countries that assist Kenya, he said, "The development partners need to have a complete shift about the way they think about Kenya and go really into reconstruction mode."

Rather than traditional, targeted development programs, donor countries should consider large-scale assistance plans to help rebuild a country whose economy and social fabric have been badly torn, Githongo said.

He also praised Ross Hynes, Canada's representative in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, saying he has been a leading figure in the international diplomatic efforts to halt the cycle of post-election violence.

"I think Canada has to be commended for the clarity and forcefulness of its high commissioner on the ground and for his leadership."

In the aftermath of the vote, Hynes has shown support for opposition leader Raila Odinga, condemned the deteriorating human rights situation and warned that Canada would review its development aid projects in Kenya unless a solution to the crisis was found, according to reports from Kenya.

Hynes has also joined with the United States to warn that Kenyan politicians and business people who fuelled violence and held up mediation talks could be blocked from obtaining visas to Canada or the United States.

"The message I want to pass to politicians is that the ban is real and will happen," Hynes said.
And, along with other countries, Canada has urged a restoration of stable democracy through negotiations led by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan.

Yesterday, Annan said the negotiations are making progress, with Kenya's rival political parties moving toward an agreement to share power, but no deal has been reached yet. He said he hoped they would complete their work by early next week.

Githongo praised Annan's efforts but warned that "there's no quick solution that can be hammered out overnight and then everything returns to normal."

Though the disputed election triggered the upheaval, it has been fed by
decades-old friction over wealth, land ownership and political power.

To help Kenya, outsiders need to grasp how fast Africa is changing from a rural to an urban society:

"People think of Africa as small populations living in the cities, mainly English-speaking sort of modern people with computers and cars and electricity, with the majority living in the rural countryside digging in the land. That's no longer true. The majority are now living in cities and, of the people who live in cities, 70 per cent live in slums with no toilets, no electricity, and they're the ones we see carrying machetes on TV."

With files from The Canadian Press

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