The Standard Blog

Did corruption run civil society out of town?

Published on 12/02/2009

By Stephen Ndegwa

At a time of raging corruption and hijacking of the change agenda by politicians, the silence from civil society is surprising.

Previously, when change came to Kenya, the civil society’ was a key driver. In the clamour for multiparty politics in the 1990s and constitutional review later, NGOs and other groups lobbied and raised funds to sensitise Kenyans on poor governance and the need for change at the helm.

Between 2001 and 2003 when the anti-Moi voices reached a crescendo, civil society and religious organisations were at among the most visible and loudest in mobilising support for the National Rainbow Coalition.

Belatedly, not knowing they had gone to bed with the devil, some grumbled for missing out on key appointments they ‘deserved’ for their sacrifice and industry to make sure the opposition had won to bring hope and good governance to Kenya.

Though the change movement was largely betrayed, the desire for a better Kenya remains as strong as then, only this time few seem ready to go to the frontline. During Kibaki’s first term, civil society members co-opted into government were content. They were again re-energised when the Orange movement was born and Anglo Leasing scam could no longer be contained, giving them opportunity to spring back to action.

But like the fated Oedipus in Sophocles play Oedipus the King, the civil society made the second grave error of leaning too much towards the Orange opposition to push for change.

Yet again, change was hijacked not only by the Electoral Commission and political parties’ misdeeds in the polls, but also by the very people they slept with to criticise Narc, GNU or whatever the name of the party that was in power.

They jostled for appointments, became openly biased and tribal to the core. They eventually lost identity.

Now with egg in the face, they are yet to find ground and the credibility to speak for wananchi, despite the fertile ground for activism brought about by scams rocking the coalition government.

During the Grand Regency sale saga, some civil society groups gathered the courage to march in the streets to demand the resignation of the then Finance Minister Amos Kimunya. Such is the role of civil society to provide support, education and guidance on good governance and demand full responsibility and accountability.

Today, one would think they are out of town even as credible evidence of wrong doing on maize and Triton oil scandals is tabled in parliament and splashed in newspapers.

Mwalimu Mati of the Mars Group now appears lonely, forlorn and beaten. He remains the sole voice in anti-corruption drive. An ever less credible John Githongo, a once-vibrant member of the civil society who served in Kibaki’s government up to 2003, tries to throw a word event, but it is clear he has lost touch with home.

Human rights groups seem defeated and have lost focus since Maina Kiai left the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

Police continue arresting and killing innocent youth while corruption in their ranks spread like malignant cancer. What opacity befell Transparency International, Kenya Human Rights Commission, and others who stood for the people?

The next team in the civil society must not join politics, but remain focused not just on change but also supervise its delivery as necessary.

Change is not a resting place. As Ikolomani MP Bonny Khalwale has proven in Parliament, it does not take multitudes and numerous workshops to speak for the people.


1. On Sunday February 15, 2009, 22:36 PM , Vincent Owanda, United States wrote:

  I am surprised that civil society ever existed, this group has been turned into a wealth making body for those who think they should be in some positions and because they cannot be there at that time they go packing in this body without any agenda at all. These group is meant to counter check the government especially when things are not going well like last year, they never even raised a voice.


2. On Sunday February 15, 2009, 12:03 PM , Dan Juma, United Kingdom wrote:

  Well, we also need to understand that civil society means you and I, so the challenge therefore remains how there can be “transnational” action not just by the “official” civil society, but also by the citizenry. It is the latter that will cast the vote in any election, and civil society can only travel some distance, and pass the baton to those with the “power” to hold their leaders to account.


3. On Sunday February 15, 2009, 3:18 AM , Edward Clay, United Kingdom wrote:

  Stephen Ndegwa’s challenging article and subsequent comments overlook the role of ordinary people, acting as voters. Some of the ministers most implicated in corruption were voted out. No pleas of inadequate evidence and all those other excuses for inaction. The secret ballot is a powerful instrument. Insulting the intelligence of ordinary people is a politician’s worst mistake.


4. On Saturday February 14, 2009, 9:24 AM , James Maina, United States wrote:

  For those who believe CORRUPTION in Kenya is here to stay are on the wrong side of history. The average Kenyans are sick and tired of the Old Guards who have allowed this evil to flourish at their expense. Kenyans will soon rise up and loudly say enough is enough. Corrupt leaders have literally ruined the secrets of success (Hard Work!) for all Kenyans. What happened to a “working nation”?


5. On Friday February 13, 2009, 0:32 AM , Gitonga Ikandi, United States wrote:

  I have always said that corruption and greed will never lead us anywhere. Most of those NGOs were formed out of ulterial motives that include being channels of money from dubious sources. Once the owners join the beast whom they were fighting, the affair runs full circle. The NGO is let to die. Do you think that the MPs salary is big? Wait untill you hear that they would like to get an increase!


6. On Thursday February 12, 2009, 9:52 AM , Steve Mukindia, Kenya wrote:

  Perhaps civil society realised they are fighting a losing battle. Without having the men and women of political good will up there, corruption is here to stay. We need guys like PLO for Attorney General Position, Githongo for KACC, Maina Kiai for ECK…. (plus many good women too) The tragedy is that this can only happen if Kibakis and Railas and Kalonzos of this world pack and go kabisa.


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