'Traitor' who stayed true to Kenya

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Former President Mwai Kibaki’s anti-corruption advisor, John Githongo. Photo/FILE

Former President Mwai Kibaki’s anti-corruption advisor, John Githongo. Photo/FILE 


Posted  Saturday, February 14   2009 at  12:07

A few weeks after Narc came to power, I was asking a civil society friend what line his organisation was going to take with the new government.

The NGO he worked for had spent the 1990s agitating against the abuses of the Moi government, pushing for constitutional reform, promoting civic education and so on.

My friend, like me, was in his early 30s.

He had graduated from the University of Nairobi in the mid-1990s with a law degree but turned his back on a potentially lucrative law career.

He would have done well: He had that quiet intensity of the boardroom lawyer, and liked his cuff-linked white shirts and dark suits.

Instead, he had plunged into civil society, and soon devoted himself to the art of producing carefully irreverent analyses on the madness of the time.

He was not a mass-action man, did not put himself in the path of GSU batons and teargas, and you rarely saw him at those Chester House press conferences stridently demanding Moi’s departure.

His work was incremental rather than revolutionary.

Papers, pamphlets, workshops, cross-sectoral networking — this was his terrain: That invisible but essential part of the infrastructure that had developed to challenge the Moi system.

Now we were standing at the edge of a new era, at the main bar in the Nairobi Serena hotel. A constitutional expert was going to speak, over a donor-funded dinner, about the future of the Bomas process. The talk was preceded by a cocktail.

There was a smattering of reform luminaries, the old warriors from the Ufungamano and Bomas meetings.

But many of those invited had chosen to skip the event. The struggle was already beginning to feel hazy, sepia-toned, historical.

With Moi just weeks gone, attention had now turned to that familiar Kenyan game: The jostling for positions.

For many young people who had spent the 1990s as activists, Narc represented an opportunity for both personal and professional advancement.

There was a feeling among some that the age of anti-establishment criticism had ended with Moi’s departure.

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