Githongo: State wanted to silence me with anti-graft job

John Githongo (pictured) is described by many as an open book; a man hungry for media attention owing to his life as an activist.

Githongo says he has secrets he rarely talks about unless prompted; like how he worked as a traffic policeman in Lang'ata in the late 80s. Before that, he was a police reservist, carrying a gun and extending a desire he had from childhood to work in uniformed service.

Ever since he was a boy, he wanted to join the army. He did his research, interacted with them, but when they disclosed their meagre salaries, his interest in the job waned. His dream of maintaining law and order remained.

“I talked with a friend who was in the police to see if I could volunteer, and I got in,” he says.

He says he is tormented by calls he got about suicides, or when he would be dispatched to save abused babies.

“For some reason, those cases really bothered me,” he says.

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The other thing most people do not know, yet he holds dear, is his ability to draw and paint. In college, he was a cartoonist and painter of abstract art.

“I got money from it and I am thinking of going back to art,” he says.

There are things he never waivers from discussing. He talks at length about his role in exposing the Anglo Leasing scandal and how he was forced into asylum in the United Kingdom when the political temperatures rose. He goes on about people he feels betrayed the course of stopping plunder, and how he will continue railing against corruption, even if he is the last man standing.

He does not dwell on the fact that he used secret recorders to get information in a move that fed straight into the hands of his critics. They called him a betrayer, a traitor and coward. It was even reported that there is possibility he was working with British government as a spy.

“I was viewed as a betrayer because people thought it was their right to steal and I was disrupting it,” he says.

Some say he was born with a silver spoon in the mouth, with people close to him insisting that his father knew the ‘right people’, including President Kibaki, and he was prepped and positioned to take a job in public service with prime pay.

Githongo denies this, saying before his appointment, he had been contracted to come up with a plan to rebuild Kenya and stop corruption. His plan impressed the Narc team, and he was hired on merit. He says in retrospect, he has been thinking perhaps the government beckoning him from Transparency International where he had championed several anti-corruption movements to the government was a ploy to slow him down.

“I was naïve. I think about their intentions now more than ever. They may have invited me pretending to want the best for the country, but they wanted to mute me,” he says.

The wildest rumours about him, he says, were the many blog posts that emerged suggesting that his long bachelorhood was because he was gay.

“I knew they were hired to stop me from being vocal against corruption,” he says.

There are things he absolutely refuses to talk about. Like how he plans to pay the Sh27 million the court recently fined him in a defamation case filed by former Cabinet minister Chris Murungaru.

As former president Kibaki’s adviser and Permanent Secretary for Ethics and Governance in the Narc administration, Githongo presented a controversial dossier which linked Murungaru, former VP Moody Awori, former Cabinet minister and now Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi and his former colleague David Mwiraria to the Anglo leasing  scam.

The court found that he had no evidence in making the claims.

“The process of filing an appeal has started. On raising the money, we will cross the bridge when the time comes,” he says.

Githongo says how his life unfolded has taught him several lessons. At the point when he was poking holes at the operations of government, he says everything was new to him, and admits he went about the fight against corruption in ways he imagined was best, but had no proof his methods would work.

“I had no template. We never had a scandal of that multitude. I had to think of what to do as we went along,” he says.

On what he would tell his accusers Murungaru, Kiraitu and Mwiraria if they sat in a round-table, Githongo sighs and says: “What is left unsaid is often more profound than the niceties exchanged.”

His close allies describe him as a paranoid man who believes there is someone out to get him.

“When you are working on a project and you give your input, he still questions your intentions,” says one of his former colleague.

Ndung’u Wainaina, the executive director for the International Centre for Policy and Conflict who has interacted with Githongo professionally and personally, says his inquisitive nature can sometimes be mistaken for suspicion.

“He believes in transparency and accountability. He is very inquisitive,” says Ndung’u.

Githongo says his professional life, and falling out of favour with people in high power, taught him to be careful on the people he lets into his personal space.

He flatly refuses to talk about is his marriage – one that was done under wraps with an exclusive wedding invite to close friends and family. At 44, he got into his first marriage in 2010 amid speculations that he swung the other way and had no time for heterosexual marriage.

He says marrying late afforded him maturity young people lack when they get into matrimony.

“Good thing about marrying when older is that there is no time to have petty fights such as who has left the socks where,” he says and lets out a laugh.

Marriage has taught him many things – chief among them is that women are always right, and that they bring perspective into things that men struggle with.

He has also learnt about compromise and sacrifice. With his marriage, he had to drop some of the things he loved. His wife’s serious allergies made him shelf his hobby of keeping pets that he once loved dearly.

“You have to accept some changes if you want a happy marriage,” he says.

He pauses when asked on whether they plan to have children, and says the response will shock people, so he would rather not discuss it until time is right.  

He says one of his greatest weakness is his impatience, and that he sometimes worries over things he has no control over.

He might get into politics someday, he says. Until then, he plans to write an autobiography that will tell how the lid falls when one attempts to fight corruption.

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