Addressing The Accountability Gap In Africa

The following is a transcript of an interview between Ziwani’s Ofhentse Piet and Valentine Gitoho (Chairperson, Africa Council for Accreditation and Accountability) at the Ziwani launch on 25 June 2021. You can watch the full video here or listen to the podcast here.

 

OP: I am joined this morning by Valentine Gitoho, all the way from Nairobi. Among her many other roles, Valentine is one of the co-founders and the current chairperson of the Africa Council for Accreditation and Accountability. Welcome Ms Gitoho, we are really looking forward to hearing from you this morning.

VG: Thank you very much.

OP: To begin our conversation this morning, won’t you tell us a little bit of your story? What are some of the things that have shaped you and ultimately gotten you to this place where you are passionate about accountability?

VG: Before I became a Christian, I used to work at Price Waterhouse and one of the things we used to do (I was a tax consultant then), was to be accountable for every 15 minutes of your time. This was important for billing the client and collecting payment, so for me, performance was based on the work that we used to do. I then worked in the corporate sector for Diner’s Club, where issues of integrity were extremely high because we became a finance institution. Then, moving to the church I became the Secretary for the Council, and one of the things I asked for as soon as I took over the position was the church constitution, so that I could follow it. It surprised me that they had to look for it because I thought it was something we all needed to have – so once it was found I made copies and gave them to everyone in the council, and I found that many of them had never even seen it!

OP: Valentine, please tell us more about this exciting initiative – the African Council for Accreditation and Accountability, and specifically, why it was established.

VG: In 1995, I used to sit on a commission for the African Evangelistic Association (AEA), and it was all about accountability. We were trying to figure out how we could improve and enhance the accountability of the members. At that time I was also a board member for the Evangelical Association for Financial Accountability (EAFA) in the US, so I understood the standards and enjoyed learning what it meant to be accountable. So that was one of the things I brought up within our commission to see how we could be accountable. Somehow it didn’t happen at that particular time, but I still held it in my heart because I used to be an ecumenical enabler for the Council of Churches in Africa and I noticed the various capacity gaps that existed, not only in financial matters, but also in areas regarding talent management,  leadership and governance issues. I thought that this was something we needed to do.

In 2012, I was invited for a meeting to set up a trust fund for missions in Africa (The Mission to Africa Trust Fund) in Ghana. I told them that I was not involved in missions, but I would be interested to see how anyone who is getting funding would meet certain standards of accountability to ensure that we are trustworthy in the way we handle organisations. Note, I’m talking about organisations, not money – this is organisational discipleship. And it was there that I gave the first presentation of what I thought an African council for accreditation and accountability could look like, and with a team of friends the ACCA was founded in 2015. So the gap was between the ‘word’ and the ‘work.’ I noticed that in meetings across Africa, we would start with prayer and speaking in tongues, but when it was time to get into the work, there were such big gaps. As a consultant, one only had 2-3 days in one place, so I used to pray a lot for the Lord to show me exactly what was going on. I would even challenge auditors on why clean audits were given when there were obvious issues in the financial reports. For us, the desire was that we would truly be the light, and that many would be attracted to Christ because of the good deeds of the organisations that we run – not only because they are successful but because the individuals in there come from families, churches, and communities, where they carry a lot of influence, which would help to build public trust. I’m really about public trust in Christian organisations. The ultimate goal is to unlock Africa’s potential through adherence to Biblical standards.

OP: That is so exciting Valentine. Well done to you guys for establishing this much-needed initiative. You’ve been involved in business as a marketplace leader and also in church and ministry. How has this shaped your perspective on faith and work integration?

VG: One of the things that comes up very clearly is that you cannot do unless you are. In other words, you cannot disciple others unless you are a disciple for example. So it starts with me and who I am. So personally, I would go away for a retreat every quarter just to reflect and have time with the Lord. We also have Bible studies as a couple because it all starts at home. And then I have accountability partners around me to help me to walk the talk as it were.

OP: That is very good. So Valentine, one of the issues that always comes up whenever the subject of the future of Africa is discussed is the need for good leadership. I know that you and your husband are involved in raising up the next generation. What are some of the things that you would like to instil in the next generation?

VG: Firstly, we need to understand what the next generation is all about. We’ve really engaged with the younger generation from about the time they become teenagers, all the way to university and young working adults. We have found that this generation is actually suffering because of the parents. Some of them come from broken families, and from single-parent homes. Others just have a harsh home environment where there is some kind of oppression.

So first of all, trying to understand the environment from which the children come. Some of them are from very wealthy families and are simply living in the hope that when their parents die, they will inherit everything. One of the things we try to do is to give them a long-term perspective, and we do that through goal-setting – your personal vision, personal mission, and goals. We use this as a tool to try and figure out where the kids are in their thinking about their role in their families, their finances, their friends. It’s a great tool because it forces them to think wider than just making money. We discuss issues of health for example, and what they put into their bodies which are temples of the Holy Spirit. And by the way, we also do this with non-believers, and have seen some of them coming to Christ.

We also see what we call the idolatry of self, expressed increasingly through social media, which makes it hard to reach out to young people. So we find ways to create platforms where they can connect. One such tools was introduced to us by Patrick Kuwana on transformational leadership. That has been an incredible tool because it helps them to look at themselves first and see some of the false beliefs and baggage that they have been carrying, and how that impacts their work culture, so that they can be set free and be productive.

OP: How can leaders be a part of building a God-honouring culture?

VG: If you look at the leadership we have right now, with respect to corruption – after 50 or so years of independence, we’ve had two ‘waves of leadership,’ and I think something happened within the second wave. Firstly, there is the issue of oppressive injustice – a country’s resources are held by a few people, and they want to keep it to themselves, even making laws to achieve this. The second issue is that of things just becoming the norm. I remember doing career guidance with a group of students and asking them what careers they wanted to pursue. Most of them said they wanted to be in ‘procurement’ because in their view, that is the quickest way to make money. Even the parents are involved in bribery when it comes to examination papers and results. The police are also corrupt – for example in the taxi industry, where some of them actually own vehicles, they are prepared to overlook traffic offenses and blatant violations of the laws governing the industry. So when our national leaders are themselves corrupted, they can’t point a figure at anybody else. So it is a continuation of the norm, and it has become systemic.

But I don’t lose heart. And that is why we must invest in the younger generation, to give them an alternative view, and God will bless you because of it.

OP: Thank you so much Valentine, asante sana – it has been a privilege hearing from you.

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Valentine Gitoho