TJRC report a poisoned chalice

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By NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU

The Truth Justice & Reconciliation Commission was constituted to deal with ‘Agenda 4’ issues after the 2007 Post Election Violence. These were primarily historical injustices as well as the narratives that underlined the formation of our nation.

I was one of very few members of the Kenyan civil society to unapologetically support the commission when other more established CSOs insisted it was a sanitisation process.

My support was based on experiences during over inter-ethnic dialogue forums I had been part of between 2008 and 2010, with grass-root ethnic community stakeholders across the country. We were discussing what led to the 2007 PEV, and how to avoid a recurrence.

In these forums I had discovered that every Kenyan community had a narrative of who was to blame for the problems in Kenya. Why, and what needed to be done to fix it. In most instances the person they believed was at fault was an entire ‘other community’; usually the Kikuyu. The suggested solution was how to disenfranchise these ‘other community’ from public office and public opportunities to ‘level the playing field’. In some cases some outrageous individuals even suggested we do away with some of these communities entirely. The result was a siege mentality in those targeted communities.

These forums convinced me that Kenya needed a national platform to air these narratives, so that the real issues would be sorted out, and the imagined grievances debunked. I was also concerned at how, especially after the 2007 general elections, the more weirder narratives seemed to have gotten another lease of life, as Kenya’s history was rewritten on the streets, in our homes, on the media, on the internet, in public rallies; etc.

Kenya’s had developed ‘circumstantial truths’ that they were then distorting and slanting to support certain public positions, interests, politics, promote certain fears, and push for certain results for their ethnic communities.

I was convinced a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation process, even one half-effective, would allow everyone’s ‘truth’ to be put out there; to be challenged and either accepted or discarded. I believed such a platform would give everyone with something to say about issues that plagued our nation an opportunity to speak their ‘truth’; be heard; and be challenged. I also believed that such a process would allow Kenyans to weigh their own deeply held opinions against those of other Kenyans, until the factual position on each respective issue was arrived at and a universally accepted common truth developed. The alternative was a MAD situation; Mutually Assured Destruction; especially between Kenya’s main communities.

When the Civil Society started agitating for the disbandment of the TJRC I even went public on 30th October 2010 and on 2nd November 2010 urging all Kenyan to protect the TJRC from being manipulated by anybody; be it the political class, the government, civil society and/or international community. The TJRC though imperfect, was our only chance to confront the demons that kept plaguing our beloved nation in form of myths about each other, and slay them with absolute truth.

The TJRC did its work, to a certain degree. It provided a platform for Kenyans to ventilate, across the country. People could walk into the Commissions offices or public sessions, and speak the truth they had believed in but never had a chance to air. They spoke about land allocations, political assassinations, post-election violence, extra-judicial killings, political misadventures, etc. Kenyans started speaking of previously taboo subjects like inter-ethnic relationships, ethnic representation in government and public service, etc. Indirectly it contributed to the support most Kenyans had for the new Constitution, and the distaste some had against it.

Unfortunately the commission did not go far enough. It failed to publicly expose the truths it had ‘discovered’ from those who came before it, to be challenged by whatever other ‘truth’ might still exist out there on an issue; BEFORE making its final recommendations. It also did not accommodate its own fundamental flaws; like the fact that it was legally restrained from looking at injustices during the pre-independence period, or what role this period’s events had played in subsequent issues the commission was encountering.

This meant that what the commission came up with was still not ‘Truth’; it was a ‘zero draft’ of Kenya’s truth; another ‘circumstantial truth’; albeit the closest thing to the real truth that we have ever come up with. But it is still a draft.

Unfortunately some of Kenya’s current political elite will not allow us to go beyond this draft, to the final paper. They are presenting the ‘zero draft’ as the absolute truth, then doing what they have always done with ‘circumstantial truth’ narratives; distorting it to support certain interests and political positions, and promoting certain fears, to achieve certain results. Some even speak of dividing Kenyans ‘with truth’ while forgetting truth is universal and uniting.

The TJRC Report as is currently, is not Kenya’s truth. It is Kenya’s poisoned chalice.

(Ngunjiri Wambugu is the Director in Change Associates – a Strategic Political Communications Consultancy)

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