Getting Kenyans to confess, the big task

July 24, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 24 – Former President Daniel Arap Moi warned the country that the onset of multipartyism would divide the country along tribal lines, and sure enough since then our once oasis in the desert has never been the same again.

While some believed in Mzee Moi’s viewpoint, others argue that the opening up of democratic space has given Kenyans the opportunity to express themselves freely and allowed the country get real with historical problems that have for long been swept under the carpet.

The appointment of commissioners to the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) comes at a time that our nation is at the crossroads and in dire need of a ‘saviour’ to midwife the confessions, seek forgiveness and justice and unite us despite our differences. 

By establishing the TJRC, Parliament underscored that ‘the process of achieving lasting peace and harmonious co-existence can only be served by enabling Kenyans to discard matters in a free and reconciliatory forum.’

“For us to have durable peace and healing of the nation we have to go back certain steps and settle past deeds,” Newly appointed Chairman of the TJRC Bethuel Kiplagat told Capital News.

The hardest task for Amb Kiplagat and his team is however getting the trust of Kenyans to a level where they can freely confess their sins and genuinely seek forgiveness.  Considering that a section of victims of former injustices have been quoted saying that the accused must face justice this remains undoubtedly a gigantic task.

“You cannot reconcile people unless they have come out with truth and with that the victims then decide what to do with it. People can take different routes. They can decide to reconcile with them or seek justice,” the renowned peacemaker reckons.

The team comes in at a time when a section of the political class is seeing the TJRC as a third option to handle the perpetrators of the post election violence. Amb Kiplagat however reiterates that justice is part of the process and the belief that perpetrators of violence and other injustices will go scot-free could simply be a mirage.

Former National Cohesion Secretary Kithure Kindiki supports the ambassador on this.

“Many people who have been commenting on it think it’s a cover up but it has truth in it, justice and reconciliation,” he said.

Cabinet has twice failed to gain consensus on the best way to try the perpetrators of post election violence with alignments between the International Criminal Court at The Hague and a local tribunal alongside the TJRC.

With the fear of recurrence of violence the proponents of the third option argue that reconciliation should be given priority over justice. However many think those advocating for an exclusive TJRC way hope it will offer amnesty, a notion that Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Mutula Kilonzo has refuted.

“International crimes must be punished! I want to assure you in Kenya they will be punished,” he vowed. “The Rome Statute and the International Customary Law do not recognise resolution of international crimes through reconciliation, negotiation, mediation or even through prayers.”

Indeed the Act creating the Commission mandates it to make recommendations on, “prosecution of persons responsible for or involved in human rights and economic rights violations and abuses.”

However as all eyes remain on Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat to ‘save’ our beloved nation he has cautioned that the enormous task cannot be achieved by just nine commissioners.

“Hopefully we will be able to entice people to do it on their own and have other organisations join in,” he said. “Actually in some areas the people on the ground have started own initiatives.”

Indeed Dr Kindiki appreciates the magnitude of the task and recommends that the Commissions mandate period be increased to between five and seven years.

“Two years is not possible to investigate all the injustices from the independence year to the post election violence as provided in the law,” Dr Kindiki who is a law lecturer at the University of Nairobi says.

We have never seen a country so divided like we did during the 2005 constitutional referendum. Led by our political leaders we aligned ourselves alongside regional and ethnic blocks. A document that all of us had believed would re-unite us turned out to be the one thing that exposed out deep rooted differences.

However this was not new for since 1992, elections have always been accompanied by violence. Hopefully the TJRC is going to end the animosity once and for all.


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