Is Kenya ready to confront the truth?

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As the country grapples with who should chair Parliament’s House Business Committee, I do not want Kenyans to lose sight of another key institution – the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).

As we were busy debating who owns Migingo; who between the Prime Minister and Vice President should earn more pay, or whether Martha’s Karua’s resignation was justified or not… Commissioners to the TJRC were secretly being nominated.

Why do I say the process was secret? In setting up the TJRC, Kenya has a lot learn from past truth commissions in other jurisdictions.  And, we need not look too far.  South Africa presents a perfect case study.

President Mwai Kibaki signed the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Bill 2008 into law last November after hurried debate in Parliament.  The civil society has pointed out serious flaws in the law but the process proceeded without due regard to objections.

My scrutiny of the South African process brings out one aspect to the fore.  The process must be OPEN to public scrutiny and involvement.

When SA passed legislation to establish the commission, Nelson Mandela introduced a public participatory process even though the Act allowed the President to select and appoint commissioners.

He appointed a committee that would oversee a public nomination, selection and interview process.  Two hundred and twenty nine names were submitted, which the committee cut down and later conducted public hearings with a short list of 46 candidates.  Twenty five names were then forwarded to Mandela, who chose 17 including some who had not been on the list.  He avoided the option of appointing international commissioners.

South Africa established three committees to conduct public hearings:

a). The Human Rights Violations Committee – its mandate was to conduct public hearings where victims gave evidence on violations they suffered.

b). Amnesty Committee – This would grant amnesty on the basic criteria of full disclosure.  (I watched a DVD of the South African commission and saw victims come face to face with perpetrators of heinous crimes but I ask… have Kenyans been mentally prepared for this?)

c). Reparation and Rehabilitation Committee – This was to develop a compensation policy and stipulate how to implement it.

The integrity and credibility of the chairperson was also crucial and for this there was no better option than Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  I understand outgoing Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi is tipped to head the TJRC.   I don’t doubt his candour but he will be required to instil credibility in the Kenyan process given the covert start.

Before the South African process got underway, it took several months of public sensitisation and that must be the route to take here in Kenya. Every citizen must buy into the TJRC if it is to become successful.

Then, and only then, can we say the country is ready to confront its violent past. And, the past goes way back to the 1960s, not just the aftermath of the disputed 2007 general election.
 

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