BY JOHN HARRINGTON NDETA
The walk out on the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) by sections of civil society in Mombasa over the weekend and prearranged rounds of condemnations by various other players across the country was ill-timed and in bad taste. Much as one can sight contentious issues from the TJR process, there is need for a coordinated and harmonised channel of communication under which to address grievances as opposed to derailing the whole process.
The near abortive and stormy start to TJRC sittings at the Coast serves as harbinger of tough times ahead for the Bethuel Kiplagat-led commission and Kenyans need to think ahead with the benefit of 2007/8 post-poll chaos’ hindsight.
Coast residents walked out of the Mombasa session citing the lack of credibility of some commissioners and the mandate that TJRC has to probe historical injustices stretching 1963-2008; an issue that leaves out land questions at the Coast which are said to stretch as far back as 1914.
As the commission starts its work, Kenyans should be reminded that as much as the reactions from the ground were not unexpected, it is important to remain calm and positive if we are to get anything from the TJR process.
Various civil society organisations have come out to strongly argue that the Kiplagat commission is not credible. This is perpetuated by a feeling that Bethuel Kiplagat was a long-serving public servant during the period some of the atrocities were committed. Now, combine this with the law that bars any prosecution of a government official who committed crimes during his service to the government and you can understand the rage by some of the civil societies, Members of Parliament and Kenyans who feel aggrieved for injustices committed against them or their communities.
But how about coming up with a code of conduct for the whole process and the commissioners in particular aimed at ensuring that all stakeholders have a fair hearing during the entire process?
At this point in time, Kenyans ought to remain level headed and allow reason to prevail. The composition of TJRC is holistic in that it has representatives from both the victims and the perpetrators. This strikes a balance that is much needed in such an exercise to succeed. The commission is also privileged to have international experts who have nothing to do with what happened in Kenya in the yester-years.
The independence of the commission, credibility of the commissioners, validity of issues under consideration and certainty of implementation of the recommendations are issues which need to be cleared if the commission is to do an effective work across the country. When the commission was established, it was out of the outstanding need for Kenyans to reconcile. As they say, a divided house cannot stand and TJRC provides such an opportunity.
All is not lost. At Kwale, the public demonstrated a thirst for the commission to heal past wounds when they chased away the civic leaders who were out to derail the sittings. Left alone, Kenyan on the ground want these past injustices addressed and it seems that the leaders are the ones seeking to derail the work of the commission.
It is true that some Kenyans feel that there is a conflict of interest in Kiplagat being the chair of the commission. But how did Kiplagat get the job in the first place?
The commissioners’ positions were advertised, people including Bethuel Kiplagat applied and the grey-haired man got the job; this after he and his colleagues went through a rigorous recruitment with approval of the parliament and the President.
If Kenyans and particularly the civil societies were sincere about the inherent evil in his appointment we should have sought to set the rules of the game before the game started. Seeking to change the rules mid-game will not only confuse the referee but mar the whole exercise.
Truth be told, all of us have our own weaknesses and that should not make us fail to work. TJRC has a clear mandate and the best we should do is give them a chance to do their work as per the terms of reference and then rate them accordingly. Seeking to derail their work will only take as several decades if not a whole century back.
There is no need to take one step forward and a thousand others backward. Let Kenyans led by the political leader, religious leaders and the civil societies rethink on how best to make TJRC work than derailing the entire exercise.
In this respect Nominated MP Mohamed Affey deserves plaudits for seeking to introduce a Bill to do away with the Indemnity Act Chapter 44. Let all the political class who legitimised Kiplagat’s appointment be seen to be doing something to clear the path for the commission.
Everything must be done to ensure that the TJRC process in Kenya is not procrastinated once again over issues which can be resolved and others which are purely personal. Kenya needs a new start and we cannot pretend to have that new start by bequeathing ourselves a new Constitution when we have not gone through a Truth Justice and Reconciliation process.
(John Harrington Ndeta works for a Peace Building Organisation in Kenya)