BY PAUL AMINA
The truth is always bitter, goes the old adage, but that bitterness sets the teller free, adds a biblical verse that seems to disturb culprits and hypocrites. Even notorious liars in the witness stand – as a matter of formality – are made to swear by the holy books that the evidence they give in law courts will be the truth nothing but the truth.
It was a sigh of relief to victims of injustices when President Mwai Kibaki whose election was on a reform platform assumed office in the dying days of 2002. He has, at least, demonstrated that he is not a petty leader by closing down the Nyayo House torture chambers where critics underwent demeaning interrogation before court appearance or being detained. No person has been detained during President Kibaki\’s seven year reign.
It was also during his tenure that as a follow up on cries for justice that a task force was hastily formed under the chair of US-based law Professor Makau Mutua to establish from victims whether a truth commission was necessary.
His recommendation merely complimented an earlier call for the establishment of such a body. A private member’s motion on the same tabled by former MP Peter Oloo Aringo was unanimously approved by Parliament but hardly took off.
Notwithstanding nasty incidents, the Kenyan political class seems to be still allergic to truth and the rule of law is certainly not music to their ears. Like their colonial predecessors, the country\’s rulers criminalise the truth under the guise of protection of Official Secrets and preservation of national security.
The meager funds allocation and the ongoing frustrations in the operations of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) are just few of the many glaring examples of a cover-up of past national sins committed by state operatives under different leaders.
The Truth Commission is one of the items in the Agenda IV proposed by leaders across the political divide as part of the healing process of the nation wounded in the 2008 post -election violence in which more than 1,000 perished, more than 500,000 uprooted from their homes and property of unknown value destroyed.
The negotiators concurred that the country badly needed reconciliation and that could not be possible without investigating historical injustices including post election violence. They settled for the establishment of a truth commission to probe crimes against humanity.
The former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan presided over the noisy "peace" negotiations whose membership included none other than the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Senior Counsel, Mutula Kilonzo.
If the recent statements by Mutula are anything to go by, then one would question his support for the TJRC operations.
The appointing authority, the civil society and unsuccessful applicants for Commissioner posts are rooting for the dissolution of the commission because its chair is a man of questionable integrity.
The Commission as constituted, is not a witch-hunt outfit as some culprits would like others to believe, nor is it a trial chamber but a body entrusted with the authority to unearth the truth behind crimes against humanity and providing room for reconciliation.
Many of the victims wonder why some of their colleagues in the struggle – since elected and elevated to ministerial ranks – have abandoned them in the quest for compensation.
One such victim of state cruelty is none other than the Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga, the last political prisoner under Moi\’s reign.
On June 1, 1991 prison gates swung open and immediately closed behind the then political outcast, the son of former Vice President and opposition leader Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Thrice detained without trial for a total of eight years, Raila like his father and many unsung heroes in the second liberation bear the scars of state brutality under President Daniel arap Moi and his predecessor, Jomo Kenyatta.
Understandably, Raila is not pursuing for justice or compensation in the courts after being detained under the Preservation of Public Security Act , a colonial legislation reintroduced in 1966 in the newly independent country to contain growing dissent and criticism.
Academics, journalists, politicians, business people, hawkers amongst others were rounded up in routine and selective crackdown on vocal opposition and baptised subversive elements. The captives in their dozens were compelled to make confessions for imaginary crimes amongst them plots to overthrow the government through unlawful means for which they were convicted and imprisoned for years.
Victims of injustices including this writer believe that the time to know the truth is now not tomorrow under the TJRC that may absolve many including remorseful culprits of blame and recommend adequate compensation for the offended.
(Paul Amina is a freelance Journalist and former political prisoner. Email: [email protected] yahoo.com)