By Francis Ong’ele
While Kenyans are anxious to narrate their stories of past and recurrent human rights abuses to the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) and obtain closure, the political class wavers and dithers, afraid of the stench that will ensue.
It is easy to discern that the resistance to the work of the TJRC falls neatly into a pattern of resistance to reforms that have been constant companions to the fight for the liberation of Kenyans from the history of bad governance.
The Agenda IV commissions, of which TJRC is an indispensable component, were meant to provide pillars and planks to build the bridge that Kenyans needed to walk across to the new dispensation, away from the suffocating regime of unfettered impunity, corruption and human indignity.
The other commissions have so far performed laudably; while the TJRC has remained stuck in a rut. The Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence (CIPEV) and the Interim Independent Electoral Commission have won praise across the board.
The Committee of Experts (CoE), against all odds, mid-wifed the new Constitution and the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has soldiered on with commendable determination to achieve its mission of setting the ground rules for the use of appropriate language during electoral contests.
As for the TJRC, there is nothing to show despite its importance to victims of past abuses. Starved of funding and mired in a credibility crisis, arising out of the history of the Commission chair, Bethuel Kiplagat, it has not moved an inch. All this leads to the question: Was the choice of the chair and subsequent denial of budgetary allocations a coincidence or a deliberate move to scuttle its work?
The Ndung’u land report and issues of the Wagalla massacre, which have drawn negative attention to Kiplagat and the TJRC by extension, were in the public domain long before the formation of the commission.
Are we to aver that the Church, Civil society and Parliament on whose shoulders the onus for doing background checks on those aspiring to public offices rests, slept on the job? And, pray, why has Chief Justice Evan Gicheru not responded to the compelling public interest to set up the Tribunal that would lay the issue of the credibility of Kiplagat to rest?
The history of Kiplagat in the service of retired President Moi’s regime is not a secret. And the obstinacy of the TJRC chair, failure to play by the rules and the silence of the appointing authority on the credibility issue together with the denial of budgetary allocations beg more questions than answers.
The TJRC mandate, as summed up in their brochure, is to provide justice to those who suffered violations and historical injustices, to make proposals for prosecutions of violators of human rights, to provide reparations for victims; to give amnesty to those responsible for historical injustices; and to address issues that engender conflict among Kenyans and to create harmony.
It is also charged with the task of proposing concrete ways of reforming our institutions that have been implicated in gross violations of human rights. And, finally, the TJRC is to piece together a common narrative-unsullied by revisionism of the history of the abuses that will enable Kenyans to move on in unity.
These are noble objectives that Kenyans have yearned for, for a long time and should not be sacrificed at the altar of individual needs for self-preservation as seen and evidenced in the recent past.
There are Kenyans of track record and unquestionable credentials who can perform the task to expectations and the good diplomat should not wait to be dragged out of the office screaming and kicking.
If the woes at the Commission are not a conspiracy to scuttle the truth telling process, then the time to act is now not tomorrow.
(Francis Ong’ele is an ex-political prisoner and a member of the Victims Network. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)