What we should expect from TJRC

Like most Kenyans, I tend to be skeptical of every decision made in the political arena.  Take for instance the appointment of members to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission.

More than a year ago, while Kenya was still reeling from the effects of post-election violence, the move to set up the commission was lauded by international human rights organisations.  But somewhere along the way, we seemed to have lost momentum.  The nomination process in itself was plagued with controversy and we saw the Minister for Justice trying to unsuccessfully dissociate the commission from the amnesty ‘label’.

And yet, here we are now.  We cannot help but ask the questions… why now? Have we finally succumbed to international pressure? Is there some hidden agenda behind the appointments?

But these questions and concerns are of no consequence to the process.  In my experience, once such appointments are made, there is no point in crying over spilt milk.  What we ought to do is take control of the process to ensure that the Commission runs according to high standards.

What many people don’t know is that Truth Commissions have been around since the early 70s and have been set up in more than 20 countries around the world. In Uganda for instance, a Commission of inquiry was set up in 1974 to investigate the disappearance of people during Idi Amin’s reign, while a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up after the genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003.  But the one that drew the most attention was South Africa’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission set up in 1995, to deal with the injustices of the apartheid system.

In some of these cases, the commissions have been effective in dealing with the injustices and human rights violations, but not so successful in others.

Personally, what I have stated and firmly believe is that Kenya needs healing and reconciliation.   But how do we do that while the victims do not know the truth or at least comprehend the reasons behind their untold suffering?  How do we do that while many still can’t explain the disappearance of their kin?  How do we do that when many don’t understand why their age-old neighbours turned against them?

This is where the commission comes in.  It should facilitate the emergence of the truth and nothing but irrefutable truth with regard to the violence.  Truth is a core human need that allows us to understand our circumstances and design our future.

I was happy to hear the Chairman of the TJRC state that they will consult widely to come up with the best formula for Kenya.  Perhaps they should begin by borrowing a leaf from Rwanda, which suffered worse fate, but has emerged a much stronger country and economy under President Kagame’s leadership.

There are a few other factors that warrant serious thought and which may determine the effectiveness of this commission.

To start with, the Bill stated that the commission will investigate injustices and human rights violations committed in the period between late 1963 to early 2008.  How extensive and thorough should we expect the report to be if it covers more than 40 years?  Is this reasonable or should we consider dealing with recent injustices first?  Secondly, how soon do we expect to get a report of the findings?  Obviously, the answers to these questions will determine the resources that are allocated to this cause.

I hope that Kenya will not spend too much on this report for it to end up gathering dust on the shelves.

The Commission needs to build trust and confidence in the eye of the public.   For that reason, they may need to explain themselves and state clearly that their stand is on the process of healing and reconciliation.  They need to come across as ‘clean’ individuals before they begin to find solutions to Kenya’s problems.

There has also been much hullabaloo about having public hearings and making the Waki list public.  I beg of us to first understand the consequences of our decisions.  In a country that is experiencing tense political undercurrents, will the publicity help to calm the situation or aggravate ethnic tensions?  We do not want to create a vicious cycle that promotes hatred.

More importantly, how is the government going to ensure that ‘street justice’ is not meted out on well-meaning witnesses?  Is our witness-protection program empowered enough to guarantee security for victims, witnesses, alleged perpetrators and the commissioners themselves?

Finally, which is the target group for the Commission?  Are they expected to treat small and big fish alike in the quest for truth?  With the current inequity in Kenya, is this expectation a reality?  Should they focus on all cases alike or the ones that have had a significant impact on the community?

Obviously, this list is inexhaustible.  I would urge Ambassador Kiplagat to take some time and listen to the concerns of the public before the commission begins it works.  It is the only way to ensure that we have the same vision of healing and reconciliation for our beloved country.

I end with a word of caution to the Commissioners; that for any Truth Commission to be effective, it needs to be designed and implemented with the victims in mind.  Godspeed.

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