Taking stock of national healing

July 20, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 17 – The Hague versus Local Tribunal debate has sustained momentum probably more than any other national issue for years.

For over a year the country’s leadership has been engrossed between the possibility of appearing in court over their role in the post election skirmishes and raising their stakes for the 2012 succession.
One school of thought has argued that prosecuting ring leaders, financiers and planners of the violence – most of who are tribal chiefs – will lead to fresh violence as followers protest the actions. This group justifies their actions to ‘theft’ of an election and the historical injustices since independence.

On the other hand there are those who argue that letting the perpetrators go scot-free only works to encourage the culture of impunity. The aggrieved demand that justice must be accorded to them.

This debate has somewhat pushed another, equally important aspect, to the back burner – National healing and Reconciliation. Despite creating the National Cohesion department in the Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ministry not much progress seems to have been made. The secretary of this crucial department Dr Kithure Kindiki resigned 100 days into the job citing lack of political will, resources and clear government vision.

We caught up with Dr Kindiki, who is an International Law lecturer at the University of Nairobi to get his views about the progress of national cohesion and how best to address the post election crisis without further dividing the country.

Q. Where is the country in terms of reconciliation?
A. Nothing has happened; we are where we are then if not worse. Many had hoped that after the post election violence the government would get its act together and launch a serious program of reconciling Kenyans but there has not be any program or effort to reconcile the country.

Politicians are eating together in office but the communities down there are still divided.

Q. Looking at your former station what is your rating on this responsibility?
A. The ministry has done nothing within the context of national cohesion. There are many things the ministry could have done; most of which require very little finances.  The best they have done is helping draft the legal procedures for the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission and the Race Relations Commission Bills which actually have been collective efforts by the government.

Q. What do you have in mind when you talk of short term programs?

A. If we invested in a campaign to unite the country where politicians go out there and rallied their people the same way they divided the country. We could mobilise councils of elders, women groups, the civil society, church leaders and the councilors on the ground to support this.

Q. What do you think of Gachoka MP Mutava Musyimi’s proposal for the creation of a new ministry to drive the cohesion agenda?
A. Perfect! That is the most wonderful proposal I have heard in recent times. When I was at the ministry we had made such a proposal. Zimbabwe has such a ministry and it shows the seriousness with which the government views the issue of cohesion.

Since I left the ministry there has never been a replacement. That is what pushed me out, the lack of political will and resources.

Q. What do we need for such a ministry to succeed?
A. The first thing is to have a clear concept for national reconciliation defining its general mandate. All the commissions that we have formed should be coordinated by such a ministry.

Then of course we need resources that don’t have to necessarily come from the government. Up to now development partners are putting money in non-governmental organisations; this could be going to such a ministry if it existed.

Q. What is your opinion on the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC)?
A. That is the one sure solution to our problems and we should invest in it. There is talk about a local tribunal and The Hague but with the polarisation we have in this country, this is the best hope for us.

Q. Support you opinion.
A. TJRC is a process that encompasses both punishment and confronting the truth and healing the wounds. Its recommendations will help us re-unite the communities especially at the grassroots.

The problem with the other two options is that they are concentrating on the prosecutions and justice before reconciling the people and in my opinion that can plunge the country back into chaos.

Q. How has the country faired in setting up the TJRC?
A. The progress has been quite slow. Secondly, the two years given is not enough to address the historical challenges since 1963 as outlined in its mandate. I would propose the increase of the timeline to around five to nine years like is the practice in other countries. Thirdly, the selection of commissioners was shrouded in secrecy and done hurriedly. Given the enormous responsibility that was not right.


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