NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 21 – When South Sudanese or Somali nationals meet Bethuel Kiplagat on the streets, they stop him and respectfully call him ‘the father of peace’, in honour of his efforts to bring peace to their countries.
The renowned peacemaker has also featured in negotiations in Mozambique and Uganda. During his missions he has found himself in the battlefields and at times survived death by a whisker, but all these have not deterred him.
“At one time in Sudan one of the cars in our motorcade hit a landmine,” he says.
“An army officer in Mozambique once confessed that he had been instructed to execute me because some people in the army were uncomfortable that the peace process was going on very fast.”
In Uganda President Yoweri Museveni took over government just when Amb Kiplagat was in Kampala to mediate for peace in that country. The Ambassador had to seek refuge at the United Nations offices. During the Somali peace process earlier in the decade he had to go without salaries for close to a year but that never stopped him from working.
He has overseen the signing of peace agreements in four countries and the pride he carries around for these achievements is unmistakable. In our one-hour interview Amb Kiplagat would often deviate from the thrust of the interview, which was about Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), and bring in his experiences in these countries.
“These guys call me everyday to thank me. I am very lucky,” he beams. “The former President (Daniel Arap Moi) always reminds me of the mediation for Mozambique.”
When he was proposed as a member of TJRC, and his name presented to Parliament, nobody raised a finger. MPs endorsed the list of people who had competitively been recruited by a human resource company. The House charged the team to do all it can to help the country reconcile.
However when President Mwai Kibaki appointed Amb Kiplagat to chair the Commission, there was uproar from all directions especially from the civil society. His opponents point out that ‘he was a career civil servant during the Moi regime when most of the atrocities were committed.’
“Most of the current judges were appointed by President Moi, does anyone object their rulings today because of this?” he challenges his critics.
Some people branding themselves ‘victims of historical atrocities’ have even gone to the extent of filing a court injunction to stop the TJRC operations.
“It does not worry me at all because my conscience is clear. I am not worried that somebody will discover something that I did and expose me,” he says.
The criticism has not distracted this man from his mission. Amb Kiplagat is determined to reconcile the nation and says he will do all it takes to woo the critics whom he terms as ‘key to the success of the reconciliation process’. He says his team’s first agenda when they hit the road in two months’ time is invite the critics for dialogue.
“It is never easy in this work, but I know it is a worthy call.”
While many have claimed that the TJRC is bound to fail because there is no political will, the chairman is not at all worried. In his own words, Amb Kiplagat has learnt to create the will where it does not exist.
To him Kenyans should stop enslaving themselves to the politicians and do their part. The most important support he needs is from Kenyans especially the civil society, professional bodies and religious organisations.
“Our intention is to engage stakeholders and hear from them on how best we can do this work together,” he says in his emphasis for a people driven process.