By LUKOYE ATWOLI
Sunday Nation 10 May 2009, Page 10
The recent appointment of a substantive minister to the Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs ministry is laudable despite the misgivings of many in the reform lobby.
A country claiming to subscribe to the rule of law, even when this is not self-evident as in our case, should not continue for long without a minister in this important docket.
This is even more critical considering the ongoing circus that is our Grand Coalition Government, an amorphous creature crying out for an urgent constitutional cathartic to relieve its bloated innards and create systems that work.
An urgent task for the minister will be to fill the post of the Secretary for National Cohesion with clear terms of reference, a competent team and a budget to help fulfill the responsibilities of the office.
Following in the footsteps of his predecessor and performing a window dressing by giving someone an appointment without the requisite facilities will just not do this time.
Despite the novelty of the position, the National Cohesion secretary has the potential of helping this country to begin the process of healing by identifying the real obstacles to lasting peace and reconciliation and developing programmes to deal with them.
It is a pity that a government that committed itself to finding solutions that will ensure lasting peace in this country is still dilly-dallying in implementing its own recommendations.
The National Cohesion Secretary will find some key issues that must be dealt with urgently which, if left unattended, will continue to pose a real threat to our national survival.
The question of internally displaced persons (IDPs) must be addressed urgently and conclusively. Despite the trumpeted success of ‘‘Operation Rudi Nyumbani’’, a large number of the internal refugees only returned to sites near their farms — the so-called transit camps — and continue to subsist on the philanthropy of humanitarian actors to this day.
A smaller but no less significant group continues to occupy the original post-displacement camps and, as the rains begin to pound these areas, their health and safety has become a real concern.
Continued government denials and assertions that ‘‘most of the IDPs have been resettled’’ do not do much to assuage the acute suffering these families are experiencing.
As long as the IDPs remain unsettled, they continue to serve as a painful reminder of that dark period in our recent history that many in the establishment would like to forget in a hurry.
Unfortunately their situation cannot be so easily wished away, and the government needs to develop a detailed plan on how to handle the remaining IDPs in the short term, as well as a long-term policy on internal displacement to guide future interventions.
Another key task for this office is preparation of the ground for the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).
This is because although many Kenyans continue to assert the necessity of a reconciliation process, most do not actually comprehend the technicalities involved. Unless the process is properly managed, it has the potential to degenerate into another forum for blame-shifting instead of being the opportunity for healing.
Many Kenyans believe the TJRC will be the forum to name and shame their perceived ‘‘enemies’’, while some politicians view it as a potential weapon to destroy their opponents in the tried and tested Kenyan fashion — give a dog a bad name and hang him.
The misguided enthusiasm for the TJRC must, therefore, be tempered with a dose of realism that will enable Kenyans to see it for what it really is — a mark of a failed criminal justice system.
The TJRC is actually a safety valve that enables a nation to move beyond the perpetual grouses around ‘‘historical injustices’’ and other perceived failings of the State, and facilitates a rebirth of the nation with new values and aspirations.
Without a commitment by the citizenry to a clean break with the past and an unconditional acceptance of the TJRC outcome, the whole process will turn out to be a monumental waste of time.
Indeed, a bungled TJRC is worse than no process at all, for it has the potential to ignite fires that are far more voracious than anything we have ever witnessed before.
The National Cohesion Secretary will, therefore, be tasked with preparing the country for the TJRC and other processes arising out of the National Accord and related legislation. The success of the cohesion and TJRC processes may be the defining achievements of the holder of the Justice docket.
Indeed, a new constitution may be unattainable unless the processes associated with these functions of National Cohesion and the TJRC are actualised.
Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine www.lukoyeatwoli.com