Sunday, May 2, 2010

It’s time to move on with the truth and justice agenda

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 02 May 2010

The formation of many of the post-2007 institutions was fundamentally flawed. Politicians were given inordinate influence even in non-political institutions such as the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission and other “independent” commissions.

Inevitably, political considerations would worm their way into the decisions being made by these commissions, especially in times of crisis. A case in point is the TJRC. Activities at this commission have been paralysed for a long time since its formation due to wrangles of one form or another.

The recent very public spat between commissioners and their chairman has further served to dent the commission’s credibility, culminating in the vice-chair’s resignation. When Ms Betty Murungi threw in the towel and left the commission after Mr Kiplagat clearly indicated that he had no intention to quit, the spotlight shifted to the rest of the commissioners and the chair.

The fact that her resignation has elicited no reaction at all within the commission, as far as the public is aware, is an indictment on the moral authority of the commission and its members. In fact, as soon as Ms Murungi stepped down, the commissioners met and elected one of their own to take over as vice-chair.

Soon after this they issued a public statement calling on the chairman to resign, and asking the relevant authorities to constitute a tribunal to investigate allegations against the chairman. Initial indications were that Mr Kiplagat was a signatory to the declaration but, in typical Kenyan fashion, he denied this and vowed to stay put until a tribunal asks him to step down.

This whole saga at the TJRC illustrates just what is wrong with the Kenyan system of morality. Whenever we are criticised for any wrongdoing, our first instinct is to deny culpability and look around for a suitable scapegoat. There is no shortage of “detractors” in Kenya, and most people accused of serious infringements will not hesitate to point out a political or ethnic agenda in the whole matter.

When the allegations against Kiplagat first arose, it was suggested that civil society types were eager to blacklist anyone associated with former President Moi’s regime. The TJRC chairman and his supporters came out fighting, protesting that almost everyone in government today had served under the former president. The insinuation was that if Kiplagat had to resign due to his association with the Kanu kleptocracy, then all top Kenyan politicians would have to follow suit.

This kind of discussion succeeded for a while in deflecting attention from the real issues being raised about the chairman’s purported role in various atrocities attributed to the previous regimes. Ms Murungi’s resignation has brought them back to the fore, and it is now clear that no one is seriously interested in dealing with them.

Mr Kiplagat’s intransigence may even stem from the fact that he knows that among his interlocutors there is none so unblemished as to cast the first stone. If there is, he also knows that there are some in government and other high places who would come to his rescue if the need arises.

The real issues are as clear as day. Allegations have been made concerning Mr Kiplagat’s role in what is now known as the “Wagalla Massacre”, and despite his strenuous protestations of innocence, the claims refuse to go away. The disappearance and subsequent murder of former Foreign minister Robert Ouko at a time when Kiplagat was the PS in the ministry has also been cited as a matter of concern regarding his reputation.

Other allegations point to his conduct in other positions in government, including as ambassador and peacemaker in the region. As long as he continues to engage in shadow-boxing and refuses to face the accusations squarely, Mr Kiplagat’s reputation will continue to take a beating.

Internationally, his credibility took a thorough nose-dive when a team of former TJRC chairmen from several post-conflict states called the allegations against him serious enough to warrant his resignation. Operating from the premise that Mr Kiplagat is innocent of any wrong-doing, what would be the civilised thing to do?

Even if we agree that his accusers are driven by malice, political motives or ethnic considerations, would a civilised man continue to cling to a position despite evidence to the effect that his continued stay had become counterproductive?

The civilised thing for Ambassador Kiplagat to do is to subordinate his ego to the good of the nation, and follow the footsteps of Ms Betty Murungi out of the commission. Further, with the departure of the Chairman and his deputy, the TJRC would have completely lost its original complexion, and it would be necessary for it to be disbanded and reconstituted in a manner that inspires the confidence of the citizens.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine:

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