Kibaki, Raila find Truth Commission an easy way out

This is official government policy: the perpetrators of political and ethnic clashes will not be prosecuted but Kenyans should instead forgive and forget all past injustices.

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Anxious to avoid prosecuting their key allies, President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga used the weekend trip to Nyanza Province to continually stress upon political and ethnic reconciliation in a move widely at odds with majority opinion in Kenya.

According to opinion polls, most Kenyans want the perpetrators of violence to face justice in the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, Netherlands. However, both the President and Prime Minister do not want to expose their key supporters to the vagaries of trials for crimes against humanity.

Over the past two weeks, another option has emerged which has turned out exceedingly popular with guilty politicians: a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).

The government is under international pressure to act against the masterminds of political and ethnic violence. Various investigations by a Kenyan judge, the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and other organizations have strongly implicated close allies of the President and Prime Minister in organizing and funding clashes that erupted around the December 2007 General Elections. At least 1,300 people were killed as half a million were evicted from their homes in tit-for-tat ethnic warfare.

The options so far have been a locally constituted Special Tribunal or to take the suspects to the International Criminal Court. The Truth Commission is now a third option.

On President Kibaki’s side, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta has been named as a key organizer of ethnic violence. Others are Kibaki’s long time ally, Njenga Karume, Mukurweini legislator Kabando wa Kabando, former Naivasha legislator Jayne Kihara and a host of high ranking professionals and business people from the President’s Kikuyu ethnic group.

Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party has a large cadre of its leadership implicated in the violence, as the worst of the clashes occurred in ODM dominated districts. Leading the pack is Agriculture Minister William Ruto, Tourism Minister Najib Balala and National Heritage Minister William ole Ntimama. Other ODM cabinet ministers linked to the ethnic killings are Franklin Bett, Dr Sally Kosgey and Professor Peter Anyang Nyongo. Ordinary members of parliament elected in the ODM party have also been mentioned. Indeed, ODM has been implicated in the violence so heavily that the party sees the investigations as a threat to its future.

The proposed Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) would be similar to one formed in South Africa following the end of Apartheid in 1994. The South African Commission – headed by respected cleric Desmond Tutu – granted amnesty to those accused of human rights violations in exchange for public testimony. Members of the security forces, intelligence agencies and black liberation movements gave chilling accounts of their actions over the previous four decades.

In a sense, a Truth Commission is like a Catholic confessional: forgiveness for sins after confessing.

Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Agriculture Minister William Ruto have presidential ambitions in the next General Elections scheduled for 2012. They both see the Truth Commission as a way of cleaning up their public profiles in time for campaigns. Uhuru is linked to the hiring of gangs of Kikuyu youth to engage in retaliatory attacks in the Rift Valley, while Ruto is accused of organizing or at least being complicit in Eldoret where his Kalenjin ethnic group attacked Kikuyu families.

Are Kenyans willing to forgive and forget everything that happened in 2007 and 2008?

Most Kenyans in opinion polls say that they never want a repeat of the near civil war that erupted in 2008. The only guarantee of long-term peace and stability in Kenya is by removing from power those responsible for ethnic and political clashes for the past two decades. Only a credible, internationally recognized judicial process can guarantee a future free from ethnic incitement. And nothing less than the ICC will satisfy Kenyans.

Therefore, President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga joint calls for forgiveness have not been taken kindly by majority of Kenyans. The move is viewed as an opportunistic political gimmick aimed at protecting the two men’s close friends from facing the frying pan of justice. Infact, Kibaki and Raila want to save their own skins because those already named in connection with the violence have vowed not to go down alone.

William Ruto and legislators from his Rift Valley province have vowed to implicate the Prime Minister should they be taken before court. Obviously, Raila would not want to be branded as an ethnic warlord, even though video tapes and newspaper cuttings show him making rather controversial statements during the 2007 campaigns. During a campaign tour of the Mount Kenya area, Raila told the Kikuyu, Meru and Embu ethnic groups that they would “shed tears” should he win the presidency.

The Truth Commission has already run into controversy days after President Kibaki appointed former diplomat, Bethwel Kiplagat as its Chair. Kiplagat worked for many years as a top civil servant in the administration of former President Daniel arap Moi.

Critics say that Kiplagat never uttered a word objection in the 1980s and 90s when detention, torture and assasination was rife. Already, some victims of the 2008 post election violence have vowed not to appear before the Truth Commission citing its composition and its intended purpose of giving politicians an easy way out. Most of the Truth Commissioners have had little visibility in the past, even less on human rights advocacy.

Meanwhile, a group of dissident politicians have exposed a government plot to withdraw Kenya’s membership from the International Criminal Court. Former legislators Paul Muite and Koigi Wamwere says the Kenyan government wants to withdraw from the ICC in order to protect ministers likely to face trial for crimes against humanity.

Muite and Koigi were speaking in Mombasa during a court case where former Laikipia West member of parliament, G. G. Kariuki is charged with incitement. Kariuki told a recent public gathering that Kenyans should unite and overthrow the government.

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