Will the truth set Kenya free, or open old wounds?: iLIVE

13 August 2012 - 17:03 By Allan Ngari
Sunset silhouetting acacia trees in Masai Mara, Kenya
Sunset silhouetting acacia trees in Masai Mara, Kenya
Image: Dan Lundberg

In March 2013, Kenyans will once again go to the polls to cast their votes.

Unfortunately, Kenyan political contests have not always been smooth sailing, and past elections have been marred by irregularities and violence.

Most notably, the disputed 2007 presidential elections led to two months of widespread violence during which approximately 1,000 Kenyans died and 350,000 were internally displaced. These two months also dispelled the long-standing image of Kenya as a bastion of stability in a regional sea of volatility.

The post-election violence (PEV) also cemented Kenya’s status as a “country in transition.” The political settlement which ended the violence created a hurricane of reforms and new institutions designed to not only deal with the PEV, but also Kenya’s long legacy of injustice and impunity.

Some of these institutions have already concluded their work, including the Commission for the Investigation of Post Election Violence and the Independent Review Commission, while others such as the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) are in their closing stages.

Despite significant challenges to its credibility, as well as budgetary constraints, the TJRC’s soon-to-be-released report could provide a collective and consensus-based truth on many of Kenya’s most sensitive issues from its past.

However, some Kenyan politicians have called for an embargo upon the release of the TJRC report; out of fear that it will re-open national wounds and exacerbate political tensions. 

This concern is especially poignant with the 2013 elections looming in the near future. It is plausible that its content, which will shed light on events spanning the post-independence period, may be used to sow more divisions in an already fragmented country.

These challenges pose a true test to the functioning of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), the only permanent creation of the 2008 political settlement, which is mandated to prosecute perpetrators of hate speech (among other tasks). Some will inevitably accuse the NCIC of fomenting tribal politics if it takes a robust approach to its mandate.

As if these challenges were not enough, a range of other outstanding issues must also be addressed before the March 2013 elections. The new constitution, a further outcome of the 2008 political settlement, created numerous new elective posts that need to be enacted legally and implemented in practise.

Kenyan Parliamentarians have held numerous, long and intensive sittings to debate, amend and pass legislation consistent with the new constitutional framework. This has not been an easy task, as many of the new laws and policies under consideration involve the very issues that threaten to tear Kenya apart – including access to land, equitable distribution of resources and government devolution.

The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) interventions in Kenya are also bound to affect the country’s future. Two of the four Kenyans charged with responsibility for the PEV are presidential aspirants and come from ethnic groups that have dominated this highest office – Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy Prime Minister and son of Kenya’s first President, and a former Cabinet minister, William Ruto.

The ICC’s intervention has become highly politicised, as leaders of some ethnic groups have denounced the prosecutions as attacks on their own communities, and attempts to eliminate specific candidates from the presidential election. These seeds of discontent, if not carefully managed, could erupt into violence.

Beyond the ICC interventions, perpetrators of many crimes committed during the PEV have not been brought to account. Indeed, a recent Human Rights Watch report indicated that only two convictions have resulted from the more than 1,000 killings committed during the PEV.

Concerted efforts must be made to remedy this situation. Meanwhile, though the Kenyan government has done good work in resettling IDPs, much more work and support for victims is needed as many remain in temporary camps.

It is in light of these myriad initiatives aimed at influencing Kenya’s transition that the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) is glad to announce the 13 of August, 2012 launch of a two-year tri-partite project designed to train key Kenyan stakeholders in reconciliation theory and practice. 

This project will be jointly implemented by the IJR (South Africa), the NCIC (Kenya) and the Folke Bernadotte Academy (Sweden) and will consist of policy interventions and training sessions with crucial Kenyan leaders. We believe it is absolutely vital that Kenyans gain a common understanding of reconciliation and its specific application to Kenya.  By doing so, Kenya’s transition towards peace, justice and development can be secured.

Allan Ngari is project leader for the Kenya and International Justice Desk, at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.