News 2008


Truth Commission - Ultimate Test of New Partnership

The Nation (Nairobi)


8 March 2008

Gabriel Dolan

The power-sharing deal signed by PNU and ODM leaders has brought much relief and delight to Kenyans as it is a win-win situation for both parties.

But only time will tell if the Kenyan public will be the real winners in the new political arrangement.

The negotiators, led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, named a team to review the December 27 presidential election, but this is now a mere academic exercise as both sides have resolved to go the distance of the 10th parliament regardless of the team's findings.

It was understandable that negotiations on the first three items on the agenda would be confined to the political parties since the problems were immediate and of their own making.

However, once the talks resumed on Agenda IV, one would have expected other voices to have their say on the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, the constitution reform and measures proposed to address the land question and social inequalities.

This is worrying as we seem to be entirely entrusting the future of the nation to a class responsible for the mess we now find ourselves in.

The ninth parliament failed to implement the Ndungu land report and did not pass the draft national land policy.

The MPs rejected the task force's report recommending the establishment of a truth, justice and reconciliation commission and oversaw the constitutional reform nightmare.

I doubt if the political elite have undergone a Damascus-like conversion in the past two months. Do they view the post-election chaos as a defining moment in the nation's history, or was it a mere embarrassing hiccup?

Put another way, the composition, terms of reference and powers of the commission - due to be established by March 15 - will certainly reveal the level of the politicians' commitment to truth, transitional justice and institutional reform.

We are already bombarded with prayers, barazas and programmes for reconciliation, yet reconciliation is not possible without first uncovering and acknowledging the ugly truth about our past.

Establishing the truth is essential and not an obstacle to national reconciliation. Yes, the truth will set us free, but first it will make us very miserable.

Are PNU and ODM willing to allow the truth about their roles in the violence of the past 60 days to be independently examined, or will they do a trade-off and collectively institutionalise amnesties and amnesia?

In many instances, there is no dispute about the truth of the past.

The Akiwumi commission named the principal perpetrators of the ethnic clashes of 1992-1997, while the Ndungu one listed most of the beneficiaries of grabbed land.

The issue here then is not recovering the truth but deciding what to do with it.

This is a particularly challenging matter as many named offenders are currently in leadership positions.

Will a truth commission grant amnesties or insist on prosecution? Will it deal with grand corruption, assassinations, massacres and historical injustices?

Will the propaganda machines quickly attempt to convince Kenyans that opening up old wounds will destabilise the country and disrupt the reform process?

Will the truth commission be used as a ploy to gloss over the draft land policy and the other reports, or will it be so overburdened with duties and expectations that it will achieve little?

All these questions will be answered when we know whether the commission will be controlled by the power-sharing government or will be an independent, representative, constitutionalised, professional and well funded organisation.

Truth commissions are no panacea for all of a country's ailments, but they do have the capacity to end the culture of impunity and promote the establishment of a human rights state as recommended by the Makau Mutua task force.

The recommended commission should never be viewed as an alternative to reform, criminal justice or the rule of law, but should complement the ongoing reforms of public institutions.

We wait to discover whether the commission will have powers to recommend restitution, compensation or reparation and really respond to the needs and interests of the victims of political violence, or become just another one intended to preoccupy the nation, conceal the truth and deny
victims justice.

We should not wait passively but be proactive at this juncture if we want the commission to succeed.

Lobby and faith-based groups need to establish their own parallel organisations to monitor, complement, research on and feed into the official government commission.

This way they can influence and act as a watchdog to the commission. And this might guarantee us significant outcomes from the truth-finding and telling process.