Image via WikipediaEditor's Note: WardheerNews has the pleasure to present an interview with Major General Ahmed Sheikh Farah of the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) of Kenya. The focus of the interview centers around past injustices and gross human rights violations committed against Kenya-Somalis and other Kenyans. The commission formed to carryout investigations on the human rights violations, covers the period after independence, from December 12, 1963 to February 28, 2008.
The 2007 disputed election between the current Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, and President Mwai Kibaki left thousands of civilians dead and over 650,000 displaced. Important historical aspects covered in this interview include the infamous Wagalla Massacre of 1984, where the Kenya Army gunned down a large number of defenseless Kenya-Somalis. The decorated and outspoken Major General is a veteran naval officer and former Kenyan naval commander and Chief of Operations, Dept of Defense. The interview is insightful, and informative.
WardheerNews (WDN): Could you please give us some background information on the reasons behind the creation of the Kenya Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).
Major Gen. Ahmed Sh. Farah (Gen. Farah): The Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TJRCs) were created for countries which emerged from civil wars or from dictatorships where there have been history of gross human right violations. In the world, TJRCs were held in the following countries: Chile, Peru, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and South Africa to mention but a few. In Kenya, fifteen (15) years of Kenyatta reign and twenty four years (24) of Moi regime saw violations of human rights on a grand scale. In the elections of 2002, the people of Kenya put aside their tribal differences and elected overwhelmingly the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) party and Mwai Kibaki the leader as President. The people of Kenya were at that time described as the most hopeful people in the world.
The NARC government constituted a commission under the Chairmanship of a Kenyan, Professor Makau Mutua, Dean of the Faculty of Law in New York University to collect views of the Kenyan Public whether the country needs a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to reconcile and heal the nation. 85% of Kenyans said yes but, as all this happened in 2004, the TJRC was not formed because of the political parties’ standoff in the writing of the new constitution. The referendum on the constitution writing in 2005 and the rejection of the government proposed constitution made matters worse, hence there was no political will to create the TJRC. The bungled elections of 2007 where the people of Kenya fought one another leading to the unfortunate death of 1,300 innocent civilians and the subsequent displacement of 650,000 people (IDPs) followed by the Eminent African Leaders Mediation between the two competing parties led to the formation of a coalition government and signing of the Reconciliation Accord.
The formation of the TJRC was agreed upon at the signing of the accord in 2008. Hence TJRC was formed in July 2009. The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission is mandated to inquire into gross human rights violations and other historical injustices in Kenya between December 12, 1963 and 28 February 2008. The TJRC is part of the accountability component of Agenda Four of the National Accord that ended post election violence in Kenya. By addressing the cause and effects of historical injustices and gross violations of human rights, the TJRC will contribute towards national unity reconciliation and healing.
WDN: The Commission comprises of nine members. How did the selection of the officials happen and what were the determining factors?
Gen. Farah: The TJRC Act of 2008, section 10 states that the commission shall consist of nine (9) commissioners’ three (3) of whom shall be non-citizens, one of them being the opposite gender, selected by a panel of civic society and stakeholders of transactional justice. The positions of the six (6) Kenyans were publicly advertised with the required qualifications clearly outlined and are stipulated in the TJRC Act section nine (9). Twelve (12) applicants out of three hundred (300) applicants were shortlisted and the interviews were carried out by the panel representing the key stakeholders including civil society. Nine (9) names were then selected by Parliament and presented to the President. The President selected six (6) and chose one among them to be the Chair. Three of the six Kenyan Commissioners were to be of the opposite gender. The Commissioners elected the Vice-Chair who had to be the opposite gender to the chair.
WDN: Is the Commission independent from the Kenya Government’s influence?
Gen. Farah: It is stipulated in the Commissions Act section 7 that the Commission shall have all the powers necessary for the execution of its functions under the Act and shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority. The Act further states in section 21(1) that in the performance of its functions under the Act the Commission shall not be subject to the control or direction of any person or authority. That is how the Commission is really independent.
WDN: To investigate human rights violations in an African or in a nascent democracy is a daunting task, particularly when investigating in a wide time range such as from 1963 to 2008. How much cooperation or access do you get from Kenyan Government?
Gen. Farah: Information is accessible for the Commission including reports of previous commissions of inquiry as well as vital state information which is either available from the National Archives or from the records of the various Ministries and Government bodies.
Information in areas relevant to the TJRC’s mandate has so far been made available to us or we obtained it through our research and investigation departments. The commission has the power to gather, by any means it deems appropriate, any information it considers relevant from any source including government authorities and to compel the production of such information as and when necessary as outlined in TJRC section 7 of 2008 Act.
WDN: What are the challenges and accomplishments the Commission faced so far?
Gen. Farah: Major challenges to the commission include: inadequate funding and controversy surrounding the credibility of the Chairperson Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat as well as opposition from some civil society organization over the same. Funding has since been streamlined and the Chairperson stepped aside to enable tribunal investigations of credibility issues and civil society engaging and supporting TJRC. In regard to achievements, 304 statement takers were deployed countrywide. The commission received 30,000 statements from individuals; the highest for any truth commission. Likewise, the commission received 300 memorandums from various groups countrywide. Hearings have been held in Northern Kenya and Mt. Elgon. The hearings were both public and in camera sections for women. TJRC is an engendered commission at the commissioner and secretariat levels. The Secretariat headed by a CEO with 7 Directors for investigation, Research, Administration and Finance, Communication, Civic Education and Special Support (to ensure women and minorities issues are not overlooked). Women, minorities, the disabled and even victims are well represented in the structure of the commission.
WDN: What can you tell us about Wagalla Massacre that took place on Feb. 10, 1984 where it is reported over 5000 Somali Kenyans were killed by the Kenya Army?
Gen. Farah: In the latter half of 1983 and early 1984 there were a lot of banditry, cattle rustling and clan animosities in Northern Kenya. A lot of small arms influx from the 1977/78 Somalia-Ethiopian War was finding its way into the Province for over four to five years. In Wajir, the Degodia and Ajuran sub-clans were fighting over resources, pasture land and water. Besides, there was a prolonged drought in 1983/1984. In November 1983, the Degodias killed a number of Ajuran men and women. On 8th February 1984 the Kenyan Intelligence Committee, the Provincial Security Committee and the Wajir District Committee met in Wajir and authorized the Degodia to be disarmed. The operation was carried out by rounding up all male adult Degodia men from the whole District and assembled them at Wagalla Airstrip. This was done on 10th February, 1984. Thousands of men were held at the Airstrip for four days i.e. 10-13 Feb 1984 without water or food. A lot of men died of thirst, others of heat stroke and others of bullet fire as they tried to run away. The Kenya Government claims only 57 men died while other sources claim 5000; however we managed to establish 381 authentic deaths.
WDN: What was the mood of Kenya-Somalis at the time?
Gen. Farah: Helpless, subdued, marginalized, and brutalized and they felt as if they were being ruled by powerful people who hated them.
WDN: The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission has recently held hearings in Wajir while the survivors of the massacre gave testimony on the horrific events at Wagalla, knowing that investigations are still ongoing. What can you tell us about those hearings?
Gen. Farah: The TJRC recently held hearings in Northern Kenya i.e. Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Moyale, Marsabit and Isiolo formerly known as Northern Frontier Districts (NFD). Massacres, extra judicial killings, rape, abduction, torture and other gross human rights violations occurred in all of them. The hearings for the people responsible for these atrocities will be held in early June. This is ongoing and I cannot say much on this matter until concluded in the future.
WDN: It was reported that Benson Kaaria, the former Provincial Commissioner of North Eastern Province was not present at the hearings. Does your commission have the jurisdiction to force those who were involved and whom the Commission deems necessary to question at the Commission inquiries?
Gen. Farah: Benson Kaaria as well as those other officials who were adversely mentioned as perpetrators have been summoned and will appear before the Commission first week of June. It is an ongoing process and I cannot comment or predict the outcome.
WDN: What are the processes by which the Commission may recommend amnesty or prosecution or in other words would Mr. Benson Kaaria and others that were involved in the massacre ever face justice if proven crimes were committed at Wagalla against ethnic Somalis?
Gen. Farah: I know you are concentrating on Wagalla alone but a lot of atrocities were committed by Government officials on behalf of the state on innocent citizens countrywide. The Commission will certainly recommend prosecution for those who will be found culpable. There will not be any amnesty for those who committed gross human rights violation. The Act forbids this. However, there are others who were responsible for other human right violations, and are willing to spill the beans and tell it all and are remorseful. Then the amnesty sub-committee of the Commission will consider and may recommend amnesty under certain conditions e.g. corruption cases where the perpetrators admit to tell it all and are willing to return all or portion of the looted money or property. Such cases are provided in the act to be considered by the commission.
WDN: If you were to contrast, the Kenyan-Somali of the eighties with the present day Somali Kenyans, is there any progress in the form of representation in government?
Gen. Farah: Absolutely. The Somali Kenyan representation in Government is very good now. Nothing compared to the 1980’s. Those were bad years unlike now.That is why the TJRC process has been accepted by the people of the Northern Region in order to bury the past and heal the people as we enter a new era of devolution of government and new constitutional order with satisfactory bill of rights.
WDN: Thank you Gen. Farah for giving us this opportunity to have this interview with you.
Gen. Farah: You are well come and thank you for giving me the platform to highlight the work of the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) of Kenya.