Saturday, June 18, 2011

Kenya’s Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission: A Political Gimmick or a Plausible Undertaking?

Location in Kenya.Image via Wikipedia

For a period close to a century, Kenya’s North Eastern and Eastern Provinces hereafter referred to as NEP and EP remained volatile, underdeveloped, and deliberately isolated by successive Kenya administrations. For years, residents of these two vast, sparsely populated regions inhabited by Hamito-Cushitic nomads have been subjected to years of extrajudicial killings, summary and arbitrary executions, torture, rape and violence against women, plunder and livestock confiscations by Kenya’s dreaded security operatives with instructions from the central headquarters in Nairobi. Yet, these calculated and disturbing ethnic cleansings failed to grab the attention of the international community despite a few concerned media outlets publicizing repeatedly for years the callous practices of the Kenya government.

Kenya-Somalis and their cousins of like-semblance have been living under the reign of terror since Kenya’s attainment of independence from Britain in 1963 and yet not a single universal sovereign entity dared come to their rescue or raised objections at these appalling and aggravating military adventures. Kenya’s inhuman and reprehensible acts against its innocent, peace loving citizens continued unabated even with the knowledge of the Organization of African Union, (currently the African Union) based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - Kenya’s next door neighbor. “The brutality of the implementation of emergency powers in the North Eastern Province; and the discriminatory "screening" of ethnic Somalis” has been documented by Amnesty International. (1)

The crux of past massacres in the region has colonial roots. NEP and EP were formerly Somali territories as they fell under the Northern Frontier District (NFD) during British colonial rule. The region was split into two after Kenya became independent with Moyale, Marsabit, and Isiolo becoming part of Eastern Province. Despite majority of NFD residents opting for unification with Somalia in a referendum, the colonial administration ruled in favor of Kenya. British colonial government’s refusal to grant self-determination to NFD resulted from its fear of neighboring Italian Somaliland. Italy, a colonial power with irredentist tendencies was an avowed enemy of the British realm. This political miscalculation by the British crown resulted in prolonged simmering border clashes and the birth of the destructive Shifta war. The devastating Bale Revolt of 1963 in Ethiopia culminated in the signing of a Mutual Defense Treaty between Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Haile Selassie of Ethiopia in 1964. Regarding Somali irredentism, Lord Earl Lytton of the British monarchy of the time, had this to say about Greater Somalia:

“The idea of a Greater Somalia has been put forward by four eminent people at various times. First, there was Sir Charles Elliot, one of our greatest administrators in Kenya, about 1904. Then there was Mohammed Abdilla Hassan, commonly known as "The Mad Mullah", between 1899 and 1920. He is one of the greatest of the Somali poets. Then, the idea has been put forward by the Emperor of Ethiopia on a number of occasions, always with the intention of incorporating the entire Horn of Africa within the Ethiopian Empire. Finally, there was Mr. Ernest Bevin in 1946, and what he said is on record in Hansard.” (2)

Though preceded by many human rights violations spanning many decades, the worst and most brutal skirmishes perpetrated by the military and police of post-independence Kenya in the region’s history occurred during the reigns of autocrats Mzee Jomo Kenyatta (1963-1978) and Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi (1978-2002) respectively. Moi who belongs to the Kalenjin tribe and Nilotic according to categorization of African tribes by colonial Anthropologists was vice-president at the time of Kenyatta’s death. Despite opposition from influential Kikuyu leaders generally known as ‘Kiambu Mafia’ and who were of the same tribe with the deceased president, Moi ascended the presidency immediately with little internal resistance.

Forty-eight years later, President Mwai Kibaki, a man who was vice-president and minister on various occasions when these atrocities occurred, endorsed the formation of a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission to divulge into the extent of enormities of past acts of violence committed against the people of the said region. Surviving families whose loved ones perished in the calculated, remorseless security skirmishes continue to pour into avenues reserved for a commission on a fact-finding mission. At first, Kenya-Somalis became skeptical of the make-up of the commission after realizing the presence of Bethuel Kiplagat who is perceived to have blood-stained hands and implicated in the masterminding of past massacres. The commission, drawn from cadres having differing professions even includes a high profile Somali, Major General Ahmed Sheikh Farah, a retired Kenya Navy Commander. They have so far traversed the province beginning their initial assignment in Garissa, a city that has suffered the brunt of Kenya’s premeditated repression. They have been listening to and documenting testimonies from various sectors of the Somali community.

NFD as a region predates Kenya’s colonial history. However, demarcation of the international boundary between colonial Kenya and Abyssinia (Ethiopia) was completed in 1903. In 1925-1926, after Jubaland was transferred to Italian Somaliland, border marking was finalized between colonial Kenya and Italy. (3)

With living conditions dictated by weather patterns, pastoral nomads from NFD and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa travelled between unsecured borders in search of pasture for their livestock. Apart from the search for greener pasture, it is these unrestricted travels and peripatetic lifestyles that rejuvenated the ungovernable male Bedouins’ search for brides and bridal paraphernalia, saints and saintly practices, war implements and other valuable provisions.

The region’s fight for separation from Kenya kicked-off before Kenya proclaimed independence. Freedom fighters and founders of the Northern Province People’s Progressive Party (NPPP), the main party that represented the region’s political aspirations, hailed from a variety of tribes. Among them was Alex Kholkholle, a man who was held in high esteem by the colonial administration and the Somalis themselves. A Rendille by tribe and teacher by training, Alex, who was the Vice-President of NPPP favored separation from Kenya and unconditional union with Somalia. The Borana (also referred to as Galla), a tribal group that populates Moyale and Marsabit towns respectively, fielded the indomitable Wako Hapi, doyen of separatism and armed struggle. While Kenya security forces restrained the Shifta uprising from spilling into its border, Ethiopia, on the other hand, had a stranglehold on natives spanning its border. To have a glimpse of Ethiopia’s past imperialist goals toward its own people, one needs to read the views of the honorable British Lord uttered in 1963 in the following lines:

“Ethiopia, within to-day's political boundaries, is, in a small part, the ancient Abyssinian Kingdoms of history, and, in a much larger part, the colonies conquered by the Emperor Melinek II, who was more or less a contemporary of Gladstone. The colonies are approximately the same age as our own. They are Somali and Galla. The only difference is that whereas we label our places as "colonies", the Ethiopians have described them as one Ethiopian people, and from time to time they say they are historically part of Ethiopia. That is not true.” (4)

President Mwai Kibaki selected Bethuel Kiplagat to head the commission in 2009. However, Kiplagat was forced to resign in November 2010 after Kenyan’s of all walks of life decried his past inhuman practices. In a letter to Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo, the nine commissioners of the TJ&RC, citing powers conferred on them by the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Act, asked for the removal of Kiplagat as chairman of the commission. He was subsequently replaced by Tecla Namachanja as acting chairperson. Factors that led to Kiplagat’s expulsion from the commission include illegal or irregular acquisition of land; the assassination of the Honorable Robert Ouko, and the Wagalla Massacre." (5) Because he was ruined by the same injustices he was supposed to investigate, Kiplagat issued a short statement that read in part: "In order to allow the tribunal to carry out its mandate, I am, therefore, as of today, stepping aside from my day to day responsibilities at the TJRC." (6)

Kiplagat, a born-again Christian and former deputy general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, is accused of having been party to atrocities in Isiolo, Wajir, Malka Mari, and Garissa when he was in charge of security operations. The Wagalla massacre of 1984 happened during his tenure of office. Ironically, Kiplagat was Kenya's envoy to Somalia during Somalia's turbulent years (2003-05) until he was relieved by Ambassador Mohamed Affey, a Kenyan-Somali parliamentarian. I wonder how this man's heinous crimes escaped the attention of the Somali people all those years. Those critical of Moi’s autocratic rule implicate Kiplagat in the gruesome murder of Robert Ouko, Kenya’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the foot of Got Alila Hill near his country home in Nyanza Province bordering Lake Victoria. Likewise, his critics raise questions regarding his past relations with British business magnate Tiny Rowland and his Lornho conglomerate, and also his association with Mozambican rebels, Renamo. (7)

Benson Kaaria, a man with no apology for past injustices in the region he commanded was the Provincial Commissioner (PC) for North Eastern Province during the Wagalla Massacre of 1984. All those officials who had a grip on the running of the province and who have been implicated in the horrible incidents meted on the poor, unarmed civilians of North Eastern and Eastern Provinces have distanced themselves from any wrongdoing. In the past, commissions after commissions evolved with government blessings. In the end, it was the commissioners who proudly walked to the banks with bursts of laughter without any sorts of resolutions to the issues investigated. I don’t see any sense in the existence of the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission currently in full swing.

Adan Makina
WardheerNews, Kansas City
E-Mail: Adan.makina@gmail.com

References

(1) Kenya: Taking Liberties, Yale University Press, 1991, p.269.

(2) Northern Frontier District of Kenya, HL Deb 03 April 1963 vol. 248 cc600-36, Retrieved June 15, 2011 from http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1963/apr/03/northern-frontier-district-of-kenya.

(3) Gufu Oba, Professor, Noragric, Department of International Environment and Development Studies, The Norwegian University of Life Sciences PO Box 5003, N-1432 Ås, Norway. Ethnic Conflicts on Ethiopia-Kenya Frontier: The Northern Frontier District of Kenya from 1903-1934, a draft Paper prepared for PRIO Seminar on NORKLIMA Project, Noragric.

(4) Presentation of Earl Lytton before the British Parliament on 03 April 1963. Further readings available from http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1963/apr/03/northern-frontier-district-of-kenya, Retrieved June 15, 2011.

(5) Kenya: Truth Team Wants Kiplagat Out, Retrieved June 15, 2011 from http://allafrica.com/stories/201004130975.html

(6) Ex-diplomat, church official, resigns as head of Kenya truth body by Fred Nzwili, Retrieved June 15, 2011 from http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2010-11/ex-diplomat-church-official-resigns-head-kenya-truth-body.

(7) Bethuel Kiplagat: Former Chairman of Kenya's Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, Retrieved June 15, 2011from http://www.africa-confidential.com/whos-who-profile/id/360/Bethuel-Kiplagat.

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