There’s been a lot happening over the past few weeks relating to old and new atrocities in Kenya: here’s a short(ish) re-cap.
Beginning with old atrocities: just as Kenya celebrated its 50th year of independence, the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) delivered its report– in several volumes- on human rights violations in Kenya between 1963 and 2008. There was the embarrassing spectacle of one of the persons adversely mentioned in the report (Bethwel Kiplagat, the TJRC Chairperson) ‘handing over’ that very report to another adversely mentioned person, Uhuru Kenyatta. It’s an image captured in the photograph within the following cartoon:
Kiplagat was mentioned in relation to the Wagalla massacre. His fellow commissioners were less than impressed by his testimony about how much he knew about the Massacre at a time when he was a powerful figure in government circles and whether he orchestrated a diplomatic cover-up in the aftermath. Kenyatta is individually mentioned with respect to Post-Election Violence; his broader family constitute virtually the entire volume on land injustices (OK, I exaggerate, but not by much); I doubt even the bookies would take odds on the chances of implementation of the major recommendations of the Commission. In addition, several commissioners took issue with ‘editorial changes’ that they allege were made following suggestions by senior government operatives to soften criticism of Jomo Kenyatta’s land-buying and resettlement practices.
And just to throw a joker into the draw, two individuals have gone to court to block the tabling of the TJRC report in Parliament (one of the steps required prior to implementation).
While on the subject of past injustices, the TJRC was always careful in its report to highlight that rights violations with impunity was one of the lessons that the post-independence government (and Moi’s government) learnt exceedingly well from the colonial administration. Thus, although the colonial period was not really a part of the TJRC mandate, land confiscation, massacres and discrimination during the settler period are well covered in the report. So perhaps it’s appropriate that Britain is bucking the impunity trend and offering an apology- of sorts- and compensation to former Mau Mau fighters detained and tortured in the 1950s.
Maybe this is to head off further costly and embarrassing legal battles that might have offered a legal precedent for other former colonial subjects to seek redress from London. Britain has steadfastly maintained that the obligations for actions by its colonies’ governments were assumed by the post-colonial states. The post-colonial states disagree. As far as the foreign minister’s statement went, it’s not quite the ‘sympathy and regret’ that the British Queen offered the Irish people for centuries of oppression and misrule
but it’s not too shabby either. Ultimately, however, it is for the victims themselves to judge whether the regret suffices.
Now to more recent atrocities, over 90 victims are allegedly pulling out from the ICC proceedings. From the report I’ve read (and I definitely don’t vouch for its accuracy), it seems that these are victims participating in the Ruto, Sang case. They have a number of grievances, one of which is that they feel that the Prosecutor and the ICC in general no longer serve their needs. There is also a suggestion that they were less than happy with the choice of legal representative (Wilfred Nderitu was appointed to represent them), having their own candidate in mind. Glancing at the 2nd VPRS report, only 120 victims were authorised to participate in this case (as at 25 March). So if it’s true that over 90 of them have pulled out, that would be a huge setback for victim participation. However, the news report is not clear if these victims were part of 120 currently participating, or the larger group of 300+ who took part in the confirmation proceedings.
It is also important to note that victims refusing to take part does not directly impact the trial process itself.
Finally, it seems that the flames of Rhamu are once again being fanned. 2 more people are dead, after dozens were killed nearly a month ago. Before that, there were deadly clashes just before the March election between members of the Garre and Degodia clans. One hopes that the security forces take this seriously, rather than dismissing it as ‘inter-clan’ skirmishes.
Previously, the government was going to deploy troops to carry out disarmament in the Mandera County (where Rhamu is located). Not much more has been heard about this idea; Someone may have told them that pursuant to Article 241(3)(c) of the Constitution, the National Assembly must approve the use of the Kenya Defence Forces in quelling any unrest or instability within the country. The government might of course argue that the KDF would only be providing ‘logistical support’ to police without being directly involved in operations.
The issue is sensitive because fighting between Ajuran and Degodia in the 1980s led to the disarmament operation in Wajir involving the Kenya Army that culminated in the Wagalla massacre of 1984. In the course of several days, hundreds (if not thousands) were raped, tortured or killed by soldiers. The wounds and memories remain painful from that day to this. No security official was arrested or prosecuted in the aftermath.
Interestingly, Deputy President Wiliam Ruto was the one who said the government would send troops to Rhamu to stop this latest surge in violence. According to the TJRC report (Vol 2A, paragraphs 543-544), back in 2000, when Ruto was Deputy Minister for Internal Security, he delivered a ministerial statement in a stormy Parliamentary debate on the Wagalla massacre in which he denied that thousands died- the figure he gave was 53. Furthermore, while he admitted that 13 were shot by troops, he explained to Parliament that the other 40 died from ‘excessive sunshine’.