Apologies? Memorials? What about the land?

Saturday May 25 2013


By L. Muthoni Wanyeki

After four years, the refusal of its chair to step down, the resignation of its vice-chair and the withdrawal of civil society support, Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission has finally released its report.

It is over 2,000 pages long, issued in six volumes. It will take a while to go through it thoroughly. I have, however, gone through its summary findings as well as its recommendations in both the first and last volumes. And I am, frankly, underwhelmed.

Why? Anyone who works in the human-rights movement will see the report as a mere confirmation of all that has gone before, as all that has already been testified to in all the presidential and judicial inquiries, in all the reports by public commissions. It is also a mere confirmation of what all the existing survivors’ and victims’ groups have been saying for years.

What has it confirmed?

That between 1895 and 1963, the British colonial government committed massacres and routinely used torture, including sexual violence. That they began the ethnicisation of politics by “divide and rule” and land dispossession.

That between 1963 and 1978, Jomo Kenyatta’s government was responsible for murder, torture and collective punishment in northern Kenya in the context of the Shifta War.

That it was also responsible for the assassinations of Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya and JM Kariuki as well as illegal detention and illegal and irregular allocations of public land.

That between 1978 and 2002, Daniel arap Moi’s government was responsible for massacres, illegal detention and torture, the assassination of Robert Ouko as well as yet more illegal allocations of public land and corruption.

That between 2002 and 2008, Mwai Kibaki’s government was responsible for illegal detention, torture and extrajudicial executions as well as yet more corruption. That land dispossession is the “single most important driver of conflicts and ethnicisation.”

Why violations continue to occur is put down to the failure to address Kenya’s colonial legacy. Nope, nothing new here.

Now to the recommendations. Take a wild guess as to what is recommended? Yup, yet more investigations! The report sets out an implementation framework, as well as a reparations framework — urging that Ksh500 million (just over $6 million) go towards it as a start.

It wants prosecutions. It wants reparations for survivors of massacres, extrajudicial executions, sexual violence and Mount Elgon. It wants memorials in respect of the Shifta War, those assassinated, those violated by the security services and Mount Elgon.

It says nothing in the end about colonial land dispossession — that “single most important driver of conflicts and ethnicisation.” Nothing!
And that, folks, is it. Beyond the reiteration (at every opportunity) of the need for the person in the presidency to apologise on behalf of the state.

Like I said, I am underwhelmed.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is doing her graduate studies at L’Institut d’etudes politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris, France