Kipng’etich Magutt: Rift Valley questions key to truth team’s work

Although the mandate of the proposed Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC)
is national in reach, its ultimate test is how it handles the complex issues regarding the Rift Valley Province.

The conspiracy of silence or indifference and the failure by successive governments to get at the root of perennial inter-ethnic conflict will occupy the central part of the commission’s investigations. Indeed, questions abound as to whether the TJRC will be able to provide persuasive recommendations and solutions to the conflicts.

Will the commission navigate the intricate labyrinth of historical injustices perpetrated via State commission or omission? Will it provide an antidote to the problem or a placebo? Will this year be the last time the country witnesses an orgy of violence in this region?

There are fears that the TJRC may be turned into a stage for settling personal and political scores, turning a noble idea into a circus. These fears notwithstanding, it is encouraging that civil society and others are preparing to make presentations to the commission.

Land grabbers

The heart of the problem in Rift Valley, as in other parts of Kenya, is land. The British colonial administration forcibly grabbed — or, bluntly put, stole — land from the ‘natives’ and distributed it to English settlers. This pattern was perpetuated by political elites who, after getting into power at Independence, failed to give deserving attention to comprehensive land reform.

With exponential population growth nationally, land has tragically become the most fought for factor of production. This has exerted palpable pressure, creating an inelastic demand for land for farming and commercial activities.

In the Rift Valley (read North Rift), this situation has turned tragic with communities who claim ancestral rights to this region feeling that, ‘migrant’ communities, more so from central Kenya, have a direct bearing to the land scarcity problem. Coupled with poorly managed national politics that often tend to promote negative ethnicity and regional economic imbalances, this region is increasingly becoming an archetypal tinderbox.

Last year’s disputed presidential election that prompted violent clashes between Kikuyus and Kalenjins has raised many questions. Why would people who have lived together and even intermarried turn against each other? And can they ever live together again?

To address this problem, the Government has begun construction of police stations in areas hit by violence. This is a timely step, but unless there are permanent solutions, this may turn out to be an act of playing Sisyphus, the tragic Greek hero condemned to roll a rock up a hill only to see it roll back down.

One can assume the Kalenjin will present their case to the TJRC as follows: First, that the community’s ancestral land was lost first to British settlers and then to migrant communities courtesy of land-buying companies supported by President Kenyatta’s regime. The political elite in Kenyatta’s government used State machinery to acquire land cheaply. It will be observed that the former Tinderet MP, Mr Jean Marie Seroney, unsuccessfully raised this concern with Kenyatta.

Next, the community will report that, over the years, civil society and a section of the media have often given skewed information and findings on the North Rift land clashes between the two communities — Kalenjins and Kikuyus.

The contention will be that the former has unfoundedly been projected as an aggressor and perpetrator of violence. It will be pointed out that both communities have suffered from incessant conflicts with both sides losing lives and property.

On the other hand, the Kikuyu will contend that the land acquisition was on willing-buyer-willing-seller basis and that State favouritism in terms of accessing loans was not a factor during the 24 years President Moi was in power. By the same token, they will be seeking justice for past ills and loss of property in the waning years of Moi’s rule.

There is also the strong view that a section of the community, especially in the North Rift, will be seeking to reclaim huge tracts of land in their ancestral homeland taken over by a small clique of the political class from this region.

There are inherent weaknesses that predispose truth commissions to myriad challenges. First, the lack of prosecutorial powers common with truth commissions the world over may make the exercise unsatisfying. However, recommendations from such commissions will sometimes lead to prosecution of individuals culpable of defined abuses and criminal charges.

Second, the TJRC runs the risk of being politicised to achieve certain desired ends, commonly to settle political scores or to enhance the popularity of the incumbency through the granting of pardons and amnesties. Third, a biased media or a section of it may serve to smother accurate presentation of the commission’s findings and recommendations to the public.

Fourth, truth commissions often have a limited mandate in the implementation of their recommendations. This means the Government may implement the recommendations selectively or simply shelve them altogether. With findings and reports from previous commissions and task forces gathering dust, Kenyans are by now familiar with this possibility.

Fifth, the commission may take too long to complete its work and hence lose the confidence of the people. The Ugandan truth commission for instance, hit a ten year-mark, earning itself anger from the public as well as being dismissed as a circus.

To be effective and earn public confidence the TJRC must be informed by the following design factors: a realistic time frame, a flexible mandate, impartiality, authority to sub-poena testimony and powers to confiscate and seize materials where necessary.

The writer is a political consultant and researcher in Nairobi

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One Response to Kipng’etich Magutt: Rift Valley questions key to truth team’s work

Anonymous said...


Rift Valley MPs got it all wrong on uprooted people’s rights

Publication Date: 4/24/2008