David Makali - Quitting the only option for Jaoko - The Star

Many of our national institutions are steeped in controversies that are hampering their performance. While some owe their failures to loopholes in their establishment legislation, others are in a mess due to poor leadership or internal squabbles. The latest to join the ignoble list is the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

Despite the veneer of normalcy at the commission, it has long been evident that things have never been the same since the departure of former chairman Maina Kiai. Florence Jaoko's succession of Kiai was natural and smooth. She had been the vice chairman and apparently the most qualified in the context of the gender balance which requires either gender to occupy the top two positions. But Kiai and Jaoko are worlds apart in their characters, profiles and styles.

Maina was a career human rights activist, renown for his advocacy and vocal protests. He had an international profile, having worked for Amnesty International as the Africa programme head. Enter Florence Simbiri-Jaoko, a senior magistrate straight from the conservative and much maligned judiciary. Not that Jaoko has anything in her past that would prejudice her performance as chairperson of the commission. But certain observations can be made about her tenure.

One, the profile, voice and visibility of the commission have dipped. Two, leadership wrangles have emerged from within the commission. Three, the overall performance of the commission seems to be dwindling.

There is evidence these issues are not just perceptions. Within the commission, they have been subject of discussion without comprehensive resolution, hence the eventual fallout. Jaoko therefore finds herself in the same mould as former Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission director Aaron Ringera and the Truth Commission's Bethwell Kiplagat; having to defend yourself when either the public or members of your own organisation are calling for your exit and you are insisting on staying on.

While the commissioners who are demanding her resignation have not made public their reasons, we have reason to believe the revolt is not a malicious campaign against one of their colleagues. And once questions are raised about your suitability for a position, however unfounded they may be, your defence is not in the judicial procedures for your removal but your conscience and the public court to which you are ultimately responsible.

I am inclined to believe that there are sticky issues that Jaoko cannot brush aside with the swipe of the law. It is about personal integrity and the responsibility we owe to the organisations we serve when our performance is questioned.

The fact that the sticky issues have not been resolved and are bogging the commission down means the chair-person must take responsibility for lack of leadership.

The integrity of the commission first came to light when accusations surfaced of moles within the commission leaking out sensitive information on witnesses to suspected perpetrators of post-election violence.

Before then was the enduring suspicion that some commissioners are lackeys of the intelligence system or police informers who cannot be entrusted with vital investigations of violations the commission handles.

And then there is the vexatious issue of why the vice-chairman was always articulating the position of the commission instead of the chairperson. When Hassan Omar finally resigned from being vice-chair, partly due to this rift, the commission literally became voiceless. Without a vent, the commission has literally become a captive of internal schisms. I would be shocked if Jaoko can stand up and claim all is right within the commission and she would like to continue steering it rudderless.

She has not excelled in projecting the face of the commission and one wonders why she is not outspoken on the many things that her predecessor was notorious for.

Security of tenure is one thing. But to cling to security of tenure when all the people who voted for you have changed their mind seems inconsistent with modern accountability principles.

The commissioners are entitled to a change of mind upon seeing your performance, and it seems to me that in Jaoko's case, that change has come and staying on is selfish and insensitive. The commission cannot continue with the animosity the fallout has generated.

Since she cannot dismiss the other commissioners, Jaoko needs to do the needful. If she does not have the confidence of her colleagues, she cannot have mine.

The writer is the director, The Media Institute, email dmakali@yahoo.com.

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