Friday, August 15, 2014

Only Kenyans can save Kenya

A version of this article was published in The Star

Before last weekend, you’d probably never heard of Hussein Farah Wachu. His is not a famous name, though perhaps it should be. A survivor of the infamous Garissa (or Bulla Karatasi) Massacre of November 1980, whose wife was subsequently murdered by an off-duty policeman fourteen years later, Hussein Farah still waits for justice two decades later. He is an example of what the American author, Negley Farson referred to as the “one half of Kenya which the other half knows nothing about, and seems to care even less.”

Last week, I was reminded of the existence of this other Kenya when I participated in KTN’s show, The Bottom Line, which focused on marginalized communities. The show was held in Garissa town and it was there that I came across Hussein Farah, who for years has pursued his wife’s case and even procured a High Court ruling that his wife was indeed killed by the police and that there was an attempt to cover it up. Yet, to date, no one has been prosecuted for the crime and he has received no compensation.

Needless to say, no one has ever been held accountable for the murder and torture of hundreds of civilians during the Garissa massacre, which the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission described as “a systematic attack against a civilian population [which] thus qualifies as a crime against humanity.”
I guess this should not be surprising in a country led by a President and his deputy, both accused of organising similar crimes in the more recent past. But what is surprising is the extent to which the rest of Kenya refuses to acknowledge the brutalisation and marginalisation of communities, especially tough not exclusively, in what was then called the Northern Frontier District, and at the Coast. This tendency to forget, to “accept and move on”, is best captured in the government’s stance towards the TJRC report which was published in May last year but to date remains hostage to political machinations.

That’s not how it was meant to be. According the TJRC website, “the Commission has the power, and is obligated, to publish its final report in the government gazette, and is obligated to make the report ‘widely available to the public in at least three local newspapers with wide circulation.’  While the Commission will also submit its report to the President, it is the Commission, and not the President, that makes the report public.” Now, this has already been done. The full report –minus a minority report on the land chapter (I’ll come to that presently)- is available online.

By now, the 40,000 witness statements, the most collected by any truth commission anywhere in the world, should have been handed over to the Kenya National Archives. This was the first real attempt to begin to tell the story of Kenya from the point of view of the Kenyans who lived it. So why is it not influencing our understanding of our history? Why are the contents of the report not the subject of national debate, whether in Parliament, the Senate or, perhaps more importantly, in the bars and homes where the people of Kenya assemble? After all, as the Chairman of the TJRC (who is himself adversely named in the report along with about 400 other prominent Kenyans) noted, the report was to serve as a starting point for Kenyans to realistically reassess their history and to begin to address the injustices and iniquities slowly rotting away the foundations of our nation.

“The recommendations of the Commission are binding as a matter of law, and thus are to be implemented,” was the TJRC’s interpretation of the Act that established it. The TJRC was mandated to establish an “implementation committee” to monitor and facilitate such implementation and to make quarterly reports to the public which would evaluate the efforts of the Government and others the same. Further the Cabinet Secretary for Justice should be reporting on the same to Parliament every six months, including reasons for any non-implementation.

However, none of this has happened. Some of the TJRC recommendations, like a public apology by the President and the heads of various security institutions to people like Hussein Farah, were supposed to have been honoured by the beginning of this year, and would have perhaps gone a long way in officially acknowledging the pain and beginning the process of healing. The recommended investigation and prosecution of the many politicians and government officials, many of whom still hold public office, has too been ignored.

The Uhuru administration’s standard excuse is that the report is held up in Parliament (which, by the way, wanted to arrogate itself the power to “improve” the report even though the TJRC Act gave it no such role).  However, that doesn’t wash. There has been nothing stopping the government and its agents from commencing investigations into what happened, from addressing cases like Hussein Farah’s and delivering justice to the citizens in the North East and elsewhere.

The answer to the non-implementation of this most important report is to be found in something the TJRC acknowledges: “While the Commission has more powers than any other previous Kenyan commission to ensure that its recommendations are implemented, it is only through the efforts and diligence of elected officials, civil society, and all Kenyans to monitor and ensure that the letter of the law is followed.   The Commission thus urges all Kenyans to take up the cause of making sure that the Commission’s recommendations are in fact implemented.”

The fact is we are all at fault. Our silence and wilful ignorance condemns us all. We all failed Hussein Farah and the many others for whom justice remains as elusive as ever when we refuse to stand up to State House pressure which led to the gerrymandering of the land chapter (and the subsequent issuing of a dissent from the international commissioners which was not included in the final report). We fail them when we do not insist on a prompt and full implementation of the report, including the recommendations on reparations and prosecutions.

We fail them when we do not insist on the repeal of the appalling Indemnity Act which in 1970 illegally gave retroactive blanket immunity to all government personnel for crimes committed during the Shifta war, in which the lives of up to 7000 Kenyans were snuffed out, and during which the government herded the North Eastern population into concentration camps in the same manner the colonial government had done to the Kikuyu population a decade earlier. We fail them when we accept the feeble excuses of the elite for not fundamentally overthrowing the ethos and practices of the colonial state, when we allow them to continue to entrench division, neglect and abuse.

The illusion that marginalisation of faraway places has no consequences for the rest of us is as dangerous as it is false. The alienation of substantial segments of our population, whether in the North East, the Coast, in Nyanza or even in the slums of Kibera and Mathare, has only fostered resentment, violence and a radicalized politics. This anger cannot be wished away. It is already manifesting itself in the legion of young men willing to join the terror group Al Shabaab and bring chaos and death to our streets.

In the end, it is only Kenyans who can save Kenya. It is us who must step up to the plate and demand an accounting for the past, a righting of wrongs. If we don’t, we are only setting ourselves on a collision course with reality and it is unlikely that any of us would escape that unscathed.

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