I want justice for conflict victims

TECLA NAMACHANJA, 50, is the Vice Chairperson of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC). Her experience with victims of conflict motivated her to take the job. She spoke to NJOKI CHEGE

My experiences with people who had suffered as a result of conflict motivated me to go for the TJRC job. The conditions they faced were so harsh that I suffered secondary trauma at some point because I internalised the pain and suffering of the IDPs and refugees I interacted with.

Having trained in restorative justice in the US and through my experience at the community level, I realised that the line between the victim and perpetrator is so blurred that only restorative justice could work.

I believe TJRC not only gives victims and perpetrators a platform to vent out and tell their stories, but also reaffirms the victims of injustice.

When I took over the vice-chairmanship at TJRC, I had a son who was barely a month old, but I was motivated by the need to help the victims of injustice.

I wanted to validate the tears of the victims by providing them with a platform to share their painful experiences in order to look for the way forward. I needed Kenyans to make a commitment to never allow themselves to go through such painful experiences.

We have had several challenges, with some not believing in the commission, but slowly and surely, we are carrying out our mandate by interacting with victims at the grassroots.

Listening to victims recount their harrowing experiences before the commission is not easy. While most TJRC personnel have gone through several trauma-healing courses, many found themselves traumatised as a result of listening to the shocking revelations of diverse human injustices in the country.

For the first time in Kenya, the high and mighty were called to testify and victims were given an opportunity to be heard.

One of our goals as TJRC is to paint a global picture of the historical injustices and violations that Kenyans have gone through between 1963 and 2008. We hope to harmonise the records by highlighting the plight of the victims as well as give recommendations either for prosecutions, reparations or amnesty.

My first assignment after completing a diploma in Social Development from the Maseno College in 1991 was to work at Utange Refugee Camp in Mombasa. I was a teacher-cum-social worker in the camp that had over 30,000 Somali Refugees.

Apart from teaching Kiswahili in the refugee school, I organised single mothers into groups where they could use their skills to generate income. I was employed under the Catholic Diocese of Mombasa.

In 1992, I moved to Bungoma Diocese to work with the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from the Mt Elgon region and Trans-Nzoia District.  Most of these IDPs resulted from the 1991/1992 ethnic clashes. I instituted management structures in the camps then organised food purchases and distribution. I ensured medical care through referral hospitals and mobile clinics to the camps.

Frustrated by the camp conditions, I sought ways of getting the victims back to their farms by organising meetings in the camps to find out under what circumstances they left their homes. I then reached out to their neighbours who had displaced them to find out what motivated them to do so.

After a series of workshops, they accepted to meet with their displaced neighbours to resolve the conflict. Most of the IDPs were finally integrated back into their communities starting 1994.

 

In 1996, I moved to Nairobi to start Peacenet — a national umbrella that integrated 100 non-governmental organisations, religious institutions and community-based organisations working to transform conflicts in Kenya. I coordinated members’ activities, managed the secretariat, fundraised and mobilised resources.

I also organised coalition and advocacy meetings around issues of conflict and facilitated information, resources and experience sharing among the members.

Community workers

Under Peacenet, I collaborated with Nairobi Peace Initiative-Africa to train over 500 community workers in basic skills in conflict transformation between 1997 and 1999. I facilitated the formation of zonal/community peace committees in the eight provinces of Kenya. The committees were very important in transforming the conflicts.

I worked until 2001 when I went to pursue a Masters degree in Conflict Transformation at the Eastern Mennonite University in the US between 2001 and 2003. I later proceeded to Tokyo for two courses — Armed Conflict and Peace Keeping, and Human Rights.

Shortly after coming back from Tokyo, I left Peacenet to do consultancy. It was during this time in 2003 that I worked with the Coalition For Peace in Africa (Copa) — a continental network for peace practitioners — where I received training in Johannesburg, South Africa. I did consultancy in Cambodia and Sri Lanka during the same period.

I worked for Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) from January 2005 to February 2008 as an in-house consultant in peace building and post-conflict reconstruction for Eastern and Southern Africa. The work entailed providing consultancy services in information collection and analysis, conducting studies and formulating peace building and post-conflict reconstruction project plans.

Another role was holding discussions on project proposals with government officials and drawing up terms of reference for project contracts and budget estimates, as well as project evaluation.

In 2008, I moved to Pact Kenya as a deputy chief of Party for Peace in East and Central Africa  programme from 2007 to 2009. Peace 11 is a regional programme that aims at enhancing African leadership in the management of conflict within the Horn of Africa by improving the ability of communities and peace committees to respond to cross-border conflict, especially in the Somali and Karamoja communities.

I worked there until the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) was formed and I applied for one of the jobs advertised, which I got.