Ruto’s remarks on TJRC Report are callous and fail to move us forward

Recent remarks by the Deputy President William Ruto on the TJRC Report have now confirmed our worst fears- that the Uhuru Administration has in fact rejected the TJRC Report and will not bother addressing historical injustices.

Mr Ruto, at a rally in Mariakani, Kilifi County, stated that the Jubilee Government will not implement the TJRC Report because it will divide Kenyans. Mr Ruto further stated that implementing the TJRC Report will re-open old wounds.

These remarks were made in direct response to Raila Odinga, the NASA Presidential Candidate and leader of Opposition statement that he would implement the TJRC Report if elected. Mr Odinga made this statement at the Stanley Hotel on the 13th of July 2017 when he addressed victims of historical injustices who urged him to adopt their demands for reparations in his manifesto.

Mr. Ruto’s remarks are problematic for three reasons.

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Firstly they are a complete departure from the aspirations of the thousands of victims who participated in the TJRC process. The TJRC received over 40,000 statements from Kenyans wanting their sufferings to be heard, acknowledged and remedied. To quote the TJRC, their report is written with the blood, sweat and tears of the stories that were told to us [the TJRC] as we [they] travelled the country.

The written word, no matter how poetic, cannot convey accurately the passion with which people demanded to tell their stories and the integrity and dignity with which they related their experiences. It [the report] cannot convey the silence, the tears, and the emotions...the stories in these pages are horrid but they did happen, here on our land. In a nutshell, there has been, there is, suffering in the land.

Mr Ruto’s remarks are problematic for a second reason; they were made at the Coast, a region which has borne the brunt of past and present violations such as massacres like the Likoni clashes where hundreds died, sexual violence, land grabbing of indigenous people like the Mijikenda by pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial regimes, active marginalization, targeted extra judicial killings of young Muslim men etc. Until Mr. Ruto’s comments the Coast residents yearned for the day this report would be issued, adopted by Parliament and its recommendations implemented. His comments obliterate this hope.

Thirdly and just as problematic, his remarks come hot on the heels of the demise of the former Chair of the TJRC  Bethwell Kiplagat who passed away two weeks ago. It is quite remarkable that the comments were made as the country eulogised the death of the peace-maker Kiplagat who hailed from the Rift Valley; a region which has borne the brunt of inequity in land distribution, ethnic violence causing deaths of thousands (1992, 1997 and 2007), sexual violence and massive forcible displacement of its people.

Mr Kiplagat, albeit with difficulty, authored and signed the TJRC Report and called on the State to implement its recommendations. Mr Ruto found it an appropriate time, on Mr Kiplagat’s demise, to trash his life’s work – the TJRC report. He has also put to sword the aspirations of victims who robustly engaged in the TJRC process, those from the Rift Valley. This is quite the tribute to  Kiplagat.

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William Ruto’s views are not entirely surprising given this is a similar position taken by his party evidenced through their manifesto. The Jubilee Party Manifesto 2017 argues that the Uhuru Administration ‘closed the painful chapter in our history through the President’s apology to the country for historical injustices and the resettlement of the internally displaced persons’.

In essence the TJRC Report recommendations are meaningless including the suffering of thousands of Kenyans who continue to bear the impact of violations such as severe disability, HIV Aids, post-traumatic stress disorder and poverty. Mr  Ruto and the current regime which he serves is telling Kenyans that on matters of historical injustices – accept and move on.

Mr Ruto would do well to heed the advice from Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu when he says that the opening of old wounds is vital to allow cleaning through application of potent medicine and to enable healing and preventing infection.

From the 7th Victims Convention held three weeks ago, victims of past injustices from various regions such as the North East, to the Coast, to the Western, Central and the Rift Valley regions are not ready to ‘accept this cold hard callous proposition’.

They demanded the President and his government to acknowledge violations through implementation of the recommendations of the TJRC Report andoperationalization of the Restorative Justice Fund.

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Kenyans are not ready to “accept and move on”. They demand courageous leadership in dealing with historical injustices so as to secure lasting peace in Kenya.

Mr Gitari who works for the International Centre For Transitional Justice (ICTJ), is an Advocate of the High Court (The views of the author are not necessarily those of ICTJ)

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