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It won’t help for Kiplagat to shrug off concerns on his suitability as TJRC chair

By | February 28th 2010 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

By Atieno Ndomo

The more impervious to loud public questioning of his suitability to head the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), the harder it becomes to defend or accept him in the role.

As Bethuel Kiplagat, the chairman of TJRC, engages in arduous defence of self, including through well choreographed messages of support from unsurprising quarters, one cannot help discern a curious resolve on his part to stay on at all costs, despite the gravity of the concerns being raised.

This sort of posturing is not unprecedented. Kiplagat seems to understand the drill well. In the face of public discontentment and doubt about one’s suitability for public office, one need not panic but should rather sit pretty, exude confidence and call upon the support of allies, especially those in ‘high places’. Besides, with security of tenure, removal from office requires a prolonged elaborate procedure, providing a form of deterrent.

Could it be this long time civil servant belongs to the category of incorrigible and conceited public servants that is so archetypical of our polity? Does it mean the existence of individuals of dubious character and conduct in governance is being perceived as our collective acquiescence to less than exemplary service?

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Are honour, integrity and respect for public opinion the exceptions to the rule in our public sphere?

The credible doubts being raised over the TJRC chair’s suitability for his position will not merely die away. It will certainly not help to shrug off weighty concerns as a media creation. Neither does the fact of a prolonged selection procedure cushion him from further scrutiny. One cannot embrace the perks and high profile of public office on the one hand, and on the other disparage public opinion and scrutiny of their roles and suitability to perform the responsibilities entailed.

Lest we forget, the imperative for the pursuit of truth, justice and reconciliation is not abstract and should not be undertaken in vain. It will take far more than the hosting of ‘offloading and weeping’ sessions to bring true and meaningful exposition of the truth as a precursor to finding justice and beginning a journey of reconciliation.

TJRC cannot be perceived as an episodic affair, conducting whirlwind contrywide tours. Its essence must register if it is to be purposeful. Anything less, will be pointless.

The most compelling foundation for the TJRC is the need to acknowledge and address the country’s dark experience of repression and violations of a wide array of human rights, including torture, arbitrary detentions, and economic and ecological injustices.

Delving into these complex and painful experiences requires candor, courage and passion. Those who lead such a process need to have these outstanding qualities, be above reproach and, most of all, possess utmost humility.

The ‘country is bigger than self’ is an oft stated phrase. It is ironic that for a man of Kiplagat’s trumpeted stature, this simple logic is conveniently lost on him. The attempt to cast himself as the victim of a ‘smear’ campaign is appalling and inexcusable.

Perhaps to help put matters into their proper perspective, we need to belabour the point the real victims dying for truth and justice are the countless individuals and families that endure the consequences of repression and suppressed prosperity. It is them that carry lifelong wounds and scars of dictatorship. The real victims who need a credible TJRC are the excluded and dispossessed whose quest for full and true citizenship remains elusive.

Considering the onerous task envisaged by the TJRC process, the imperative to get the team and timing of the exercise absolutely right is clear.

The social justice movement is much poorer with the departure of comrade Ng’ang’a Thiong’o, a revolutionary lawyer and humanitarian who fearlessly defended the rights and dignity of the poor.

An ex-political prisoner, he chaired the Release Political Prisoners’ Social Movement among other civic engagements.

May he rest in peace and his ideas endure.


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