How compromised team and politicians sacrificed the truth on TJRC report

TJRC report handed over to President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) by chairman Bethwel Kiplagat at State House on 22.5.2013. [File, Standard]

The lid has finally been lifted on acts of omission or commission leaders committed to obfuscate the truth process between 2009 and 2013.

In a tell-it-all book, ex-Commissioner of Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Prof Ronald Slye has blamed, among others, former President Mwai Kibaki, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, former Justice minister Mutula Kilonzo, former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, his predecessor Evans Gicheru, the commission and the 9th Parliament for TJRC’s poor performance.

From a politically contrived credibility crisis, imposition of broad mandate against a limited time and starvation of critical resources to run the race -- the commission was doomed from the very start according to The Kenyan TJRC: An Outsider’s View from Inside published by Cambridge University Press.

“Neither the President nor the Prime Minister was willing to attend the launch of our public hearings.

“It was never made clear to me why they did not want to publicly support the process,” Slye says about lack of political support for the process from the top.

Raila himself was a victim of past human rights abuses and could have turned up to testify, if for nothing, to lend credence to the process. In the book, Slye says the PM only agreed to meet them a few months after they had started the public hearings.

“We were never to meet with President Kibaki during the over three years of his presidency and the life of the commission overlapped.”

And while they eventually met President Uhuru Kenyatta in May 2013, Slye says it was after forcing through a hard bargain that saw sections of the report altered to secure the date.

“President Kenyatta had refused to meet with us while some of his closest advisors threatened and bribed us to have references to his father’s land dealings removed from our report,” Slye says of Kenyatta.

The leg work for the president is said to have been done by Secretary to the Cabinet, Francis Kimemia. Kimemia who has since denied the claims and is blaming Slye of “being sly like his name.”

“The OP (Office of the President) only called to inquire about the progress of the production of the report for purposes of scheduling an appropriate date with the president, and before lapse of commission mandate,” former TJRC CEO Tom Chavangi Aziz clarified to the Sunday Standard yesterday.

Mutula Kilonzo is blamed in the book for badmouthing the commissioners. His former Permanent Secretary, later a CS, Amina Mohamed is credited in the book with naively raising concerns on what was eating the commission to President Kenyatta.

Slye says they tried to rope in the head of National Intelligence Service (NIS) Michael Gichangi to help save the report from adulteration towards the very end.

“Gichangi professed to agree with our concerns but it quickly became clear to us that his main purpose was to distract and delay us.”

Slye also places a portion of the blame on a 2003 task force chaired by law professor Makau Mutua which explored the idea of a truth commission.

“While there were people both within and outside of the Kibaki administration who would feel threatened by a robust truth commission, the narrow, top-down approach to the creation of TJRC adopted by the task force failed to create a sufficiently broad political movement for its creation.”

Yesterday, Mutua dismissed Slye as clueless: “He obviously knows nothing about what we did. He’s describing the Kiplagat TJRC. Our task force did more in 4 months than his TJRC did in four years. He’s an opportunist who stayed so to study Africans as though they are zoo animals.”

In the book, Slye says TJRC’s relationship with Nairobi-based civil society organisations proved unnecessarily complicated and ultimately unproductive.

Ambassador Michael Ranneberger is fingered for allegedly giving a cold shoulder to the Kiplagat credibility issue. “His suggestion that we should overlook Kiplagat’s involvement in such land dealings was shocking.”

Gicheru took close to six months to set up a tribunal against Kiplagat.

The tribunal was caught up in the web of legal battles for seven months until its mandate expired and Gicheru retired.

Slye says they looked forward to Justice Willy Mutunga, given his background, to “understand the importance of a credible truth process” but he ended up disappointing them.

In the foreword to the book, Archbishop Desmond Tutu cross-references the power of truth to the troubles the commission went through.