TJRC should approach its mandate with sense of history

I don’t have any faith in the proposed Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC). It’s not because of its mandate. It’s because I believe it will be just another empty forum for political point-scoring that will solve nothing.

Let’s start with a definition of “historical injustices’’. The responses you will hear from here and there should tell you we have embarked on a round-robin trip to nowhere.

For one, I might complain that because my CEO drives a better car than I and lives in a better neighbourhood gives me reason to shout at him about some “injustice’’.

On a more serious note, I want to know whether this TJRC is some kind of first-aid kit or is really meant for the fundamental thing everybody says they want -- genuine reconciliation.

To begin with, I want somebody to make me understand why the date of take-off of the injustices the TJRC is supposed to look into has to be 1963. That’s an arbitrary cut-off date, just because it was the year of our independence. Are we saying history began with Jomo Kenyatta and then to Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki?

I believe, with good reason, the land problem will be a hot issue on the TJRC agenda. Are we supposed to ignore that the root lies in colonial times? For starters, is the squatter problem the Mijikenda of the Coast Province suffer a creation of 1963? What about the so-called Coastal strip the British ceded to the Zanzibari Sultanate before Kenya even became a geographical entity?

Let’s turn to Rift Valley, where many loud-mouths are polluting the airwaves. Was the expulsion of the Maasai from the ‘‘White Highlands’’ in 1914 to pave the way for British settler occupation an inconsequential part of our history? Was it an injustice or not? Didn’t it alter the land-owning character of Kenya radically? I ask all of us to listen to William ole Ntimama when he speaks out on this.

How about the reality of the forced or scripted ‘‘native’’ labour that was drafted to work on those settler farms that time ago, and continued to live there? Is the peasant who bought an acre there more offensive than the settler descendant who still lords it over all those other acreages such as in Naivasha and Laikipia?

And what about my grandparents who were confined in a concentration camp in Central Province during the 1950s State of Emergency, or my distant uncle who was locked up and tortured in the Hola detention camp and came out to find the colonial authorities had confiscated his land and property and basically left him a pauper? Didn’t they suffer injustice? Will they or their heirs have their say before the TJRC? 

Dear reader, I am not saying the TJRC should go all the way back to probe the atrocities Vasco da Gama may have committed against Mvita and Malindi people when he landed there about 500 years ago.

What I am simply saying is that the TJRC should sensibly figure out the timelines that directly bear on the contemporary issues it claims to want to focus on, and then start from there. These injustices did not begin in 1963. Far from it.

Essentially, my point is that the TJRC should approach its mandate with a deep sense of history. Yet what I see in its line-up are a pushy bunch of activists and wannabe “peace-makers” who don’t qualify for the task of unifying a dangerously divided state like Kenya.

The frequent comparisons with the Truth Commission of South Africa which Archbishop Desmond Tutu chaired in 1995 are flippant and misleading. The case against apartheid -- a race-based political ideology -- was long-standing and clear-cut. Much as we want to pretend our issues are similar, they are not. The complexities of our past could frighten many of those who are grandstanding about “historical injustices”.

I don’t believe the TJRC as presently constituted has the competence to deal with our historical issues from the perspective I see them. I view it as a political organ designed to sidestep the inevitable reckoning with criminal impunity. Anybody who has a sense of how this government works knows this.

If we want to resolve the assassinations of Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya, JM Kariuki and Robert Ouko, we don’t need a TJRC for that. We will need a properly focused judicial mechanism that gives results.

It is the same thing that must be done to deal with the ghosts of the 2007 post-election mayhem.