“Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.” It is a line from the hit movie, The Matrix, that our “Digital Government” should be intimately familiar with. On the day that Uhuru Kenyatta stepped on the plane to London on his maiden visit as President to a Western capital (we had all thought that would be elsewhere), it was reported that his hosts in the British government were finally taking steps to address the impunity surrounding historic crimes perpetrated during the MauMau uprising.
The timing of the visit is, of course, ironic because our dear President himself faces his “personal challenge” across the Channel with regards to his alleged role in funding murderous militias during the 2008 post-election violence. He is expected to receive an invitation to visit there soon, though not necessarily in his illustrious capacity.
However, his trip to the UK is also ironic because of some nasty business he has left undone back home. Last week, the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, which was created to “establish an accurate, complete and historical record of violations and abuses of human rights, committed between 12 December 1963 and 28 February 2008,” took out acres of newspaper space to announce that it had completed its report and was about to hand it over to the President. In fact, it gave the day for the handover as Thursday, 2 May 2013.
Well, it transpires that the President was apparently unable to make the time to receive the report. Now, most of the Kenya media are familiar with his “personal challenge” when it comes to punctuality. However, given the importance of this report, one would have expected more than a few eyebrows to be raised. After all, the TJRC is expected to provide details regarding to abductions, disappearances, detentions, torture, murder, massacres, extra-judicial killings, crimes of sexual nature against female victims and expropriation of property suffered by Kenyans in the last half century. Its report should expose those responsible for gross violations of international human rights law and make recommendations. Further the report will look into historical injustices affecting the irregular and illegal allocation of public land, economic crimes including grand corruption, the perceived economic marginalization of communities and misuse of public institutions for political objectives.
In short, the TJRC will exhume the ghosts of the past and give the country an opportunity to finally confront them. The need for such a reckoning cannot be gainsaid. The just ended elections exposed deep faults in our body politic, many of which reach all the way down to the foundations of our nation. The presentation of this report was to inaugurate a season of debate and reflection on the report leading to a critical reevaluation of our common history and a new understanding of the basis of our nationhood. Such an outcome would improve prospects for a real peace, real justice, real national unity, real healing, real reconciliation and real dignity for the people of Kenya.
However, with his disappearing act, the President has effectively put off that discussion. TJRC officials, while not speculating on the reasons for the snub, say that they cannot release the report findings until he has officially taken possession of it. Shortly after the handover, they planned to have the entire report posted online, for once circumventing the presidential prerogative of deciding what we could and could not be told about our past and the acts perpetrated by the state in our name.
But perhaps it would be too much to expect our feckless journalists to ask about this. After all, they have not seemed overly concerned over the violations of citizens’ rights that we have witnessed in more recent times. Just a day before the report was to be presented, the cantakerous and obnoxious COTU boss Francis Atwoli declared before both the President and the Nairobi County Governor, Evans Kidero, that he had his own “army” to deal with troublemakers such as pesky political activists, Nary a question was raised. No one has since asked our dear President why he stayed seated when Atwoli ordered police not to interfere as his goons proceeded to “deal” with Boniface Mwangi. Today, none of them questions why it is the battered and bruised activist who is on trial while Atwoli and his thugs roam the streets free.
But perhaps we shouldn’t be too harsh with the press. Their fear of truth, their propensity to put off till tomorrow the thinking that can be done today, their worship of empty celebrity and their celebration of mediocrity – all these are endemic within our society. Our fake news is a reflection of our fake society. Or is it our society of fakes? After all, many had pledged support for Boniface Mwangi’s protest. A few even turned up at Uhuru Park. But when he stood up, he was alone. No one stood up for him when he was assaulted. All this is reminiscent of the days when we keep ourselves locked in our homes when our neighbours are attacked, hoping we won’t be next. Or when we watch impassively as girls are pulled kicking and screaming out of matatus and gang-raped, thinking our own daughters are immune. When we laugh at women being publicly humiliated for “dressing indecently.” When we condone the abuses meted out by the authorities in far away places like Garissa.
We must shed this cloak of fear that holds us back from articulating a more useful and confident narrative of citizenship. We should once and for all confront our demons and lay them to rest. The President, who perhaps has more of them to face than most, should either lead the effort or get out of the way. We do not have time to waste and we cannot afford another false start.