Onyango Oloo talks to the embattled Chair of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission
[This interview has been carried in full in the Friday, February 26, 2010 edition of the Nairobi-based Star newspaper.]
Were you involved in the meeting where the Wagalla massacre was planned?
I did not attend any meeting related to organising the Wagalla massacre. I had just arrived from London and, as the Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary, the affair was not in my docket. The National Security Council meeting which I attended was a briefing and not an operational meeting and did not involve decisions at the district level.
The book Blood on the Runway which has been the main reference point acknowledges that the account was put together on very scanty knowledge without the benefit of the original primary documentation.
Did you support the violent RENAMO rebels during the Mozambican civil war?
The Mozambican Government requested my assistance to bring to the negotiating table the Renamo rebel group in order to bring an end to the civil war and to create dialogue which would create peace in the country. I flew to Maputo to meet with President Chissano who asked me to contact Renamo who were still in the bush at that time. I fulfilled the assignment, bringing a message of peace to the rebels and acting as a go-between between them and the government backed Frelimo fighters.
At one time I was requested to organise a meeting of church leaders in Nairobi with the blessings of the Kenyan government and President Chissano of Mozambique. Another time I facilitated the Kenyan government’s granting of passports to enable Renamo rebels to fly to Rome for peace talks, which played a part in creating the peace accord which ended the Mozambican civil war.
The government of Mozambique showed it’s appreciation for my efforts through a personal invitation by their President to attend the signing of the peace accord even after I had left the foreign office.
What is your position on the murder of Robert Ouko?
I do not know who killed the Late Hon Ouko. I appeared before the Ouko murder inquiry and spoke openly as a friend of the deceased. No claim has ever been made linking me to the assassination. In fact the family of the Late Ouko has appointed me as Patron of the Ouko Memorial Library. They clearly would not have done so if they believed I was involved with his murder.
Are you a land grabber?
I purchased land offered to me by the government as did thousands of Kenyas to this day. I complied with the legal requirements and paid in full for the land. The fact that I am mentioned in a report is not conclusive and can not be held against me until proven in a court of law.
Did you condone the human rights atrocities committed during the Moi-KANU regime?
I was one of the few government officials to go before the Saitoti Commission in 1990 where I recommended the introduction of multi party democracy. I am on record calling for the repeal of Section 2A of the Constitution, which declared Kenya a single party state and the removal of the queuing system of voting. While serving as High Commissioner to Great Britain, I met with the Secretary General of Amnesty Internaltional to work on the abolishment of detention without trial not only in Kenya but across Africa. This information is publicly available. In addition, my detractors can check with many of their colleagues like, Ngugi wa Thiongo (who I hosted at a reception in London), Micere Mugo, Salim Lone, Professor Muhiddin, Makokha and many others who benefited from my support during the Moi regime.
But it has been said that your own reports from London when you served there as Kenya High Commissioner were used to convict alleged dissidents opposed to the Moi regime?
I did not produce any intelligence reports while serving as Ambassador or High Commissioner to London. Those familiar with the operations of a foreign mission will know that the intelligence functions in any Embassy are run independently of the Ambassador. There is no evidence to substantiate this claim.
Questions have been raised about the process which led to your selection as TJRC Chair.
A broad range of respected civil society organisations, spanning faith-based organizations, women’s groups, lawyers associations, trade unions and teachers’ unions, human rights organizations, medical professionals and the private sector constituted the selection panel for the TJRC Commissioners.
The panel interviewed 45 applicants and fowarded the list of 15 nominees to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Law Review using a panel of interested parties chaired by Dr. Daniel Ichang’i of the East African Professionals Association. The government did not have a representative on the panel. The PSC vetted the selection, approved 9 names and tabled the results before the House. The 9 names that were adopted by the House unanimously and their names were forwarded to the President for appointment. This rigorous process ensured that the choice of commissioners was aligned with the public interest and had been made on the basis of relevant experience and qualifications.
Until recently, no challenge was offered to my selection as Chairman of the TJRC. It therefore begs the question: what is motivating the people-who have never before contested my nomination-to seek to obstruct the course of justice just at the point where the TJRC is finally about to swing into action with powers to award restitution to the victims. Would these so-called leaders not want to see victims compensated for the pain they have suffered as soon as possible? Over 200 people applied. Did any of those now complaining apply? Former head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi and PCEA clergyman Timothy Njoya also applied.
Do you think your critics have treated you fairly in terms of presumption of innocence and due process?
Clearly human rights organizations should not use the law of the jungle and lynch mob strategy to force me to step down. Surely they ought to uphold the rule of law and my constitutional right as a Kenyan citizen to presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Will the TJRC recommend prosecutions and trials for those not only adversely mentioned but found to have been implicated in past human rights abuses?
Yes. The TJRC will make recommendations in these matters.
What is the way forward for the TJRC?
Commissioners should stick together and implement the work plan that has already been developed. I have met many Kenyans who are eagerly anticipating an opportunity to air their grievances.
PS: I have received the following statement from the Ambassador:
Statement by Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat
Honorable Members of Parliament, Fellow Commissioners, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I appreciate that the task before us as a commission and as individuals is a very heavy responsibility.
The whole nation is looking upon us to deliver a process that will be victim-centred, grounded on fairness and justice, open and thorough in its deliberations and decisive in its recommendations.
Personally I have worked my whole life to bring peace and reconciliation between people. The TJRC offers me an opportunity to serve my country in the area of my calling.
Kenyans have been waiting for decades for a process such as the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. Over the last forty or so years, each generation of survivors and victims have lost several of their members, consigned to the grave before they had a chance to tell their stories, share their pain, confront their former tormentors and articulate the redress they seek.
As commissioners we therefore have our work cut out for us.
That is why I consider it so unfortunate that so much energy is being expended on the question of my suitability or otherwise to be the Chair of the TJRC.
The fact that I have been placed in the position of having to defend my integrity, my honour, my sense of justice, commitment to human rights ideals and democracy at this late stage in my life is quite a challenge to me.
One would have thought that my long career in public and diplomatic service should have cleared any lingering doubts but I am now faced with a dilemma:
Do I bow to the pressure of a well-orchestrated media based lynch mob, which is likely to be interpreted as confirming the allegations leveled against me?
Or do I stand my ground and invite the criticism that I am oblivious to perceived public opinion?
Despite having repeatedly defended myself in the media and in disregard of the numerous statements in my defense from a cross section of society, the debate continues.
My only recourse therefore is to clear my name through a formal legal process.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a believer in the rule of law and the fact that all Kenyan’s have a constitutional right to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
This is a fundamental “Human Right” which applies to me as much as to every man, woman and child on this earth.
I believe that all people should abide by the rule of law and not take actions outside the law or make judgments based on unproven allegations.
In fact, the individuals claiming to represent Human Rights and other Civil Society Organizations should be the last to resort to a lynch mob mentality. It goes completely contrary to their mandate and fundamental principles of protecting the rights of everyone irrespective of status and station in life. It is indeed ironic that some of my accusers have been treated unfairly in the past as a result of the absence of this very principle.
I also believe that the trend to call for the resignation of any person based on media reports, perception and vaguely defined “public opinion” is a dangerous trend in particular when our history has shown how ignoring the rule of law can lead to catastrophic results.
If allowed to continue, it is not farfetched to imagine any of us in this room could in future be victims of similar campaigns as we carry out our public duties.
In view of these fundamental beliefs and more so as the Chairman of a commission, whose mandate, is to address past injustices, I cannot merely step aside. Doing so would amount to condoning and encouraging the abuse of human rights, mine included.
My fellow commissioners, as individuals who believe in Truth, Justice and the Rule of Law none of us should take any action or draw any conclusions based solely on allegations, opinion or perception.
So what next?
Since no one has brought any case against me and in order to clear my name, I am enjoining myself in a case already filed against the TJRC so that the allegations leveled against me are determined in a court of law once and for all.
From tomorrow, and while awaiting the determination by the court, I will redirect every ounce of my energy and commitment to the people of Kenya. They have been waiting for far too long for a chance to be heard.
It is in this spirit of truth, justice and reconciliation, that I ask you all to put any differences aside and work together to fulfill the mandate of this important commission.
God bless you and may God Bless Kenya.
"May justice continue to be our shield and defender".Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat
Chairman Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission
26th February 2010