Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In Defence of Ambassador Kiplagat

A Digital Essay by Onyango Oloo in Nairobi

My fellow Kenyans, this is going to be a particularly difficult piece for me to write.

I can already see hundreds of my comrades in the human rights community immediately, impatiently champing at the bit, frantically training their rungus, pangas, bazookas, Kalashnikovs and hand grenades on me even before getting past the title.

But I sincerely hope that in the spirit of genuine democratic dialogue, these fine progressives and justice loving compatriots of mine will be tolerant enough to hear me out to the end.

Ambassador Kiplagat is the Chair of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission.

His appointment has been denounced by civil society actors most of whom I count as personal friends and long term comrades.

They have taken him and the TRJC to court demanding that he resign and the commission be disbanded before being reconstituted a new.

The other day, one of my vocal buddies from Mombasa was explaining to me the intricate mobilization which led to the ultimate boycott and walk out in that Coastal city when Ambassador Kiplagat and his colleagues were in town for a public consultation.

I could not only understand, but completely empathize with his reasons for doing so.

I was also quite shocked when he shared with me the notorious Indemnity Act from the early 1970s which shuts out tens of thousands of Kenyans from the northern part of this country and places like Lamu from ever claiming compensation or trying to seek redress for those atrocities committed by previous regimes in the 1960s and 1970s.

I find this act outrageous and I am in full agreement with him and other compatriots who argue that the TJRC’s work will be a mockery with this piece of legislation remains on the statute books.

So why am I defending Kiplagat and his TJRC when credible institutions that I am closely ideologically affiliated with like the Mars Group, the Centre for Multi-Party Democracy, Release Political Prisoners, International Centre for Policy and Conflict and other civil society voices are baying for his blood, demanding his departure and expulsion from the TJRC?

Three reasons.

Number One: I do not want to be part of a lynch mob- even if it is composed of former political prisoners, exiles, veteran human rights activists and respected civil society figures.

Those of us who had the misfortune of going through the kangaroo trials in Moi’s Kenya would never, ever want a Kenyan to be convicted unheard, to be found “guilty” without due process and to be condemned in a public inquisition.

What exactly is the case against Bethuel Kiplagat?

That he was a senior state bureaucrat who served in Daniel arap Moi’s regime first as an ambassador and later as a permanent secretary in the ministry of foreign affairs.

There are allegations that he was mixed up with murderous RENAMO bandits who killed, raped and mutilated women, men and children during the horrific civil war in Mozambique.

There are claims that he attended a security meeting on the eve of the dastardly Wagalla Massacre in 1984.

There are accusations that he did not do anything at the time of the assassination of Dr. Robert Ouko in 1990.

Those are indeed serious accusations which do, on the surface, cast a very serious pall on his suitability as TJRC Chair.

Now my name is not Ambassador Kiplagat so I am not going to be his surrogate defender on those specific charges.

He has a mouth which houses a very articulate tongue.

But does Ambassador Kiplagat have a right to be heard?

To tell his own side of the story?

That is a rhetorical question to my human rights comrades who are intimately familiar with the rules of natural justice.

But here is what Onyango Oloo has to say to some of those charges.

So what if he was a senior official who served under Moi?

Mwai Kibaki was Moi’s lieutenant and a senior minister under Kenyatta yet in 2002, he was elected by a landslide by millions of Kenyans with human rights activists and civil society bodies at the forefront in embracing him as THE REFORM candidate against Moi’s handpicked successor, Uhuru Kenyatta.

One of the people said to have helped organized the brutal public flogging of Reverend Timothy Njoya is a senior cabinet minister, belonging to ODM, a party in the Coalition government that many Kenyans associate with reforms.

There are countless others.

Therefore merely serving under Moi is not reason ENOUGH to condemn Ambassador Kiplagat.

How about the business with the RENAMO bandits?

Well, I did take my time to do my research.

I spent about two hours perusing a book I found online titled Ending Mozambique's War: The Role of Mediation and Good Offices by Cameron R. Hume which runs to 162 pages and was published in 1994. The book details the role played by Ambassador Kiplagat in the peace mediation efforts to reconcile the warring factions of the ruling FRELIMO government and the rebel RENAMO movement. It is clear from the narrative in the book that Kiplagat was appointed by the Kenyan government as a mediator and was included in the peace process first as an observer, and later at the insistence of RENAMO, as a fully fledged mediator. It is true that he was very close to the rebel group and was in some instances more of an advisor of RENAMO rather than an impartial mediator. He helped to facilitate the stay and passage through Kenya of high ranking RENAMO officials- but strictly in the context of the regional and international mediation efforts to restore peace to Mozambique. There is nothing in the public domain which indicates that either personally or as an emissary of the Kenyan government did Ambassador Kiplagat arm or finance RENAMO’s bloody carnage. If there are any other facts that contradict my assertion, I would be happy to see them.

Apart from Mozambique, Ambassador Kiplagat has been involved in conflict transformation processes in neighbouring Uganda, Sudan and Somalia.

Did Kiplagat attend a security meeting just before the Wagalla Massacre?

According to a recent interview carried by one of the Kenyan dailies, he denies this.

My second reason for defending Kiplagat has to do with my own personal interaction with the man.

I remember moderating a daylong meeting on the 22nd of December 2006 held at the Professional Centre in downtown Nairobi featuring hundreds of slum dwellers from Mathare and other informal settlements in and around the Kenyan capital. The focus of the gathering was to bring different tribes and communities together to dialogue around the then raging violent conflicts in places like Mathare. The grass roots organizers who put the event together were largely members of the radical Bunge la Mwananchi social movement. And one of their key supporters was none other than Ambassador Kiplagat (through Friends of Sports in Kenya) who along with the feisty and fearless Ms. Philo Ikonya and civil society leader Achoka Awori from the Sayari think tank were the main panelists at the meeting. The well attended event came up with very key recommendations around peace-building and conflict transformation. At the end of the meeting I could see Luos and Gikuyus hugging and pumping each other’s hands and I do know activists from both communities who later on carried on the spirit generated by this meeting to hold reconciliation and peace meetings in the same neighbourhoods at the height of the 2008 post election violence. How do I know all this? Well apart from moderating the session, I still have the DVD which covered every single minute for posterity. And lest you think my recording is fake, I will have you know that it was captured by none other than the intrepid PK Thumbi from the NCEC who Cyprian Nyamwamu, Kepta Ombati and Sophie Dola can vouch for.

Almost two years later, I still recall vividly something that Ambassador Kiplagat did at the height of the Kenyan post election violence in early 2008. Some of my readers may remember a period when those patriotic Kenyans who happened to be of Gikuyu heritage and were working for peace, conflict transformation and national reconciliation were targeted with direct death threats. I am talking about death threats to people like Maina Kiai, Muthoni Wanyeki, David Ndii, Njeri Kabeberi and dozens of others working under the auspices of Kenyans for Peace, Truth and Justice. One of the less known activists in this category was a young militant known for his community organizing with Bunge la Mwananchi. He had been one of the main conveners of that December 2006 Professional Centre peace gathering that I mentioned above. He is one of the people who blew the whistle on the alleged meeting which took place in the State House just before the 2007 elections to plan the violence. He soon found himself on a death list and immediately went underground. Due to a number of developments that I won’t go into in the public domain, including some mistakes of his own, he found himself very vulnerable and trapped in the country. Guess who assisted him to leave the country and save his head from being separated from his body?

The same Ambassador Kiplagat.

My third reason for asking that we should not focus on Kiplagat and other personalities has to do with a few recent deaths involving some comrades that I have known for many years.

In early February 2010 we lost George Mwaura Mburu, one of the founders, along with comrades like Dr. Njenga Kaberere of the People’s Party of Kenya in the early 1990s. The late Mwaura was an indefatigable fighter for Kenya’s national liberation. Before him, Gibson Maina who was a close associate of Koigi wa Wamwere (I remember meeting Maina in Dar es Salaam in 1988 when I was an exile in Tanzania) also went to an early grave after an unequal battle with cancer. In November 2009 we also lost Paddy Onyango Sumba, a veteran patriot and democrat who came back to Kenya in 2001 after spending 19 years in Sweden where he had led the exiled ODK and been part of the diasporic movement confronting the Moi-KANU dictatorship.

All these, and many more dozens of comrades who were victimized by the one party dictatorship (whether in the penitentiaries of Kamiti, Naivasha, Kodiaga and so on or the wider maximum prison known as the Republic of Kenya) have gone to their graves with their stories untold- either in the form of biographies, or more poignantly, as testimonies to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission.

How many more ex political prisoners, former exiles, survivors of the Nyayo House Torture chambers, witnesses to the atrocities committed in northern Kenya and elsewhere will die as we continue to wrangle whether or not Ambassador Kiplagat is the most appropriate Chair for the TJRC?

How long will people like my former Toronto housemate Adongo Ogony and my former cell mate Omondi K’abir fester in the frigid climes of Canada and Norway respectively, awaiting their turn to talk, as in Adongo’s case about the callous and casual brutality of the notorious Special Branch beast Opiyo, or as in K’abir’s case, the ORIGINAL water logged torture cells set up in Naivasha prison to break the will of hundreds of innocent Air Force servicemen?

How long will the women who were raped by the GSU, AP and other security personnel in Kisumu, Kibera, Dandora, Eldoret and elsewhere during the 2008 mayhem wait to share their anguish and stories of survival as some of our comrades in the human rights community insist on the conclusion of court cases to turf out Kiplagat and his TJRC team?

And with all due respect, to my activist comrades and friends, is Betty Kaari Murungi, who is YES, married to James Orengo really the ENEMY of Kenyans seeking truth, justice and reconciliation?

In addition to the TJRC process comrades, is it possible for us in the human rights, activist and civil society community to galvanize and set up a parallel, but complementary People’s Court, which simultaneously critiques and engages with the mainstream TJRC activities?

This way, those who have thick dossiers on the crimes and misdemeanours of Kiplagat, Kaari and Co Ltd can present them for debate, discussion and adoption.

Now that I have stated my case, I guess I should quickly and quietly step outside and await the human rights firing squad to cut me down mercilessly as a traitor and sellout to the Kenyan people’s cause.

Just like at the conclusion of my 1982 trial, I will have no further words in mitigation.

Onyango Oloo Nairobi, Kenya

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Anonymous said...


Thank you for your willngness and openess and even to put your life in the line to let the whole community understand more about Ab. Kiplagat.

Unknown said...

Thanks Onyango Oloo for going deep in analysing the Kiplagat saga,i think most of we civil society organisations have lost direction and they are hell bent to make sure they are relevant even if they have nothing to say.Its high time we stop focusing on personality but on the issue before hand.
Thanks Oloo

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your assessement. My experience of dealings with Kiplagat is that he has a strong integrity and has achieved some remarkable things. Having witnessed members of the Civil Society movement sit down to discuss collaboration with him last year and then only a few months later begin a campaign of villification is quite amazing.

Another crucial difference between Kiplagat and the many other goons from Moi's regime is that he is accessible. The rest are not. So it seems why not attack the one you can reach, since I don't see much progress towards dealing with our government which is steeped in blood and ill gotten gains. Far Far more than Kiplagat - who has not made cash for sure on the back of his government service.

Too much of the villification is an easy witchhunt at the expense of the real perpetrators of hugely inhuman acts against Kenyans

Sadik said...

Onyango Oloo

When i read your piece on Bethwel Kiplagat, and came across strong argument like the 'lynch-mob', I am minded to remind you that you led the same on me at Jukwaa.

Are you not the person who spearheaded my unilateral condemnation in Jukwaa inquisition calling me tribalist in your Luo-led Kangaroo court until I left? Where was your 'evidence' other than the fact your room-mate Adongo called me one without an ounce of evidence? Is labeling Jukwaa – synonymous with tantamount to me being tribalist?

Even when I left, you pathetically demonized me on my back - conducting your Luo choir to sing to the your Luo audience. And here you are talking about 'mob-justice' - you surely know much of it.

My post at Jukwaa detailed the political detainees and their choice of working partners. I quote what I wrote,

" My comment of tribal allegiances is factual: -
Kibisu Kabateesi with Mudavadi, ,
David Murathe with Uhuru,
Miguna with Raila
Onyango Oloo with Orengo and later with Mwandawiro
Wafula Buke with Ruto."

By calling me a tribalist, are you suggesting that the information I wrote in Jukwaa as above is not factual?

Are you aware that in Jukwaa your Luo friends have constantly referred to me in a demeaning and derogatory manner as a Kalenjin when I am not simply because I defended Ruto? Does that make them tribalists, or is it because they are Luos and in your eyes cannot be tribalists?

You have lost my respect and I consider you another Luo heckler masquerading as a nationalist. You are far from it.

And as for justice and human right - dream on, that fact you were detained by Moi does neither give you knowledge nor expertise of both justice nor human right. Indeed, your detention is neither here nor there.

I remain

Sadik ( and that is name, not a label).

Injeraz said...

Kiplagat cannot bring genuine healing to Kenya. He is already too compromised. In fact the chairman shouldn't be Kenyan. Kiplagat, Kenya is bigger than you...please step down honorably.

Unknown said...

Ndu Onyango,

When I worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1982, there were two civil servants whom we respected for their integrity, and forthrightness - Bethwel Kiplagat and Simeon Nyachae. They were the only ones who told the government (read Biwott) that it could not break the law at the expense of the common good of the Kenyan citizens.

Unknown said...

That is quite an insight to realities we all know and identify deep within ourselves. It is the case of 'who throws the stone first', who is genuine. I want to believe that the arguement is and should not be on whether Kiplagat is fit, but rather that we have an opportunity to contribute to a national process. Amb. Kiplagat may have what it takes but without the credibility(which has not been proved or otherwise proved) we will lose on this opportunity as well. I agree its time CSO's channel our energy towards using the process available to us and even make do of him who was in the kitchen as the soup heat up!
Commrades, i believe, YES WE CAN!

Kenya Democracy Project said...

Thanks for those comments. Really appreciate the kind words. Since there are stand alone interventions, there is really nothing to add.


Greetings. I am pretty sure you could have found another forum to address your concerns about Jukwaa-certainly not on a thread on Ambassador Kiplagat. I did directly address at the Jukwaa forum and you chose not to respond- instead you sulked and skulked away- nobody banned you from the forum. I did tell you that it was WRONG for you to refer to Jukwaa as a forum when most of the registered members are from Central and Eastern Provinces. You were one of the most prolific contributors to Jukwaa and I do not believe you are a Luo. By bringing up my ethnic background on a topic completely unrelated to the same, you just emphasize my original admonition. You are always welcome to Jukwaa Sadik.

Onyango Oloo

Unknown said...

Your analysis is what was missing in public discourse on TJR.
With or without Kiplagat, Kenya needs TJR process like yesterday.
What CSOs and all others who think Kiplagat is an ampedement to The TJR process need to do is make it more accountable. Accountable to the public. If we made anyone of those calling for his resignation the chair, could they do better than Kiplagat?! Are they angels or human beings with the same weaknesses as Kiplagat or even worse?! Waswahili husema, nyani hchekana ngoko, hasa nyani humcheka yule aliye mbele akisahahu hata naye si tofauti. Hakuna tofauti?! Sote hatutoshi!Samahani. Sote, twatosha!

Mathare News said...

Thank you very much for the detailed insight regarding Ambassador Kiplagat. I am one of the few Kenyans who have interacted with him. I was actually involved in planning the debate at the Professional Centre and another meeting in Mathare which Ambassador attended. I am a grassroot community organizer and I have a realized that there is a big dis-connect between civil society agenda and that of community. Civil society organizations (big NGOs) are slowing trust with the people. Look at what some have turned into after joining the NARC government!!! Those against Ambassador should be truthful as to why??? by being open in communicating their concern. Roman 3:23 We all have short comings but we change with modern times.

Anonymous said...


My integrity does not allow me to re-join Jukwaa. Let your Luo comrades knock themselves over in there. My objective was to give you my mind, that is now achieved.

Rest assured, I will endeavour to remind you at any given occasion the treatment you meted on me at Jukwaa. The truth of the matter is that you are a hypocrite, and will remain so.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for an insightful piece Oloo.
One correction, KPTJ has not developed a common position on Kiplagat, so we have not as a collective called for Kiplagat to go, even though individual members have done so. Amongst other things for the very reasons you mention on the importance of the collection and validation of historical truth by the TJRC, which may otherwise not happen if we throw out the baby of truth with the bathwater of Kiplagat's past. We did discuss the need for the TJRC to develop a conflict of interest policy which would see Commissioners, including Kiplagat recusing themselves on pertinent issues. We are establishing what, if any, kind of conflict of interest policy was eventually developed so we can, if necessary, try to influence its strengthening. Also, if it indeed exists, to encourage all networks which will interact with the TJRC to know the policy and invoke it actively wherever they feel it applies.


Kenya Democracy Project said...


Thanks for the feedback. I stand corrected. I have modified the essay to reflect your input.

Onyango Oloo

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your very eloquent defence of Amb. Kiplagat and more fundamentally in defence of every Kenya's right to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Kenya, must return to the rule of law and not the rule of mob justice!

Is that not what CSO's puport to dedicate themselves to?

tnk said...

in all fairness, considering the uproar from those human rights bodies

this kiplagats saga is indeed and should be perhaps the first case heard by the TJRC

i.e amb kiplagat must be given opportunity to stand up in that dock dont know the term for whoever those people will be called upon by TJRC either as victims or perpetrators and present his case be it as a victim of the ruling regime or the time or as a perpetrator of HR abuses as is being indicated.

he must present his account

and then in the spirit of reconciliation, justice or whatever it is that the TJRC is supposed to promote, allow for all to move on.

then comes the chicken and egg story which comes first, how can kiplagat present his testimony if there is no TJRC? with due respect i think the HR groups must allow the TJRC to proceed with caveat that the first people to take to the stand be the TJRC commissioners who must lay it all bare. after which if adjustments need to be made to the composition in light of information received then so be it.

Anonymous said...

The human rights groups are committing the greatest hypocrisy - for years they have fought against detention without trial, and here they have the audacity to be judge and jury against Amb. Kiplagat, without even a shred of evidence against him. As shown all their accusations can so easily be disproven. What a shame for our country, that we tear down the good people. For someone who has spent his life in service for others, someone who is respected regionally and internationally - shame on us for not appreciating the good people in our midst! This media bashing has done more to promote apathy in people who would have otherwise been keen to do something positive for their country. We need more voices and the media houses committing to focus on facts rather than baseless accusations!