Wednesday, March 17, 2010



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
March 17, 2010

I am not a very strong disciple of civil society activism. However, this does not mean that I have no friends among many of them. In fact, some of them have been known to me for more than three decades right from our university days. And the fact that I don’t join them in street protests from time to time does not mean that I don’t fully support their causes on occasions I feel their grievances are worth my sympathy.

However, of late, there has been serious concern the way a section of the civil society has targeted individuals for character assassination and media bashing with the sole purpose of discrediting such individuals beyond redemption. On some of these occasions, they have not disclosed all the facts of the case or their individual interests in such issues.

In this article, I will zero in on the controversial chairman of the TJRC, Bethuel Kiplagat who I have written about in these pages urging to resign the chairmanship of the TJRC because Kenyans had lost faith in him as a fair broker in the truth, justice and reconciliation process for Kenyans. And I still stand by my belief that because he has been mentioned adversely in some government documents, coupled with the fact that the press and the Civil Society have not been kind to him; his continued chairmanship of the TJRC may do more damage than good to the commission.

However, the foregoing notwithstanding, it is now emerging that leading campaigners against Bethuel Kiplagat have in the past not disclosed all their interests in this issue. It is now getting clearer that the venom they have been pouring out may after all have been sour grapes since some of them were actually shortlisted for the same position but were beaten hands down by the same Kiplagat they are now carrying placards against.

Let us face it here; I can now authoritatively state that in picking Bethuel Kiplagat as chairman of the TJRC, no government ministry or department was involved at any one process. Press ads, short listings and interviews were all done by a body composed of Civil Society and Religious groups completely independent of the political class. And when the final interviews for shortlisted candidates were conducted, it was at the Kenyatta Conference Center. The same team that interviewed the candidates submitted the final list to the Parliamentary Service Committee on Justice and Constitution matters for debate in Parliament.

When Parliament finally confirmed Kiplagat and other commissioners, it was at that stage that the PSC passed on the list to the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs for onward submission to the President for final appointment. In the words of a Justice Ministry official, the ministry was a mere conveyor belt and was in no way an active participant in the appointment of Kiplagat. The more reason they are dismayed by the kind of vitriol against Kiplagat so late in the day.

If indeed two of the harshest Nairobi critics against the chairman indeed were shortlisted but later dropped by their own in the civil society; if indeed another leading critic in the Diaspora expected to be headhunted and given the job on a silver platter; if indeed it is true that another foreign based critic has been fronting for his friend who is already a senior commissioner in the TJRC, then this country is doomed because it is full of hypocrites and cheats that cannot be trusted with the leadership of this country.

Let us call a spade a spade. Yes, Bethuel Kiplagat may not be fit to lead the TJRC because he was mentioned adversely in the Ndung’u and Ouko reports. However, where were these people who now have proof against him when Kiplagat was going through the process? Are we saying that if the well endowed Civil Society is given an opportunity to conduct a recruitment of such national importance, it has no capacity to undertake a thorough background check on the candidates?

Chairman Kiplagat may be a demon, but the bigger demon is the Civil Society that slept on the job as Kiplagat slipped through its hands. Now the activists must eat humble pie.

As if the Kiplagat saga is not bad enough; I hear that another controversy is already simmering regarding the nomination of PLO Lumumba to the KACC ostensibly because, after all the due process, some PSC Commissioners are now not happy with the names they received from the KACC Oversight Board. Now I hear the PSC wants to see a full list of all those that were interviewed. If this is so, is this backtracking procedural and legal? What then is the point of appointing institutions then turn around to micromanage them? If the PSC feels that the anti-corruption Oversight Board is incompetent, why not table a bill in parliament to disband it?