Friday, September 10, 2010



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

September 9, 2010

There is a familiar voice on the internet from the Kenyan Diaspora. Her name is Judy. A very vocal woman on every issue here in Kenya. I always don’t pay a lot of attention to her many complaints on this and that issue because they are just too many coming almost at the same time. However, on the issue of the current squabbles consuming the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, I tend to concur with her sentiments.

Judy has candidly asked Commission Chairperson, Florence Jaoko to stay put and not be distracted by a bunch of hecklers calling themselves commissioners. She is asking Jaoko to stay on and give direction on the way forward in accordance with the new dispensation urging her to remember that there will always be men who are never comfortable working under women.

On a more serious note, the trouble at the KNHRC has not surprised any keen observer of the institution. It all boils down to competing for space, visibility and positioning for state largesse. The politics being fought right now at the Commission have nothing to do with Jaoko or her failures. It has everything to do with how much each commissioner can reap from the organization before being asked to leave. It is the reason the fight is becoming bare knuckle with each passing day.

I have never been a fun of KNHRC for all the time it has been in existence. In fact I don’t understand why in the same territory called Kenya, we should have KNHRC and KHRC both doing exactly the same job. And incidentally, both are run by civil society activists.

There was a time I was at pains to understand why KNHRC always condemned the police if they shot members of a particular criminal gang but never, for a single day, condemned Mungiki sect members for hacking 29 villagers to death in a single night.

Like our high profile psychiatrists that are always available to offer trauma services to families and victims of air disasters but ignore grisly road accidents on our roads, the Kenya National Human Rights Commissioners have over the years perfected the art of focusing on human rights abuses that attract the highest premiums for media publicity. I always wondered why political rights attracted more attention from the commission than let’s say Child Mortality, abused children, raped women and molested school girls. I always wondered why widows, orphans, street families and thousands of neglected school going-age children have never attracted the attention of this Commission.

The Kenya National Human Rights Commission is a national institution that exists at the expense of the tax payer, yet the bulk of its activities are concentrated on media circuits in Nairobi. Some of its commissioners do nothing except to hop from one TV station to another in search for publicity. They are so much in our faces discussing every topic under the sun to the extent that a number of Kenyans nowadays reach for their TV remote controls immediately their faces pop up on our screens.

What is happening at the KNHRC happened at the TJRC not long ago. At the TJRC, there was a rift between Chairman Kiplagat and his deputy Betty Murungi. Because their working relations had deteriorated so much, Betty stepped down as deputy chairman but remained in the Commission. However, keen observers like this writer argued then that Betty’s continued service in a commission in which she could not see eye to eye with the chairman would not auger well for the organization. Eventually Ms Murungi resigned from the commission altogether. Since her departure, there has been some semblance of order and in fact the TJRC has conducted some business successfully in various parts of the country.

A few weeks ago, there was a stiff between Commissioner Omar Hassan and his chairperson precisely over allegations of leaking Commission confidential information to the press. The matter was grave enough because such information had to do with victims and witnesses for the possible Hague trials. At that time Omar Hassan was the Commission vice chairman. However, although Hassan resigned as vice chairman, the best that should have happened was to get rid of him completely rather than let him remain in the Commission to rock the boat from within. He should have followed the example of Betty Murungi formerly of the TJRC rather than sit it out until removed by a special tribunal. Because he remained in the Commission, it has surely come to pass that he has seen it fit to destabilize the commission.

The trouble at the KNHRC is a pointer to the folly of appointing mere hecklers and busy bodies to important institutions just because they have been known to carry placards and shout loudest at civil society workshops. It is wrong to hire individuals that have to capacity to think strategically but instead would like to run these strategic institutions from media houses and media conferences. We need sober and solid people who know when to speak and when to listen.

Let these commissioners never think for a moment that Jaoko should behave exactly like her predecessor. Florence Jaoko is not Maina Kiai. She has her style which is different, solid and respectable. She doesn’t have to run around TV stations chasing cheap publicity on every topic under the sun. The earlier these commissioners get this message the better for the commission and this country.

I do hope that with the new dispensation, the bar will be raised higher so that hecklers do not find their way into important institutions on the basis of their communities or regional balancing. Kenyans deserve better in this new era.