NPI-Africa: Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in Africa: Lessons and Implications for Kenya

Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in Africa:

Lessons and Implications for Kenya

A Briefing Paper

By George WachiraI and Prisca Kamunge

This brief indicates some lessons and problems from TRC experiences in Africa and makes

recommendations for Kenya. Drawing on experiences from South Africa, Sierra Leone, Liberia,

Ghana and DRC, this brief cautions that previous TRCs have not been as successful as is

sometimes assumed While the South African TRC (SATRC) gave new prominence to TRCs (or

TJRC in the case of Kenya3), it has led to a fzxation on a particular form of transitional justice at

the expense of careful consideration of the goals sought and the context of the specific transitions.

For the Kenyan TJRC to succeed it will have to respond to some of the problems identified.


Lesson and Problem Area 1:

TRCs Have not been as Successful as is often Assumed as tools

for truth, justice, reconciliation or national unity.

This is because:

o Victim-focused recommendations are ignored, delayed or only partially implemented.

o Citizens’ expectations are often outside the mandate and capacity of the TRC.

o Victims come before the TRCs in large numbers while perpetrators tend to stay away

o Perpetrators quickly get amnesty while the threatened prosecution is never followed up

o TRCs have often been politically-correct, focusing only on non-controversial truth

o Given their poor follow-up on recommendations, particularly those pertaining to

reparations to victims in the context of great material need, TRCs are increasingly viewed

as facilitating the very impunity they set out to reverse as perpetrators get away without

accountability while the victims’ needs are not met


Ø Clear goals must be articulated and communicated to the public as to what the TIRC

hopes to achieve with regard to each of the three elements (truth, justice and reconciliation).

Ø A commitment by the government to implement recommendations and undertake

necessary follow-up should be secured up front.

Ø The TJRC Act should provide for an Independent Follow-up Mechanism with a clear

mandate to spearhead the implementation of the TJRC’s recommendations.

Ø The government’s commitment to cooperate and support the process and follow-up

should be secured through a presidential order, as recommended by the Makau Mutua

Task Force on the TJRC in 2003.

Ø Public expectations can be managed through a careful awareness campaign, wide

consultations and clear articulation of the purpose and role of the TJRC, and its relationship, synergies or linkages with concurrent commissions, competent institutions

and follow-up mechanisms (where applicable).

Ø In its legislation and design, the TIRC should have clearly stated linkages with other

related institutions or commissions such as the Office of the Ombudsman, the Lands

Commission or the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. The framework for

such collaboration and linkages should be worked out before the commission concludes

its work.

Lesson and problem area 2: Overriding Expectations of Material Compensation

Kenya has to weigh carefully what the primary purpose of the TIRC is to be.

TJRC: NPI-Africa briefing-paper – Lessons and Implications for Kenya

NPI-Africa : TJRC – Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and Transitional Justice in Africa: Lessons and Implications for Kenya


A Peace Research Organization

Background Paper: April 2008

Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and Transitional Justice in

Africa: Lessons and Implications for Kenya

By George Wachira1 and Prisca Kamungi2

This Policy Brief is intended to contribute to the public debate on the proposed Truth,

Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) for Kenya. The content is informed by

ongoing research being carried out by NP I-Africa and the West Africa Network for

Peacebuilding (WANEP). Focusing specifically on respondent’s expectations and

perceptions, the research aims at drawing out lessons from transitional justice

experiences in Africa, in particular the increasingly popular TRC approach. The

research examined three countries that have concluded their TRCs or equivalents

(Ghana, Sierra Leone and South Africa), one that is in the process of implementing

(Liberia) and two that are still considering setting up TRCs (DRC, Kenya). Respondents

were drawn from a wide sample of victims, experts, former commissioners, civil society

actors, government officials, perpetrators, individuals who gave testimonies or submitted

statements to the commissions, relatives of victims, care professionals and researchers,

among others.

I. Introduction

The debate on the formation of a TRC3 in Kenya has been before the public for some

time. In the lead-up to the 2002 elections that marked the end of the 24-year regime of

Daniel Arap Moi, opposition politicians and civil society activists advocated for a Truth

and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to address past human rights violations. After the

opposition’s victory, the new government appointed a Task Force in 2003 headed by

Prof. Makau Mutua to seek the public’s views on the formation of a TRC.4 The Task

Force recommended the formation of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission

(TJRC) to investigate:

Ø political assassinations and killings

Ø Massacres and possible genocides

Ø Political violence and murder of democracy advocates

Ø Torture, exile, disappearances, detention and persecution of opponents

Ø Rape

Ø Politically instigated ethnic clashes and

Ø Violations of economic, social and cultural rights

Continue reading

Amani Sasa Newsletter – 008

Aggrey Omondi: Force Positive in Siaya….by By Jessica Hoy and Angela Vance

THE WATCHMAN – A Season for Wondering …By Eric Guantai

This weeks profile George Wachira….Compiled by Dolphine Ndeda

Remembering Our First Responders…By Sahondra Kiplagat

Amani Sasa Newsletter – 008