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.
I LESSONS, PROBLEM AREAS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
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
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.