Social justice for the people of northern Kenya is still a mirage

Wednesday April 27 2011

By BILLOW KERROW

In the past one week, the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) has been in North-Eastern Kenya getting a first-hand account of over 45 years of official neglect, deprivation and social injustice visited upon the residents by successive regimes.

The emotional outpouring by the residents has largely been unnoticed nationally, save for the media focus on the monstrous atrocities such as the Wagalla Massacre.

Brutal security operations continue unabated, and even as the Commission was being set up in 2008, security forces tortured and maimed several hundreds in Mandera.

Section 27(6) of the Constitution requires the State to take affirmative measures and policies to “redress any disadvantage suffered by individuals or groups because of past discrimination”.

However, the Commission should pay greater attention to the prevailing social injustice rather than being fixated on historical injustices.

This week, they will be in Mandera County that is reeling from the effects of the worst drought this decade.

Hundreds face death as a result of extreme hunger and thirst, while their economic livelihoods, namely livestock, continue to perish.

The government has a constitutional obligation to provide adequate food and water to all its citizens, without discrimination, among other socio-economic rights outlined in Section 46.

For the marginalised, Section 56 further mandates the government to provide infrastructure, such as boreholes, schools and health facilities as fundamental human rights.

As Indian writer and activist, Arundhati Roy argues, the assault on social justice has eroded its definition, made us lower our sights and curtail our expectations.

The notion of equality has undergone a process of attrition and eased out of equation.

He argues that these human rights violations are increasingly portrayed as unfortunate fallouts from an otherwise acceptable political and economic system.

The TJRC members’ mandate includes investigating the marginalisation of communities, and providing redress where necessary.

Will they order the government to immediately declare the ravaging famine in the region a national disaster and help halt the region’s march to devastation?

They are aware that the region’s youth cannot obtain identity cards due to official

The Kenya Human Rights Commission, in its 2009 publication titled “Foreigners at home – the dilemma of citizenship in Northern Kenya”, accuses the government of institutionalised discrimination on the itizenship of the residents through arbitrary denial.

Can TJRC urgently address this? Section 10 of the Constitution deems that social justice, equity and protection of the marginalised are national values that must be applied whenever State organs implement public policy decisions. Will the up-coming recruitment of 7,000 policemen be done equitably?

Section 232 on public service jobs demands that the State affords ‘‘adequate and equal opportunities and representation of diverse communities’’ in appointments, training and advancement.

Representation is best reflected through the regional, county or constituency population, which roughly mirrors our ethnic diversity.

Based on the 2009 census, and without the affirmative action “privilege” for minorities as proposed by Mr Orwa Ojodeh in Parliament, Nairobi would take 569 jobs, Central 795 Rift Valley 1,814 and North-Eastern 419 jobs.

This is arrived at by dividing the region or county’s population by the national population, and multiplying by the 7,000 jobs.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Bill 2011 is also in violation of Section 250 of the Constitution as regards the composition of the commissioners.

The section stipulates unequivocally that appointments to constitutional commissions and independent offices “shall reflect regional and ethnic diversity of the people of Kenya”.

The Bill suggests that five commissioners be appointed now, and four others in a year’s time.

Which region will play second fiddle to the other? Not North-Eastern, please!

Mr Kerrow, a former Mandera Central MP, is a political economist.