Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission vice-chairperson Betty Murungi resigned on Monday because she could not continue holding the position after publicly asking her embattled boss to step aside.
Ms Murungi and one of the foreign commissioners, Prof Ronald Slye, were quoted in the media last week asking Mr Bethuel Kiplagat to quit so that the commission could continue with its work.
Mr Kiplagat has been under pressure to resign because of his high profile position in the Moi regime whose actions may form part of the committee’s work. He served as High Commissioner to the UK and permanent secretary in the ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In a letter addressed to Mr Kiplagat and fellow commissioners, Ms Murungi stated that she was unable to continue serving as vice-chairperson, given the public pronouncements she had made regarding her boss.
Ms Murungi, who is out of the country, asked TJRC to elect a new vice-chair, but stated she would continue to serve “in my role as commissioner until we have resolved or concluded our internal processes regarding these matters.”
A statement sent to the media by TJRC communications consultant Kathleen Openda-Mvati quoted Ms Patricia Nyaundi, the commission’s chief executive officer and secretary, saying that it would await Ms Murungi’s return to discuss the crisis and elect her replacement later in the week.
She also said no other commissioner was contemplating resigning.
The new TJRC vice-chairperson can only be elected by fellow commissioners.
According to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Act, Mr Kiplagat will be required to call a meeting of commissioners to elect the new vice-chair.
Only a woman qualifies to be elected because the law states that the TJRC chairperson and vice-chairperson shall be of opposite gender.
However, the commission will continue discharging its mandate despite the absence of a vice-chairperson.
Justice minister Mutula Kilonzo said his role in the appointment of a new vice-chairperson was minimal.
“All that has happened is that a vacancy has been created, which has to be filled in accordance with the Act.
“Whereas it is her right and privilege to resign, I’m personally disappointed at her resignation; it is giving Agenda 4 a bad image,” he added.
Sports assistant minister Kabando wa Kabando welcomed the resignation terming it a bold move.
“Her resignation has sent a strong message that impunity must end. This move also signifies that TJRC has lost credibility and that is why the new constitution must pass,” he added.
The International Centre for Policy and Conflict (ICPC) also welcomed Ms Murungi’s resignation and appealed to the remaining commissioners to follow suit, to put pressure on Mr Kiplagat to leave office.
“Kiplagat’s continued stay at the commission is not only delaying its work, but also confirming that the government is not committed to the truth cause,” said ICPC deputy director Paul Mwaura Wanderi in a statement.
Mr Kiplagat has resisted pressure, including from 10 former chairmen of truth commissions around the world led by South Africa’s Desmond Tutu, to step aside.
They cited two local commissions of inquiry they said had raised serious questions on Mr Kiplagat’s involvement in the injustices.
They referred to the report of the Commission of Inquiry into Illegal and Irregular Allocation of Public Land released in 2004 and that of the Parliamentary Select Committee of Inquiry into the murder of former Foreign Affairs minister Robert Ouko.
However, a former Anglican archbishop David Gitari has defended the chairman, vouching for his integrity.
The parliamentary committee chaired by former Kisumu Town East MP Gor Sungu had concluded that he was untruthful. Mr Kiplagat was Dr Ouko’s permanent secretary when the minister was killed in February 1990.
He was accused of complicity in the 1984 Wagalla massacre.
He has been accused of attending a security meeting that authorised a disarmament that led to the massacre.
Hundreds of people were herded onto the airstrip where they were tortured, starved to death, or shot dead by security forces.
Mr Kiplagat has vigorously denied the claims, insisting that he never attended a meeting where the massacre was planned.
He has moved to court in a bid to clear his name.
Speaking in Nairobi last week, chief mediator Kofi Annan asked President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to find a solution to the problems facing TJRC to ensure it got on with its task.
Mr Annan met Mr Kiplagat during his visit but it was not clear what they discussed.
Ms Murungi, a civil rights activist, has 23 years experience in the practice of law at the national, regional and international levels.
Additional reporting by Jeff Otieno
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