Dr Bethuel Kiplagat could go down in history for having the distinction of being both the chairman of a commission and one of the people adversely mentioned in the commission’s final report.
The very mandate of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) put its chairman on a collision course with rights activists, who demanded that he resigns from the position soon after President Kibaki appointed him in 2009.
Matters came to a head when some of the commissioners proposed that a tribunal be set up to hear complaints against their chairman.
Among those who had called on Dr Kiplagat to quit were his deputy, Ms Betty Murungi, and Commissioner Ronald Slye. This caused a rift in the commission that reduced its standing in public. The two later resigned.
Those who opposed his appointment argued that they had information linking him to the Wagalla Massacre of February 1984 in which hundreds were killed in Wajir, while others were tortured in a security crackdown.
Questions were also asked about Dr Kiplagat’s role in the 1990 death of Foreign Minister Robert Ouko, and his acquisition of government land while serving in the Moi administration.
And now in its report, the truth commission has recommended that the Land Commission carry out further investigations into Dr Kiplagat’s acquisition of land in Liyavo Farm, Kitale.
When the allegations were levelled against him, Dr Kiplagat protested his innocence, insisting that he, too, deserved justice and had a right to be heard. He declined to step aside despite pressure.
At the time of the Wagalla Massacre, Mr Kiplagat was a member of the Kenya Intelligence Committee by virtue of being a permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“The Kenya Intelligence Committee of the 1980s was described as an intelligence gathering body by James Stanley Mathenge, the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President in charge of Internal Security and Provincial Administration at the time,” the report says.
“The rest of the committee consisted of a small and fairly select group of people: permanent secretaries drawn from the ministries of Information, Foreign Affairs, Defence, Home Affairs, and the Director of Intelligence, the Commissioner of Police and the officer in charge of Intelligence in the Army.
In February 1984 the persons occupying those posts were Mr Gituma, Dr Bethuel Kiplagat, Mr Muliro, David Mwiraria, Mr James Kanyotu, Mr Bernard Njinu and Brigadier (later General) Joseph Raymond Kibwana, respectively.”
One of the witnesses who gave evidence before the commission was Mohammed Ibrahim Elmi, a doctor at the time of the massacre, but later became the minister for Northern Kenya and Asal Development.
He said: “On Saturday, 11 February, 1984, the operation continued. It was particularly bad in Bulla Jogoo in Wajir town, where all non-permanent houses called herios belonging to the Degodia were burnt down.
“That was when women were raped. I distinctly remember that a disabled person was burnt in one of those houses. My colleague at TB Manyatta Dispensary, Sister Annalena Tonelli, went to remove the body for burial on Sunday morning.”
Mr Elmi broke down in tears as he recounted the horrors he witnessed.
Another witness who gave her testimony in camera, said of the massacre: “No woman was spared. They did not care whether some were pregnant. They did not care when some women told them they were about to give birth. They did not care that some women were old. Every soldier came. They were so many soldiers. They were uncountable.
“There were no prostitutes those days, so these men were sexually starved. By then, I was nine months pregnant. They raped me again and again until my unborn child came out. Twenty women who were raped died. I saw them with my own eyes.”
In its report, the truth team says that lack of involvement, detachment and distance were the overriding themes of the evidence received from the former Kenya Intelligence Committee, including Mr Kiplagat. They all said they had toured the area to inspect development projects.
But “the documents made available to the commission, including those by some of those testifying, painted a much more complex picture of the purpose of the intelligence committee’s tour of the area”.