Forgiveness is personal, you don’t force it out of victims

Wednesday March 18 2020

You may have come across a recent online video that went viral featuring one of the late President Daniel arap Moi’s cronies, Fred Gumo. He is berating Nakuru politician Koigi Wamwere for vowing never to forgive Moi for the great suffering he caused him through many years of detention.

Gumo gets very indignant, in that silly manner Nyayo sycophants used to affect, wondering how Koigi would have the impudence to speak ill of a man Gumo describes as a benefactor.

According to Gumo, Moi gifted the “thankless” Koigi with 50 acres of land, a car, and also paid for the education of one of his sons in Kabarak school. For the record, Koigi denied through a tweet ever receiving those gifts and also pointed out that none of his children could have been educated by Moi as they grew up in Norway where the family was in exile. I won’t presume to know who between Gumo and Koigi was speaking the truth. Either way, the exchange was incidental to the larger question of when one should forgive – or whether one should do so at all.

Holy Scripture exhorts on the importance of forgiveness. Indeed it is a great virtue. Yet, for it to be genuine, it can’t just come out of the blue. It is a journey. A conscious and deliberate one that starts and ends somewhere. It is not open-ended. At its best, forgiveness is reciprocal. It should be a two-way street where both parties – the guilty and the wronged – reach an understanding. The offender admits to his offence, says sorry, and the victim forgives him. It has repeatedly been said that in one of Moi’s final speeches as President, he spoke of having forgiven all those who had wronged him and, by the same token, asked those he had wronged to forgive him too. That is a good start. However the process should not end at just a casual, verbal expression of regret. That’s not what the New Testament meant it to be. Forgiveness must be set on a foundation of Truth. It should only come after a clear acknowledgement of guilt by the wrongdoer.

Any apology, for it to be meaningful, must be specific. It must reflect sincere remorse. One can go further: about restitution being a component of forgiveness, and about justice preceding reconciliation. Only after that can true healing occur. For instance, a fellow who has violently evicted me from my piece of land and makes me an IDP would be crazy to expect forgiveness from me while he continues to occupy my land illegally, and doesn’t even sound repentant. That would be fake forgiveness, which is what we see extracted at political rallies. When Moi spoke about forgiveness, he should have taken the next step of seeking amends with those he tormented, commencing at least with symbolic moves. A good beginning should have been instituting a Truth and Reconciliation panel to delve into the wrongs of his regime. He didn’t have to leave it to his successors, who don’t seem particularly keen on getting to the bottom of past impunity anyway.

I don’t think it’s Gumo’s right, or anybody’s, to judge Koigi. Sometimes forgiveness is an overrated virtue. Those who went through the horror of the Nyayo House torture dungeons have a harrowing tale to tell. It’s impossible and even exceedingly callous to wish it away. Forgiveness is a choice. It is personal. It shouldn’t be forced from a victim. Those who feel they are not ready to offer it should not be condemned for their decision. It is only them who know what they underwent. And only they have the right to signal the necessary closure.


Koigi’s stance is being contrasted with that of Raila Odinga, who also endured many years of detention under Moi. During the former President’s funeral, he announced that he had let bygones be bygones when he met Moi privately in 2018. Predictably, the usual activists have chosen to fiercely criticise that decision. They shouldn’t. Just as in Koigi’s case, individual choices must be respected. Each person has a motive for why he wants to forgive – or not to. Each victim’s experience is different. It has been said that Raila’s motives are entirely for political gain. If so, so be it. It’s all up to his conscience. The activists need not waste their time on Twitter wanting to dictate what Raila’s principles should be or what path his political life should follow.

The forgiveness cult goes back to Jomo Kenyatta after he left detention in 1961. It became the easy way out to condone, and even excuse, injustices that had been committed before. Ever since, a self-perpetuating culture has developed in this country where we prefer to close our eyes to evil deeds colleagues commit. We cite the need for unity, peace and what have you. It is a cowardly posture.

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