ICC promises justice but Kibunjia commission is the best bet for peace

Saturday April 9 2011



Head. Stone. Head. Stone. Severed head. Stone. Head. Stone. Strewn right across the road.

This was what former Nation reporter Michael Mugwang’a saw when he was dispatched to Naivasha to cover the outbreak of violence there at the end of January 2008.

The photos taken by photographer Tom Otieno were too gory to look at. The youths just outside the town had a simple method of enforcing their blockade. They would stop every matatu and demand that each passenger get out with his ID in hand.

Those from the ‘‘wrong’’ tribe were beheaded and their heads laid next to the stones that formed the roadblock. Of course, those pictures were deemed unpublishable in the Nation.

If they had been seen by the wider public, you get the sense that those opposed to the ICC process would have a rethink.

The photos came to mind last Thursday during a screening at the Alliance Française of a documentary on the 1994 genocide, In Rwanda we say… the family that doesn’t speak dies.

Gasps from audience

There were gasps from the audience each time one of the Rwandans talked about the crimes that were committed.

There was the convicted murderer, an overused toothpick hanging loosely from his lips, who casually showed the field where the lives of his neighbours came to an end.

This is where we brought Tutsis for killing. Every house had a patrol leader like me. This is our ground. We are used to walking on it. I feel good here, he said.

There was the mother talking about the loss of eight family members, taken by the “patrols” one night. Why wasn’t she killed, the documentary makers asked? Because they had not started killing women, she said.

Censored stories

Most of the Kenyans in the audience had no way of knowing that similar crimes were committed in many parts of their own country in January and February 2008. That was mainly because the media, sensibly, heavily censored the stories and images that were published.

The gravity of the crimes means it is right that someone should be brought to justice. But the ICC process will do very little to bring lasting peace to the country.

One of the panellists in the post-screening discussion was Dr Phil Clark from the School of Oriental and African Studies and author of The Gacaca Courts, Post-Genocide Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda: Justice without Lawyers.

Dr Clark, who has spent the last seven years doing research on the Gacaca system of community justice in Rwanda, warned that there is a danger in buying into the view of “human rights fundamentalists” that court processes alone could be the panacea to deep-seated inter-communal tensions.

Genuine grassroots reconciliation efforts, he said, were indispensable.

Hassan Omar, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights commissioner, made a persuasive defence of trials as a way of restraining future perpetrators and, quite rightly, said we should not have to wait until 800,000 Kenyans are dead before heading to The Hague.

That is true. But as the ICC process unfolds Kenyans must bear in mind that there is hardly an example that exists of a country that was made more peaceful or that saw its ethnic conflicts abate because of a process of trials of perpetrators.

Reconciliation efforts

There should be far greater attention paid to reconciliation efforts, to addressing the land question in Rift Valley and Coast provinces, to tackling youth unemployment and to having an open discussion on the ethnic rivalries and stereotypes that stand in the way of efforts to build a sense of nationhood.

That is a worthier investment than The Hague trials, important though they are.

Mzalendo Kibunjia’s question to the audience at the same forum was a pertinent one.

What good will it do the nation to pour billions into Vision 2030 if we cannot guarantee that the nation will not erupt in orgies of mass murder every few years?