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Time to confront ugly past for a just future

Friday February 14 2020

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Kenya’s history is replete with oppression, political assassinations, detentions without trial, miscarriage of justice, physical torture and raw exploitation. When the country burst into flames in 2007 after a bungled election, that was a symptom of deep atrocities perpetrated by successive administrations but which were never resolved.

Barely three years after independence, the government became highly divided due to irreconcilable ideological differences. Political assassinations started right in those early years with the extermination of populist firebrand politician Pio Gama Pinto. The height of it all was the daylight shooting of mercurial Cabinet Minister Tom Mboya in 1969 and later, JM Kariuki in 1975.

The Nation’s expose of Moi’s X-files that started Friday is just but the tip of the iceberg. Moi ruled for 24 solid years, having been Vice-President for 11 years, serving in key roles in an administration that perpetrated horrible human rights abuses.

Kenyans have gone through painful and reprehensible moments in the past 50-plus years. Regrettably, the country has not taken a step back to confront its ugly past. Efforts towards that are often massaged.

In 2008, the Grand Coalition government under President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga set up the Truth, Justice and Reconcilliation Commission (TJRC) whose objective was to investigate historical injustices, including massacres, extra-judicial killings and human rights violations. Ultimately, that was to lead to criminal justice, restorative and social justice; meaning some of the perpetuators ought to have faced consequences of their actions. Or if they were to be forgiven, they had to own up and seek pardon. However, the report was never implemented. Not to mention that there was outrage over its leadership given that the chairman, Bethwel Kiplagat, had been part of the repressive regime.

Moi’s X-files should be examined against the background that all Kenya’s leaders have badly exercised power.


Using the police to silence critics, plunder and pilferage of public resources, large-scale graft and skewed public appointments are latter-day versions of maladministration. Killings during elections perpetrated by State agencies complete the picture.

The country should re-examine itself and resolve never to go that route again. Retired President Moi has been buried but that dark history remains. Leaders must learn from such an indecent and inerasable legacy. Never again should citizens be killed, detained, jailed on false charges, tortured and maimed because of political differences. Never again should a community be pitted against another.