The discussions were opened by Dr. Elias Opongo, the director of CRTP who recognized the presence of the guest presenter – Professor Tim Muriithi from the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation – Cape Town, faculty members including the HIPSIR dean – Dr. Elisee Rutagambwa and former dean – Dr. Kifle Wansamo, colleagues from Civil Society Organizations, Government institutions and all participants present in person and online. The discussions took place at Hekima Institute on Peace Studies and International Relations’ (HIPSIR) auditorium on 15th October, 2021.
In his presentation, Dr. Opongo focused on “The situation in Kenya with some resonance of what is happening within Africa.” To lay the context, he highlighted some of the positive advancements within the African continent especially democratic progress such as constitutional changes, conflict resolution, mechanisms put in place and efforts of the African Union. The levels of peacefulness observed is also encouraging with statistics on the African continent indicating that conflicts have gone down from 20 – 25 in the 1990s to about 8 – 9 conflicts. Unfortunately when one finishes another one emerges as is the case in Ethiopia. In 2019, the continent recorded a 3.4% increase in GDP and 3.9% in 2020 but with the COVID – 19 it has been difficult. The demonstrations witnessed across the continent in countries such as Togo, Mali, Burundi and Kenya indicate the consciousness among the population that want the governance system to be more inclusive and accountability in leadership. Unfortunately some of the demonstrations ended up in coup d’états for example in Mali and Guinea. A number of presidential elections took place across the continent as well. While some were peaceful this was not the case for others, such as Uganda’s elections in February 2021 where it is recorded that to date 200 people are still missing. Benin’s elections were deemed controversial while the situation in Chad still remained uncertain after the death of the president in the battle field. There were however success stories such as Zambia’s elections where the opposition leader won the elections against the incumbent. A look at Kenya shows that elections were and are still marked by regional politics, ethnicized identity, marginalization and economic disparities. Additionally, tribal kingship still continues to date as Kenyans vote according to their regional ethnic identities. In his conclusion, Dr. Opongo pointed out that elections in Africa have become competitive with the deliberate exclusion of certain parts of the population or resort to violence and the use of militia to intimidate and win elections as was the case in Burundi. In support of this, he underlined three theories of political violence including the volition theory, misconception – interpretation theory and the political process theory.
The guest presenter, Professor Tim Muriithi, focused on “The link between Transitional Justice and elections.” He began by highlighting the adoption of the African Union Transitional Justice Policy in February 2019 which outlines a broad range of interventions on transitional justice, peace building, reconciliation and social cohesion to address the key challenges that are there in African countries. He opined that the term transitional justice remains largely a misunderstood term and the adoption of the document gives us a good framework to get a better understanding of what transitional justice is. It outlines the key primary functions of transitional justice which is to address grievances of past violence, by recovering the truth of what happened. There are multiple dimensions of justice; retributive justice, punitive justice which uses the criminal justice procedures (courts and rulings), restorative justice processes which utilizes more interrogative interventions which enable people to come to the truth of what happened (perpetrator – victim reconciliation).
The Truth Justice and Reconciliation process and report is a model that fits within that category of justice. Another dimension of transitional justice is the socio – economic redistribution. Authoritarianism and dictatorship often lead to economic suppression, exclusion, marginalization and high levels of poverty which contribute to the number high economic crimes in Kenya. In order to build an inclusive, peaceful and democratic society, we have to address the extreme levels of marginalization that exist and that is the function of transitional justice. The other dimension of transitional justice is institutional reforms – those that were used to violate the rights of the people. Transitional Justice is important to Africa because of the high levels of violence that we have across the continent. A number of countries like Burundi, Mauritius, Rwanda and even Kenya have their own transitional justice processes though some of these countries have attempted but have not necessarily succeeded in putting in place transitional justice frameworks at the national level to drive their individual country processes.
As we all know elections have become very competitive in Africa including Kenya as incumbents seek to entrench their rules in changing constitutions, manipulating constitutions, intimidating their opponents, using excessive police force and in some cases assassinating dissenting voices. We have deep ethnic cleavages in our countries which can be manipulated by incumbents to mobilize unsuspecting masses to supporting them which has some serious consequences for the socio – political stability of any country.
In many African countries, we see a lot of violence during, after and even before elections which is a regrettable norm than an expected one. There is therefore need to interrogate not only how elections fuel violence but also how transitional justice can contribute to addressing the societal divisions and ethnic cleavages that exist in societies so that they don’t become a factor in the elections. Electoral violence is mainly attributed to the desire to control power, amass wealth, finance militia groups, to protect electoral candidates and to intimidate opponents. If we do not address the historical grievances, they can be manipulated to stir resentment and to perpetrate violence against the opponents and thus set ourselves up for recurring violence. There is therefore a link between transitional justice and electoral processes which can contribute to the objectives of transitional justice on electoral processes that are transparent, accountable and fair.
So how do we prevent prospective outbreak of violence if things don’t go the way one would hope to in the 2022 elections coming up in Kenya? In terms of the Kenyan elections, Kenya has a geographical space identified by multiple contestations even in the pre – colonial era such as those between pastoralists and agrarian communities over land. It has also been a land of multiple suppressions. The findings and recommendations of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission point to pathways to begin addressing these ills and while there are some interventions being driven by non-state actors, they cannot do a nation-wide intervention – the breadth and scope needed in transitional justice. Kenya remains a deeply wounded nation and ethnic manipulation is very active particularly during the period of election fever. The sensationalization of the hustler – dynasty discussion is thus a distractive narrative. In conclusion Professor Muriithi called on non-state actors to raise questions and most importantly to hold the government accountable in its’ obligation of implementing the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission report.