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February 19, 2019

Uhuru and Mutunga's apology for torture, detentions and injustices was long overdue

President Uhuru Kenyatta delivers his State of the Nation address. Photo/PSCU
President Uhuru Kenyatta delivers his State of the Nation address. Photo/PSCU

President Uhuru did well to apologise to Kenyans for torture, detentions, assassinations and political violence by Presidents Kenyatta, Moi, Kibaki and Uhuru’s own regime.

This apology was very important to the history and governance of Kenya for two reasons.

First, for the first time, a Kenyan President had the courage and humility enough to accept wrongs done by past governments. In the past, when the government was accused of wrongdoing, the response was always a litany of denials, threats and intimidations. It was as if the country was ruled by infallible human gods who never made mistakes. And because wrongs were never acknowledged, they were never corrected and hence our current situation today.

Second, President Uhuru admitted past governments perpetrated unlawful detentions, assassinations and torture at a time of an ongoing controversy between Kenyans who are suing government for unlawful detentions and torture, and courts denying perpetration of unlawful detentions, torture and violation of rights on behalf of past regimes and emasculated judiciaries.

A day before President Uhuru’s apology, Chief Justice Willy Mutunga also made an apology to Kenyans on behalf of Kenyan courts who denied Kenyan dissidents and freedom fighters justice in flawed political trials whose judgements were dictated from above by Presidents. Though courts claim they have always functioned properly, it is because of their emasculation and subversion by Presidency that, since second liberation, they have been subjected to radical surgery, vetting and ongoing reforms to restore lost credibility.

Now that both President Uhuru and Chief Justice have admitted and apologised for detentions, torture, assassinations and injustices by past regimes and judiciaries, courts should admit that during the one-party dictatorship there was torture of detainees, political and ordinary prisoners to whom courts should reward more respectful awards that can hardly compensate for life and freedom lost.

But as if some judges lived on a different planet from other Kenyans, they unbelievably claim that except in Nyayo House torture chambers and Block G of Kamiti Prison, during one-party dictatorship that was infamous for its repression, Kenyans were never tortured except in those two places.

But if there was no torture in Kenyan detentions, prisons such as Kamiti, Manyani, Shimo La Tewa, Naivasha, Hola and Nakuru, police cells; and game reserves such as Nakuru National Park, what in detention and prison crippled Kenneth Matiba, smashed Raila’s ever tearing eye, put Martin Shikuku on clutches, ruined the health of Charles Rubia, Kariuki Kiboi, Simba Ongong’i Were, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and murdered JM Kariuki, Peter Karanja, Robert Ouko, Stephen Mbaraka Karanja, George Kamau and Titus Adungosi?

While some judges have been eagerly championing legality of detentions without trial and denying torture in detentions and prisons under one-party dictatorship, elsewhere in Rwanda and Israel, it is a crime to deny either genocide or the Holocaust.

Since detentions were not executed with the strictest observance of the law and constitution, they were neither legal nor lawful. When our lawyers were beaten outside courts and trial observers locked up in police cells, our legal rights were violated and justice denied.

Additionally, illegally detaining someone indefinitely was torture. Segregating detainees from other prisoners was torture. Isolating detainees indoors for 231/2 hours every day for years was torture that inflicted detainees with high blood pressure, heart diseases, incessant vomiting, migraines and strokes. Denying detainees and political prisoners medical treatment was torture. Feeding detainees with uncooked food laced with snails and spiders was torture. Attempted food poisoning was torture. Exposing detainees to mosquitoes and subsequently denying them treatment when sick is torture. Handcuffing detainees to soldiers in planes airborne was torture. Forcing ex-detainees into silence and exile with threats of death was torture. Denying detainees and political prisoners right to legal defence was torture. Denying a detainee visits from children was torture. Police beating JM Kariuki, Robert Ouko, Karimi Nduthu and others to a pulp before killing them was torture. Denying ex-detainees and political prisoners right to business, work and livelihood was torture. It was torture to deny me admission into hospital for treatment for internal bleeding.

As President Uhuru has set aside Sh10 billion for victims of election violence, the government should set aside more money for court awards. Many victims of torture and detention were ruined economically and can hardly now pay for their upkeep and medical expenses. After all, no amount of money can undo the pain suffered, and recover opportunities and life lost.

But will President Uhuru’s admission and apology for historical injustices provide closure to decades of ruin, assassinations, pain and tears?

The President’s apology cannot end the bitterness of those whose loved ones like JM Kariuki and Robert Ouko were tortured and killed without the truth of who tortured and killed them, perpetrator’s admission of crime, their expression of remorse, request for forgiveness and granting of forgiveness by the victims. Failure to secure the truth, remorse and forgiveness will not heal wounds from past oppression. The President’s apology is only a step in a long journey to reconciliation. But it will reassure people that there will be no more detentions, justice denied, torture and dictatorship however sanitised.

Lastly, we applaud Uhuru’s apology for myriad of wrongs by the government. It would, however, be much better if retired Presidents Moi and Kibaki could themselves apologise for the crimes of their own governments and seek forgiveness from their own victims. That would bring us closer to real reconciliation and unity.


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