Kenyan Foreign Minister Ouko murdered at State House says official report, calling for investigation of Biwott and Kiplagat

From the Nation, a blockbuster from Kenya’s parliament today:

A parliamentary report prepared five years ago sensationally claims former Foreign Affairs Minister Robert Ouko was killed at State House, Nakuru.

The report, prepared by a team of MPs led by former Kisumu Town East’s Gor Sunguh, says Dr Ouko was assassinated after he fell out with a powerful minister in the regime of retired President Moi during a tour of the United States.

The report was tabled in Parliament on Wednesday. It proposes that key personalities in retired President Moi’s government, who were involved in the disappearance and killing of Dr Ouko, be investigated.

The committee zeroes in on four individuals including Mr Nicholas Biwott, a former minister, for their role in the murder.

The report claims that Dr Ouko had already been sacked and his security detail withdrawn a week before he disappeared.

Dr Ouko is said to have fallen out with Mr Biwott, a powerful ally of Mr Moi, while on a tour of Washington with the former president.

The two were involved in a confrontation on the visit after Mr Biwott sarcastically referred to Dr Ouko as “Mr President”.

The report says that the committee received evidence to the effect that Mr Biwott and former Nyanza PC Julius Kobia were present as Dr Ouko was abducted by police and intelligence agents.

It further alleges that he was bundled into Mr Kobia’s car and driven to State House, Nakuru, where he was killed in the presence of Mr Biwott among others. His body was then dumped near his Koru home.

A herdsboy identified as Mr Shikuku discovered the body at the foot of Got Alila, on February 13 and the matter reported to the Provincial Administration.

However, the report says the government announced the “discovery” on February 16 — three days later — “allowing for the burning of the body and interference with the scene”.

The report says that the trip to Washington worsened relations between Dr Ouko and the former president and his attempts to see the latter over the issue were futile.

Dr Ouko finally secured an appointment with Mr Moi at State House in Nairobi on February 5, eight days before his disappearance.

“Dr Ouko visited State House and met the former president who gave him off-duty and directed him to rest at his Koru farm; apparently Dr Ouko had already been sacked,” says the report.

The report adds that Dr Ouko’s official car was withdrawn and returned to the ministry and his bodyguards were also recalled.

His passport had been withheld at the airport after the Washington trip, the report claims.

The Parliamentary Committee recommended that the government investigates the incidents and people at the ministry at the time, naming former PS Bethuel Kiplagat and a Mr Malacki Oddenyo.

Gee, just can’t imagine why Kiplagat was not the right person to head the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission . . . .

Why did this report sit for FIVE YEARS? Who knew about it?

Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission steps up; Kibaki reverts to form; TJRC fails

News from Kenya suggests that a fresh breeze has finally started to stir on the corruption front. Nairobi Mayor Majiwa was forced to resign in the wake of his arrest on corruption charges, after initially vowing to stay on duty.

“The Big Story” yesterday in the Daily Nation reveals that the Anti-Corruption Commission, the KACC, has begun new efforts to recover from overseas proceeds from the massive and notorious Anglo-Leasing and Goldenburg fraud schemes and probe additional ministries in current scandals. The Commission has written seeking formal assistance from the US, the UK and Switzerland. The Commission cleared away through a successful appeal a 2007 court ruling that it did not have authority to seek such foreign cooperation, with the Court of Appeals finding the argument that persuaded the lower court to be “idle”. Today, we have the detail that PLO Lumumba, KACC head, says that they are investigating four ministers and at least 45 heads of parastatals.

Nonetheless, President Kibaki appointed George Saitoti, his minister of Internal Security since January 8, 2008 during the post-election violence and a longtime insider, to the additional portfolio of Interim Foreign Minister. As I have noted previously, Saitoti was implicated by human rights groups in Moi-era election violence. He previously stepped aside as Education Minister as suspect in Goldenberg investigations, although the High Court ruled that he should not be prosecuted and he was reinstated. The BBC said at the time:

The court rejected the conclusions of an earlier commission of inquiry that recommended Mr Saitoti’s prosecution over the so-called Goldenberg affair.

The $1bn scam in the 1990s involved government payments to a company for non-existent gold and diamond exports.

Mr Saitoti was serving at the time as finance minister and vice-president.

The court ruled that Mr Saitoti had been acting according to procedure when he approved a payment to the firm Goldenberg International.

The court also noted the attorney-general had cleared Mr Saitoti of wrongdoing in a statement that he issued in parliament more than a decade ago.

“Today marks my happiest day in the last 16 years because during that period I have gone through much pain and suffering,” Mr Saitoti said after the judgement.

Both Mr Saitoti and former President Daniel arap Moi, in whose administration he served, have denied any knowledge of the scam.

For further perspective on the status of corruption and the middle class in Kenya, I highly recommend John Githongo’s inaugural post today on his “The State of Hope” blog: “Colonial Spoils Recycled as New Money”.

In this context, a crucial part of the 2008 settlement and “Reform Agenda”, the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission, has completely derailed over the continued clinging to power of Ambassador Bethwel Kiplagat. The American member loudly resigned, neither Parliament nor foreign donors will pay to operate the Commission, and the public obviously has expressed no confidence.

Saturday Nation: Kiplagat and Ranneberger go for “Softer” Sell of TJRC Chairmanship

The Truth Justice and Reconciliation commission chairman Bethwel Kiplagat (left) with US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger during a youth forum on Agenda Four on March 5, 2010. Photo/JENNIFER MUIRURI

By SATURDAY NATION ReporterPosted Friday, March 5 2010 at 22:30

Embattled Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission chairman Bethuel Kiplagat on Friday softened his stance, saying he would seek forgiveness from Kenyans if proven guilty of any wrongdoing in the past.

“If I made a mistake, then I will ask for forgiveness but it is important that we stop wasting time on enmity and build an atmosphere of truth, justice and reconciliation,” Mr Kiplagat said at a Kenya Youth Development Trust conference.

Mr Kiplagat said his experience in diplomacy and reconciliation work in Sudan, Mozambique and other war-torn countries compelled him to apply for the TJRC job and Kenyans should help him to take forward the work.

Warmed up

US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger warmed up to Mr Kiplagat, saying he had had an outstanding career and was among the first Kenyans to help seek ways to end the post-elections violence in 2008. “I wish you well,” Mr Ranneberger said.

Mr Kiplagat and Mr Ranneberger concurred that the post-election violence was caused by tribal bitterness and intrigues where the youth were used as foot soldiers by politicians who later dumped them when their interests were accomplished.

Executive director of the Committee of Experts drafting the new constitution, Dr Ekuro Aukot told youths:

“Are you being driven in GK Passats now, or is traffic being stopped for you to pass? Why allow yourselves to be used by these politicians?” he queried.

Again, it seems clear to me that the diplomatic role of facilitating negotiations between warring foreign parties is something entirely different than acting as a Kenyan to lead the TJRC. Kiplagat was without dispute a key Moi insider–period–regardless of whether he is personally guilty of specific acts, for which he now graciously offers to apologize if proven guilty (by whom?). Moi ran the country from 1978 to 2003; he reportedly stole perhaps $1B and otherwise distributed the wealth of the public for his private purposes; he acted in all sorts of extralegal manners to repress legitmate opposition, including the use of torture, etc. Moi eventually stepped aside as President under constitutional term limits, but kept all the money and a substantial role for himself and his cronies in key areas of the economy and politics.

What is the purpose of a TJRC process if not in substantial part to examine the conduct and consequences of the Moi rule?

You would have to be pretty naive to believe that many of the current crop of Kenyan political leaders–MPs, President Kibaki, etc.–really want much light shed or justice done. Thus, the process will of course be subject to powerful efforts to subvert and divert it, so that it poses no real threat to the status quo. As with other commissions in the past.

As for what side of this Ranneberger is on, I would suggest he has a track record that is worth taking a look at.

More on Ambassador Kiplagat and Kenyan TJRC

It seems to me clear that for a Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission to expose truth, bring justice and reconcile Kenyans, it has to inspire broad confidence and trust from the Kenyan people. In this regard, I have to say that it seems obvious to me that there are serious and legitimate concerns about whether former Ambassador and Moi foreign ministry official Bethwel Kiplagat is well suited right now to be fully objective–and that these concerns in and of themselves are sufficient to make the need for change manifest.

It is not to suggest that Kiplagat is guilty of any specific individual wrongdoing–that would be for others to decide upon serious and fair factual inquiry–nor to disparage his accomplishments in foreign diplomacy. Rather, it is that he was in fact a key insider in the system that hid the truth, brought injustice and brought about the need for reconciliation. He presents himself as one who essentially supported change from the inside–perhaps this is so, but this doesn’t make him a neutral and objective person to stand above the fray now.

Daniel Waweru of KenyaImagine has put it well:

The Chair of the TJRC isn’t a position to which Amb. Kiplagat is entitled; rather, it’s a privilege contingent on his suitability for the task. One element of that suitability is the absence of a conflict of interest. Amb. Kiplagat has multiple obvious and pertinent conflicts of interest: he was named in reports which will form part of the deliberations of the commission which he chairs. His ability to handle the commission’s affairs impartially is reasonably called into question. He’s therefore unsuitable for the job until he can show that these conflicts of interest are only apparent.

An important part of the context to always remember here is that the TJRC has been kicked off by the Grand Coalition without having passed a local tribunal bill to prosecute the immediate issues involved in the most recent post-election violence, and without having actually committed the government to making reference to the International Criminal Court in the event that the ICC should decide to authorize an investigation. Two years having passed since the deal creating the Grand Coalition, there is a very real concern that key players are seeking to use the TJRC as a way to avoid actual prosecutions for recent crimes.

This is an issue for Kenyans to decide, but I think Bishop Tutu and his group of others experienced in the TJRC role are the wisest of outside voices.

Ranneberger speaks out to defend Kiplagat–Why? (Updated)

Civil society leaders have been truly thrilled with the news that Bishop Tutu and 9 other former Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission leaders have called for Ambassador Bethwel Kiplagat to step aside from his recent controversial appointment to such a role in Kenya by President Kibaki.

Now US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger is quoted as having stepped in to support the Kiplagat appointment. From the story entitled “Why Tutu and team told Kiplagat to resign” :

speaking to The Standard in Nairobi yesterday, Mr Ranneberger said Kiplagat was internationally recognised and capable of steering healing and reconciliation in Kenya.

His support comes at a time TJRC is expected to appear before the Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs today, to discuss the calls for Kiplagat’s resignation.

Ranneberger cites Kiplagat’s role as in international negotiator. But Ranneberger instigated Kibaki’s appointment of Moi as envoy to Sudan back in mid-07. By this logic, why not appoint Moi to the TJRC?

The qualifications involved in the international diplomatic roles filled by Kiplagat in the past are simply different than what is called for in the TJRC position for a Kenyan today. The parties in foreign disputes who were dealing with Kiplagat didn’t care about his past dealings within Kenya as a member of the Moi government–Kenyans today care very much.

We have already seen the Kreigler Commission (the IREC) stop short of doing its job–if the TJRC is “the Kiplagat Commission” it will simply not be what is needed, and risks being like those other previous reports raising concerns about Kiplagat himself that did stop his appointment now. He is being reckless and irresponsible, in my estimation, by hanging on to this appointment when it is clear that he does not have the level of public confidence that is necessary.

It is very disappointing to see the Ambassador cutting at the feet of Kenyan Civil Society once again.

A good BBC World Service report explains the issues with Kiplagat and the fact that the matter may be in Kibaki’s hands.