NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Three foreign members of a commission looking into historical injustices in Kenya have said the president’s office censored a report to exclude references to irregular land seizures.
The commissioners said the Office of the President put pressure on the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) to delete paragraphs from its May report in which witnesses testified that Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta irregularly gave out public land to his family, friends and ethnic group. Current President Uhuru Kenyatta is the son of the country’s founding leader.
“We could not in good conscience agree to the removal of these voices, particularly when such removal was so clearly motivated by political pressure from high government officials,” commissioners Ron Slye of the United States, Berhanu Dinka of Ethiopia and Gertrude Chawatama of Zambia said in a statement published on Sunday.
As a result of this pressure, changes were made irregularly to the approved and signed report, which was published on May 21, after the end of the commission’s operational period, the foreign commissioners said. The dissenting commissioners’ opinion was also excluded, contrary to agreed procedure that it should be printed with the main report.
“The political pressure that was brought to bear ostensibly to protect the reputation of the first President will probably have the opposite effect of tarnishing that legacy,” the statement added.
The commissioners said they do not know whether the current president was aware of the actions of officials in his office.
The TJRC report detailed political assassinations, human rights violations, corruption and other historical abuses in Kenya between independence in 1963 and 2008, when the commission was set up following post-election violence that killed 1,200 people.
LEAKED TO STATE HOUSE
Land was one of the drivers of conflict during 2007/08 and of other conflicts that Kenya has experienced since 1963.
The commissioners said a copy of the chapter on land from its report “appears to have been leaked to individuals with ties to State House [the president’s official residence]” while the document was waiting to be printed.
The Office of the President then insisted on being given an advance copy of the entire report so that President Uhuru Kenyatta could familiarise himself with its contents before officially receiving it.
Soon after, several Kenyan commissioners began arguing for major revisions to the land chapter.
“A number of Commissioners, including at least one of the international Commissioners, received phone calls from a senior official in the Office of the President suggesting various changes to the land chapter,” the statement said.
The deleted material mainly details allegations of land grabbing by Jomo Kenyatta.
For example, one paragraph says Kenyatta gave his son a wedding gift in 1976 of “a large tract of government land which was, apparently, acquired without official approval and without compliance with legal procedures”.
Another paragraph says Kenyatta “unlawfully alienated to himself 250 acres” of trust land on the coast that was supposed to be held by the government in trust for the people.
“Irregularly, President Kenyatta took all of Tiwi and Diani trust lands at the expense of local people who immediately became ‘squatters’ on the land and were subsequently evicted, rendering them landless and poor,” it said.
Tiwi and Diani are prime holiday destinations on Kenya’s coast where international hotels line the beachfront. This land currently sells at 15 million Kenyan shillings ($176,000) per acre, the report said.
Also deleted was a warning that such land disputes “should be carefully addressed to avert the possibility of more secessionist movements” – referring to the Mombasa Republic Council on the coast, which wants independence from Kenya.
Campaigners have cast doubt on any action being taken in response to the alleged censorship of the report, given that President Kenyatta’s father is named as one of the main culprits in the irregular land seizures.