Kiplagat’s alleged link to the Wagalla massacre clouded his tenure at TJRC

Amb Bethwel Kiplagat presents the TJRC report to President Uhuru Kenyatta

Kenya is mourning the demise a career diplomat who leaves a rich legacy in diplomacy circles and peace initiatives.

The 80-year old Amb Bethuel Kiplagat who breathed his last yesterday morning at the Nairobi hospital, was one of a kind.

With a rich resume in the public service spanning 13 years and active involvement in peace initiatives in the Horn of Africa and beyond, Kiplagat would later serve as the chairman of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).

However at the commission, human rights abuses in North Eastern, especially the Wagalla massacre in 1984, clouded his successful career.

His alleged role in the military crackdown in Wajir County that left hundreds dead and scores injured, almost denied him the chance to chair the TJRC whose focus was historical injustices between 2009 and 2013.

Kiplagat’s alleged link to past atrocities’ sparked off a court battle with human rights organisations and TJRC commissioners, who questioned his suitability to chair the team but he stayed put.

“I am a certain victim to some extent,” he said in his defense, in regards to the happenings when he was the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation.

When former President Kibaki picked Kiplagat to head TJRC in 2009, fellow commissioners, civil society groups, human rights activists and the public protested the move, forcing him to step down in November 2010.

He was later reinstated as chair after the then Justice Minister Eugene Wamalwa brokered a cease-fire between him and the other commissioners in 2012.

“Kiplagat stood by what he believed in. Though we had our differences, it never got personal. He remained professional and committed to his work,” said former TJRC Chief Executive Officer Patricia Nyaundi.

She added: “He used to speak to facts. He took strong positions on certain issues. He was his own man. Despite being named in the TJRC report, he owned the report.”

In August 2016, Kiplagat wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Keriako Tobiko to carry out fresh investigations into the matter after he was adversely named in the TJRC report.

Another former commissioner, Prof Tom Ojienda eulogised the late diplomat as a peace maker who offered sober solutions.

“He ensured that at all times since 2009 to 2013, we worked in unity. He was open to criticism when we shared different opinions. He had the strength of a diplomat,” recalled Ojienda.

“We faced internal wrangles from inception over his suitability to lead us, and he even resigned over the Wagalla massacre link. This took a toll on him, as it dented his image built over the years in public duty.”

Ojienda regretted that he was condemned without being heard as provided for in law.

“There was no open process to explain his direct role at that time. Every person is entitled to their response. He visited Wagalla shortly after the operation and this caused him all the problems that were raised,” he recounted.

Nevertheless, Ojienda admits that despite the hurdles, they worked together and produced a credible report.

Behind the scenes, Kiplagat faced hostility that saw his former vice chair Betty Murungi resign, accusing him of trying to expunge some names from the report.