Alternative Justice Systems, Tribal ‘gods’ and Reconciliation

Advocacy Statements / ArticlesOctober 9, 20150 CommentsKituo Cha Sheria


In the Kenya today, it is no longer surprising to wake up to non-issue headlines. Not about public and private land management, not about the suffering of those languishing in guilt over their actions. Just about three to four individuals – maybe specialized propagandists seeking individual fame or power, or on another level, agents of their masters. Surprisingly, majority of these masters or agents do not have interests of the society nor their tribes at heart – despite shouting from their tribal cocoons!

Whereas there is a shift in focus to the fame and well-being of a countable few, many Kenyans who may be suffering still continue to rot.

There is a forgotten category of Kenyans that is worth mentioning. A category that “Our Community” and tribal gods would rather if they’d shut their mouths to the end of time. Those who know have wronged their neighbours in the past; languishing in guilt. The category that sees their neighbours in suffering – for their deeds and for a few individuals’ interests – and it pains them. They seriously want to reconcile with the neighbours, but lack a forum. They are scared of the uncertainty.

Who is talking about them? We are better off minding our businesses, and those of our tribal gods as fanatics in a frenzy.


Should we be true to reconciliation and healing from our pasts, we are likely to find solutions to narratives that go like this:

“………I did a lot of things. I participated in causing physical injury to a person I know. I do not think he knows I did injure him. It was at night, I was in a group of people.

I also took people’s property. I never thought they would come back again.

I have only disclosed these two. I did a lot of things.”

“One of the persons I injured was and is still my neighbour. I see him and his scars on a daily basis. It hurts me when I see him – knowing that I am the one who injured him. I want to seek his forgiveness but I lack a forum. I have no idea of the reaction I’ll get in turn. I am fearful of the consequences.”

I draw this fear from experience. This person I took iron sheets-a roof off his head- and household goods from when he was displaced. I put a roof over my head; a house redone. When he returned, his suffering hurt me; I could not bear with it a second longer. I climbed up the roof of my house, removed the iron sheets and approached him. I wanted to return his property. He couldn’t take them back. The reaction unexpected, a neighbour not interested.

He went ahead to tell other people, on my confession. Additional guilt and pain onto me, forever with this fear of further confessions of my misdeeds. I’m fearful my actions will never be forgiven by my victims-neighbours I live with. But I want to confess and seek forgiveness. I need a forum.

I do not want to be taken to court, but I want to confess. I have lost a lot of weight and I am not comfortable with this.

There are many of my friends we were together with in displacing people in our area. Some of them, like me, want to confess. I know three of them who want to confess. When we meet and talk, we feel sorry for what we did-remorseful, seeking healing.

“My wife was not happy for what I was doing. She was against it. She was not happy of the property I was bringing home. She walked out of marriage because of this. I have wanted her to come back. She told me she would not come back till I returned all that I had taken – that which was not mine. I desperately want her back. This also motivates me to return all things that I took….”

Whereas the Kenyan society should focus on finding solutions for such and many other problems, we are busy shielding one or two of “our own.” Yet thousands and even millions of “our own” are left to their devices.

The few that stand out in the light of reconciliation and integration are shunned by their own. They live in fear. They are threatened. Yet, to speak out is their desire.

What would be said of this?

A neighbour takes another’s property during an ethnic/political conflict. Later on, he comes to his senses and realizes that what he did was wrong. He informs elders and peace stakeholders that he wants to return the property and seeks to reconcile with his/her neighbour. The elders from his community summon him/her and tells this person that he is betraying the community.

Or still, one chops off the hand of another. The survivor and the perpetrator know each other and have a recollection of these events. They remain neighbours. The survivor remains willing to forgive the perpetrator. All that the survivor seeks is just the performance of a ritual – slaughter a sheep, share a meal as neighbours and consider this phase behind us- a sign of forgiveness. The intention of such a process is shared with elders. But what next, the elders summon the perpetrator and accuse him of betraying the community.

Some of these strong hearts, having been denied an opportunity to reconcile with their guilt and their survivors, end up as far as getting suicidal. Just because “our community” is in denial of these strong hearted men and women’s deeds; no space for healing.

“Our Community…”

“Our community” is the phrase a few people with personal interests have made their subjects and slaves to memorialize and misuse. The phrase makes, the learned, illiterate, wise, fools, poor, rich, sane and even the insane at bar-equals in this madness. It is difficult to differentiate our people when they retreat to their tribal holes-a tragedy of our time!

If “our community” is not in tandem with national values, tribal gods should be left to amuse themselves, go to their families, realize they are on their own and come back to their subjects in proper senses.

Take your time – with an open mind – and watch “Unfinished Business.” Take your time and go through images in “The Price of Tribal Politics.” You may realize that you are on your own – your rent, electricity, medical, food, et cetera bills, and the reconstruction of our society’s fiber are but your responsibility. Unless they are a project of common utility – where again it is a duty resulting from your responsibility!

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) bear the mandate of promoting national unity in Kenya. One of the Commission’s strategic pillars is Reconciliation and Integration. This pillar appreciates that; ‘conflicts are a part of humanity.’ This is a fact that we all must appreciate, collectively.

Also among the Commission’s strategic objectives is to ‘create and effectively coordinate collaborative structures that address reconciliation and integration in Kenya.’

The mere look at this duty of implementation creates an almost foolish feeling that the commission is doing less to facilitate processes that enhance capacities of Kenyans to accept each other irrespective of our diversities.

However, the urge of a majority is to be ‘entertained’ by the Commission’s dealing with propagandist utterances and theatrics of the few tribal gods and their agents.

Breathe for this.

What can the Commission do when few tribal gods and their agents – who have a near religious and blind following – resist with authority?

Would it be safe to say that communities are in denial of their fellow members’ deeds because of face saving? Or, are communities perceiving conflict resolution initiatives led by outsiders as intrusive and unresponsive to indigenous concepts of justice?

The Cohesion Commission and other relevant institutions would be more useful if Kenyans elect to support them in facilitating structures that promote a more meaningful use of the term “Our Community”.

Before the introduction of adversarial structures of dealing with conflicts there existed indigenous mechanisms of not only resolving but also transforming conflicts. This culture has been negated over time. It is either we have, over time, hated being ourselves.

These structures, whether through elders or committees of them, should be revived because they had a number of important aspects. The law was inseparable from customs, taboos and expectations of communities. These structures aimed at preserving relationships by elders striking conciliatory and therapeutic decisions. They created safe spaces for parties to re-examine themselves – than blaming Satan wrongdoers’ deeds. Because they were community led, they were sensitive to local needs and were a breast of contexts in which conflicts arose. They were less costly. They were more of an educative process.

It is an opinion that as the Judiciary (in its 2012 – 2016 transformation framework) strategizes to promote and facilitate alternative forms of dispute resolution, it should collaborate with other institutions including the National Cohesion and Integration Commission to explore into these indigenous structures.

Otherwise, there is no true healing and genuine reconciliation when we run away from time bombs. When communities are in denial of their members’ wrong deeds, when accountability mechanisms do not see the light of the day, when we hate our cultures, when we lack appreciation for diversity, when we threaten and eliminate those who stand for the better of a united nation, when we blindly and foolishly ‘worship’ tribal gods.


Mwebi Jodom

Asst. Program Officer & Local Expert

Peace Justice and Reconciliation Project

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