Ignored by State at Home, Feted by the World Abroad

Category: Articles , No Comments

By L. Muthoni Wanyeki

Enough has been said about what the national honours given out on Jamhouri Day were meant to signify. The state has lost sight of the purpose that such honours are meant to serve.

To remind us of the value of living up to and advancing the best part of ourselves. To record for the historical record those who’ve had the courage and integrity to do so. And, in so doing, to contribute to the on-going process of creating history.

For it is no longer true that history is only written by the winners. History is also increasingly contested. With the ‘losers’ increasingly inserting themselves into the story. The complex, multifaceted and true story of the many actors and organisations that led to our independence, for example. The equally complex, multifaceted and true story of the many actors and organisations that brought us our second liberation—symbolised by the achievement, in the end, of our Constitution of 2010.

Not to mention the pain of those whose stories were captured in the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. Which, although still unrealised, was the product of the many Kenyans and Kenyan organisations who continue to believe our history must record what not only the colonial state, but also the post-colonial state, has done to us.

However farcical and tragic our national honours have become, time will vindicate those Kenyans and Kenyan organisations. Time always does.

Away from here, however, at least some of those Kenyans and Kenyan organisations have received the recognition they are due. That recognition is not for them alone—it is for all those in whose name they work. In this case, the many (many, many) survivors of sexual violence in times of conflict.

On December 7, during this year’s annual Assembly of State Parties of the International Criminal Court, the global Gender Justice Legacy Wall was launched. The ‘bricks’ of this wall included no less than 151 individuals and organisations from around the world who have worked to find restitution for women (and men) who are so violated during times of conflict.

From the women involved in negotiations of the Rome Statute, who sought to ensure that sexual violence would be understood as part of all three (now four) international crimes—crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes (as well as, as of this ASP, the crime of aggression). Here we have ‘bricks’ for Kenyan advocates Betty Kaari Murungi, currently with the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Committee for South Sudan, and Binaifer Nowrojee, currently Asia Director with the Open Society Foundations. Hongera Betty, hongera Binaifer.

To the women who have served as investigators, prosecutors, judges in the international criminal tribunals as well as the ICC. Here we have ‘bricks’ for Kenyans Lady Justice Joyce Aluoch, currently completing her term as a judge with the ICC as well as our former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga. Hongera Lady Justice, hongera our former CJ.

To the women’s rights organisations who are the first to provide services to survivors of sexual violence during conflict—post-rape care and on-going counselling. Who collect their stories and advocate on their behalf. Here we find a ‘brick’ for the Kenyan Coalition on Violence against Women, which is still before the Kenyan courts seeking justice for survivors of sexual violence from 2007-8. Hongera COVAW.

Most importantly, the wall honours the brave survivors who have testified before these tribunals and the ICC—the risks they have taken in doing so recognised by the fact that, on this wall, their ‘bricks’ are represented by their witness numbers only.

These Kenyans are in the company, on this wall, of no less than three former United Nations High Commissioners for Human Rights—Canadian Louise Arbour, Irishwoman Mary Robinson and South African Navi Pillay—who also served as an ICC judge after serving on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. They are in the company of current ICC Prosecutor, Gambian Fatou Bensouda. They are in the company of South African Yasmin Sooka, who served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions for both Sierra Leone and South Africa.

They are in the company of Congolese physician Denis Mukwege, who opened up Panzi Hospital in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to help treat survivors of the sexual violence there. And they are in the company of those brave Argentinian women who stood up to the Argentinian dictatorship between 1976 and 1983, demanding the return of all the ‘disappeared.’

The company we keep tells us so much. The company in which these Kenyans find themselves reminds us of the purpose of honours—to live up to and advance the best part of ourselves, to place into the historical record those who’ve had the courage and integrity to do so and, in so doing, to create a history that speaks to the protection of the weakest amongst us. Hongera Betty, Binaifer, Lady Justice Aluoch, former CJ Mutunga and COVAW. Our state doesn’t recognise you. But the world does. And we do.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki, PhD is Africa Director with the Open Society Foundations (OSF) network based in London. This column is written in her personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the views of OSF.