Visiting fellow George Wachira, a senior Research and Policy Advisor of the Nairobi Peace Initiative-Africa, discussed the effectiveness of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRC) for peace building efforts in Africa in a lecture Tuesday night.
The lecture, titled “Truth Overstretched? TRCs as Transitional Justice Tools in Africa,” was hosted by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.
A TRC, Wachira said, is formulated to address claims of human rights violations and to assure punishments for the crimes committed against victims of such injustices.
After the post-apartheid TRC in South Africa met successfully, other such commissions have begun to develop in several other African countries, he said.
Wachira’s current work at the Kroc Institute focuses on analyzing the ways in which organizations, including TRCs, can work to implement social change. He described his mission as acting as “a practitioner of peace building,” understanding the voices of villagers in order to represent their expectations.
Wachira said skepticism is growing about the benefits of the commissions. He said they are rumored to be effective, yet many African villagers claim the organizations are simply “crying commissions” that listen to their stories without acting upon them.
“If you are going to do nothing about making someone cry about their loss, why bother?” he quoted one anonymous villager as saying.
Wachira became involved in his work after his father was arrested and detained in his native Kenya without a trial for three years. He encouraged a greater connection between the expectations of villagers, who stand as the main beneficiaries of the commissions, and the actual results of the work of TRCs.
“Perhaps we need to draw a line between being victim-focused and victim-dominated,” Wachira said.
TRCs, said Wachira, ought not to focus on avoiding undesirable situations but rather to formulate tools that can help publicly confront the ugly past in order to rebuild society in the future claims.
In order to begin to achieve the goals laid out by Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, Wachira also advised defining the unique functions of a TRC as well as a coming to a better understanding of the expectations and needs of the people it serves.