Prof. Tim Murithi: Africa needs regional reconciliation processes

 

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IPSS Indaba Series with Prof. Tim Murithi

On 29 March, Professor Tim Murithi, Head of the Justice and Reconciliation in Africa Programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, delivered his anticipated lecture on “Regional Reconciliation: Strategies for Cross-Border Transitional Justice” at IPSS. Prof. Murithi is also Extraordinary Professor of African Studies at the University of Freestate in South Africa.

At the heart of his discussion was the theme of reconciliation, particularly regional reconciliation, in Africa. According to Prof. Murithi, this is of particular importance in the continent as the majority of intra-state and inter-state conflicts in Africa have regional implications/spill over effects. It is therefore essential to approach peace in the continent from a regional framework/perspective.

Reconciliation processes has five important steps, namely:

  1. Acknowledgement of guilt
  2. Remorse and repent by perpetrators
  3. Asking for forgiveness by perpetrators
  4. Victim compensation
  5. Basis for reconciliation

These steps can be anchored within the framework of a national reconciliation process initiated by the government or by community reconciliation programmes at the local level. Transitional justice as an encompassing feature of reconciliation is very much contentious in Africa; it creates a series of anxieties amongst governments involved in the conflict.

However, transitional justice is a vital component of reconciliation dealing with the recovery of truth from past human rights (HR) violations. Attained through restorative justice (to restore relations amongst contentious parties) or retributive justice (to legally hold accountable the contending parties), it is an important step in a post conflict society. Prof. Murithi underlined the importance of mainstreaming gender in this process as HR violations affect men, women and children differently and it is of upmost importance that violations be questioned, investigated and given the needed attention.

Regionalism is important in Africa, given the continent’s persistent regional conflict systems. Many African states have a shared history of conflict and are platforms for the ripple effects of their neighbour’s conflict. However, within this regional conflict system, it is important to explore how cross border violations are addressed as they occur every day. The Somali conflict spilling over into Kenya with events such as the Westgate Mall siege or the Garissa University attacks or even the Boko Haram effect spreading into Cameroon and Niger are just but a few of such cases in Africa.

For victims of such occurrences, reconciliation is important and may be undertaken formally through the channel of regional institutions or informally through regional grassroots initiatives. Initiatives such as the UN-brokered Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC, the Pan-African Cross-Border Prosecution and the AU Extraordinary Chambers in Senegal are some of the formal regional reconciliation mechanisms. Yet, some are quite restrictive to specific case scenarios such as the mechanism in DRC. In these cases, informal regional reconciliation mechanisms are preferred. Communities in northern Uganda and Sudan have resorted to such mechanisms to discuss the truth of the violations that occurred and initiate the healing of their respective communities. Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are supplementing actors in the process, with many of them initiating grassroots initiatives in many African regional conflict systems. The Karamoja Cluster Initiative is one such example. 

With the existence of such initiatives, it is important to have them operationalized in Africa. Prof. Murithi discussed which infrastructures in the continent should be used for such initiatives and if any, whether they are indeed comprehensive enough. Regional Economic Communities (RECs) such as IGAD, ECOWAS and SADC have their respective regional reconciliation commissions and are appropriate forums to drive regional reconciliation. However, Prof. Murithi argues that not only do we need to question whether they can oversee the process themselves, but whether they can be of value considering that the AU and member states have not made much headway. Prof. Murithi stated that reconciliation across borders still remains unchartered territory for states and inter-governmental organizations.

Even if it were to happen, Prof. Murithi foresees a number of challenges. African states still jealously safeguard their sovereignty and by extension their borders. Furthermore, there is need for extensive coordination within the different regional platforms. Military and intelligence sharing in the on-going operationalization of the African Standby Force (ASF) must be undertaken to ensure successful regional reconciliation initiatives are implemented in the continent. On the brighter side, if the discussions take place at the policy level within the AU corridors, and there is strong engagement from concerned stakeholders, intensive media outreach and well-coordinated monitoring, this will launch the initial steps for regional reconciliation in Africa. Nevertheless, Prof. Murithi insists that reconciliation has to be forward looking, future oriented, transformative and enable processes of dialogue with the participation from African citizens.