Saturday, May 29, 2010

KIPLAGAT AN EMBATTLED MAN


You would expect that the blessings that life showered upon Bethuel Kiplagat should make him the embodiment of peace and contentment.

They are rich and numerous. Education at Alliance High School, Makerere University, and the Sorbonne in Paris, that citadel of high learning and culture founded in the 11th century.

Ambassadorial appointments to the Court of St James and Paris. Peace emissary to troubled waters in Somalia, Mozambique, and Sudan. Family man whose elegant wife is a role model for young girls. Grandfather of a healthy brood

You would expect him to be taking a lingering look at the beautiful rolling hills of Kapsabet in the Rift Valley, where he was born and raised, and intone to the high heaven: “It has been good.” Life bestows such blessings only to so few.

Yet, when you meet the chairman of Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), it is not these blessings that come through his persona. It is life’s afflictions.

Far from the peace that you would expect of somebody reaping the bounty of such career achievements, you have a man ravaged by a war fought on too many fronts.

Front one: He is in court fighting tooth and nail to clear his name of claims of any wrong doing during his service with the Moi government. Loss on this front alone is enough to remove him from the chairmanship of the TJRC.

Rotten media

Front two: The “rotten media.” He says: “I am using that word, ‘rotten’. It is corrupt, with no ethics and no principles.”

Front three: Sections of civil society. They have hounded him almost every day of his waking life since he was announced TJRC chairman and “spread falsehoods” about him. They have also plotted to disrupt his public meetings, he says.

The overwhelming sentiment when you listen to him rail against his multiplicity of tormentors to a point that he says he feels as if he woul would cry, is: “How can a man so endowed be so unhappy? Is all this necessary?”

He seems to ooze hurt from every pore. It is utter melancholy when he says: “There was that series of cartoons in the Nation by Gado, three, I think. The worst of them was when he drew me naked, stripped! You don’t do that, not even to a person you don’t like.”

This was but one of his travails with the media. “I don’t know about you,” he said with pained intensity.

“I am very disappointed with journalists. They have no ethics and no principles. Some time ago, a journalist asked me for more than 400,000 shillings, purportedly to clean up my public image. Yet he had come to me originally to write my story. I have his name and the e-mail correspondence.”

Why hasn’t he filed a complaint with the relevant authorities? “More dirt will come out of the ensuing publicity,” he laments. “It’s all mafia-like.”

Kiplagat’s high academic and professional achievements are a salutary lesson on what a humble country boy from the hills can accomplish, given the right mix of intelligence and determination, proper upbringing, and good luck.

He can shape the policy of nations and influence the course of world events. He is proof that you do not have to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth to dine in the most ornate palaces.

Yet in this character and this success also lies a streak of self righteousness and obstinacy that is impervious to opposing views.

“In a dialogue, the opinion he hears the most is his own,” says an exasperated colleague at the commission’s Delta House head office.

Now he has intertwined the fate of the most important commission ever formed in Kenya’s nearly five decades of independence with his personal fate.

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