Does the Truth Really Set You Free? Examining the Effect of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions on Social and Political Trust

Abstract: 

Truth and reconciliation commissions (TRCs), a form of transitional justice, have risen in popularity in post-conflict environments in recent decades as a way to bring closure to victims of past abusive regimes, and pave the way for a new peaceful era. Previous research has examined the effects of truth and reconciliation commissions on human rights abuses and peace duration. Additionally, much of the research on the effects of TRCs examines post-communist environments or case studies. The literature, however, suggests a lack of consensus on how truth and reconciliation commissions affect people’s perceptions of each other and their political institutions. This study contributes to this debate by investigating the effect that truth and reconciliation commissions have on social and political trust in Africa, utilizing the Afrobarometer and World Values Survey. A multilevel model is used to analyze the difference in trust before and after a TRC’s presence in Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa, and the results are compared to countries that have not had a TRC. This study finds that social trust after a TRC’s presence is not substantially significant to presume that TRCs affect trust in others, and the findings are further supported when they are compared to countries that have not had a TRC presence. Furthermore, TRCs do not affect trust in courts, but do have a positive effect on parliamentary trust.

Table of Contents: 

    Introduction                                                         

    Post-apartheid South Africa was full of possibilities in 1996 as people once divided along racial lines had to learn to co-exist. Following a long history of racial tension, oppression, and conflict, many were unsure of the country’s fate. Would South Africa slip back into conflict? Would the deeply rooted racism established by decades of apartheid wane? A fundamentally new approach to reconciliation was needed in order to maintain peace, yet there was considerable debate on how this could be accomplished.

    As a result, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 1995, and by 1996 hearings were underway. The purpose of the hearings was to listen to the testimony of those accused of human rights violations, corruption, and other crimes in the apartheid-era. Perpetrators received the opportunity to be granted amnesty when their crimes were politically motivated. This restorative approach signaled a desire by the TRC to offer forgiveness and establish a sense of absolution as long as those responsible for crimes were willing to admit their transgressions. South Africa’s method of establishing transitional justice, while featuring aspects of both restorative and retributive justice, stood in stark contrast to the darker Nuremberg Trial days, which featured criminal trials, executions, and a less-than-forgiving attitude towards those accused of human rights violations and other crimes.

    Truth and reconciliation commissions are just one method of transitional justice that is sometimes established in post-conflict societies. They are created to bring about a sense of justice for victims of oppression and human rights abuses, while also reintegrating perpetrators of violence into the new regime. Justice Richard Goldstone, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, stated that a TRC incorporated into the transitional justice process would “…enable the Bosnians to burn away the hatred and lies that have been foisted upon them. Once they do this, the ultimate goals of peace and reconciliation will really be within their grasp” (Goldstone, 1998). A main purpose of truth and reconciliation commissions is to establish recognition of past oppression, and use this new understanding of these past incidents to better facilitate peace.

    Discovering which mechanisms, if any, of transitional justice are more likely to have a lasting and positive impact on reducing the level of civil conflict is an important research question. A main mechanism used by the transitional justice system is to change the perception that victims have on their perpetrators. Trust is an important component of post-conflict environments because it helps strengthen civil engagement (Putnam, 1995). Trust is a core component of a civil society, which many scholars argue helps promote peace and democracy. Perceptions that people have towards one another can be used to analyze whether TRCs have been successful in influencing civic engagement among factions or ethnic groups who previously considered themselves to be rivals.

    This paper seeks to examine the role that truth and reconciliation commissions play in promoting social and political trust in post-conflict environments. While transitional justice processes are intended to aid the transition from conflict to peace, the literature is divided on the effects of such efforts. Much of the literature on transitional justice focuses on whether or not it directly contributes to peace duration; however, new emerging literature focuses on what different specific mechanisms of transitional justice do to a society as a whole, particularly social trust. Much of the literature that examines the effects of transitional justice has concentrated on post-communist environments, and much of this literature has been rather limited to case studies. In this paper, I will attempt to fill this gap in the literature by analyzing the effect of truth and reconciliation commissions in Africa, and use more advanced statistical techniques. What effects do truth and reconciliation commissions have on social and political trust? How do these effects impact the post-conflict society? What implications do these pose for peace duration?

    Literature Review

    A multitude of factors go into the development and fluctuation of social and political trust, with levels of trust varying drastically across the globe. Social trust is “the belief that others will not deliberately or knowingly do us harm if they can avoid it, and will look after our interests, if this is possible” (Delhey & Newton, 2005, p. 311). Social trust is the general trust we have in people in our society, from neighbors to co-workers to the shopkeeper at the end of the street. Political trust is “trust in the competency of elected leaders and their commitment to ‘do the right thing’” (A. J. Damico, Conway, & Damico, 2000, p. 378). The two do not necessarily go hand-in-hand, but both have massive societal implications.

    Social and political trust is a crucial component of a civil and stable society. Social distrust is often pervasive in post-conflict environments, such as the case in Uganda, and poses issues for peace duration in post-conflict environments (Rohner, Thoenig, & Zilibotti, 2013). Robert D. Putnam (1995) broke new ground in political science by connecting trust and democracy, arguing that a lack of trust in a society undermined civic engagement, and thus, governmental institutions. The literature on the role that trust specifically plays in a society is now vast, linking trust to democracy, a stronger economy, peace, and an overall civil society (Putnam, 2007; Zak & Knack, 2001). While a substantial amount of the literature focuses on the effects of social and political trust in a society, the literature on the role that developing societies play in trust is more complex and less consensual.

    What Is Transitional Justice?

    Transitional justice provides an attempt to aid post-conflict environments. The International Centre for Transitional Justice defines transitional justice as “a response to systematic or widespread violations of human rights. It seeks recognition for victims and promotion of possibilities for peace, reconciliation and democracy. Transitional justice is not a special form of justice but justice adapted to societies transforming themselves after a period of pervasive human rights abuse (International Center for Transitional Justice, 2009).” The literature has placed considerable emphasis on the state of the society in general after conflict and the subsequent transitional process. Different elements of post-conflict environments explored in previous literature include economic status, regime change, and people’s support of the transitional justice process. However, previous literature does not explicitly consider trust as a possible link.

    Much of the literature on trust in transitional societies in Africa has not expanded beyond case studies, and few focus specifically on both social and political trust (Gibson, 2005; Millar, 2011; Bellows & Miguel, 2006; 2009; Blattman, 2009; Rohner et al., 2013). Taking what is known about the different factors that foster trust and applying that to transitional societies in Africa, where social and political trust is often broken, raises many questions about lasting peace. This ignites fears of civil conflict reoccurrence. For example, Africa is widely characterized by ethnic heterogeneity, and civil wars often arise when deep divisions along ethnic lines are present. The literature suggests that this divide along racial lines has been consistently associated with lower levels of trust in a society (Costa & Kahn, 2003; Putnam, 2007; Knack & Keefer, 1997; Delhey & Newton, 2005; Zak & Knack, 2001; Leigh, 2006). Yet, Delhey and Newton (2005) find that some societies that have emerged from civil wars “may be able to tolerate some degree of strain and disruption without suffering a great loss of trust,” which speaks to the fluid nature of trust in society (p. 323). Since Africa has vast ethnic heterogeneity, more scrutiny should be given to the transitional justice process in African countries.

    Parties often continue to have grievances after a conflict ends. The literature, however, has also argued that there are additional country level factors that may affect levels of trust in a post-conflict environment. Hutchison and Johnson (2011) find that higher institutional capacity increases peoples’ levels of political trust, despite prior conflict in the state. The malleability of trust allows for reconciliation, which is crucial when incorporating transitional justice measures into the transition process. Survey respondents in Burundi showed that they preferred forgiveness over punishment of wrongdoers, and that they held a “forgive and forget attitude,” preferring to forgive the past rather than confront it through truth-seeking (Samii, 2013). Samii’s (2013) findings have important implications for other societies trying to recover following ethnic conflict, since much of Burundi’s conflict was steeped in ethnic tension. This begs the question: what does trust in a society look like after civil conflict? How can social and political trust be facilitated?  Transitional justice can play a role in healing the society, facilitating understanding, and fostering a sense of unity, if executed correctly.

    The effectiveness of transitional justice in maintaining peace and helping further human rights post-conflict has been questioned in the political science literature, with a multitude of conclusions reached. Some scholars argue that transitional justice mechanisms help maintain peace by establishing an overall sense of reconciliation (Gibson, 2005). Others argue that they are not effective and can, in fact, have a negative effect on peace by failing to establish a sense of justice (Millar, 2011; Espindola, 2013). Still, there are others who argue that certain transitional justice processes are more symbolic than effective, failing to stop the very things (civil war reoccurrence, human rights violations, etc.) that these processes are intended to eradicate in post-conflict environments (Meernik, Nichols, & King, 2010). Nonetheless, no two civil conflicts and subsequent transitional justice processes are the same, which probably plays a role in the different findings in the literature. For example, unique transitional justice mechanisms can be utilized, courts can lack the resources necessary to efficiently execute a trial, and third-parties can be involved in the process. This is why more generalizable literature, building off the previous case studies relevant to trust and transitional justice in Africa, needs to be pursued.

    Truth and reconciliation commissions are a common mechanism of transitional justice. Taking on a more restorative approach, TRCs shed light on past abuses, allow people to admit wrongdoing, and allow people to ask for forgiveness. South Africa famously utilized a truth and reconciliation commission in its transitional justice process, and it is largely considered to have been successful. Gibson (2004) demonstrated that in post-apartheid South Africa, truth and reconciliation commissions, particularly through establishing a “collective memory” and by spreading blame bilaterally, helped 44 percent of South Africans feel somewhat reconciled after the end of apartheid. South Africa’s success demonstrates that there are many transitional justice mechanisms that can be utilized to address the rebuilding and healing of a society, but more importantly, that some are more effective than others. Horne (2014) argues that transitional justice policies, particularly lustration and vetting, affect social and political trust in post-communist European societies. Horne (2014) finds that while lustration and vetting policies increase political trust, social trust was negatively affected. Moreover, the transitional justice processes that broadly expose government corruption, past abuses, and instances of regular citizens spying on one another found in places like Germany in its communist days could negatively affect social trust (Horne, 2014). Truth and reconciliation processes could either facilitate peace and rehabilitation by accepting what was done in the past, forgiving those involved, and moving on, or reopen old wounds by exposing past corruptions and abuses.

    People who were exposed to recent traumatic experiences were less likely to trust (Alesina & La Ferrara, 2002), and people involved in civil conflict are most likely exposed to traumatic experiences to at least some degree. Yet, if truth and reconciliation commissions can provide the level of healing seen in South Africa, in terms of creating a broader understanding of the apartheid era and attributing blame in an unbiased manner, trust can be integrated into the new society. Interestingly, people who were direct victims of violence during civil conflict in Sierra Leone and Uganda showed a higher propensity to participate politically once the conflict ended (Blattman, 2009; Bellows & Miguel, 2006; 2009). An experience of direct violence during conflict affects subsequent behavior, which has implications for political trust in a post-conflict environment, particularly when transitional justice processes try to facilitate an environment where more political activity is welcomed and possible (Blattman, 2009; Bellows & Miguel, 2006; 2009). Flanagan (2003) claims that “values of equality, tolerance, and empathy have to be high priorities” to facilitate the development of trust, and all of these factors can certainly be emphasized by a truth and reconciliation commission (p. 165).

    Theory and Hypotheses

    Truth and reconciliation commissions vary from country to country, but a general definition of them is that they are “official, temporary bodies established to investigate a pattern of violations over a period of time that conclude with a final report and recommendations for reform” (Hayner, 2006, p. 295). This definition is suitable because it encompasses the fundamental qualities of all TRCs while dismissing the small differences we see in TRCs unique to each country’s specific conflict. Furthermore, Hayner (2001) describes the objective for a truth and reconciliation commission as “sanctioned fact-finding: to establish an accurate record of a country’s past, clarify uncertain events, and lift the lid of silence and denial from a contentious and painful period of history” (p. 24-25). TRCs seek to establish official recognition of the atrocities that happened in the previous regime to mark a new chapter in the country’s history by establishing a standard for human rights so that the past may not be repeated.

    Previous literature has looked at truth and reconciliation commissions with regards to its effects on human rights abuses and peace duration, and most literature that has addressed trust has analyzed case studies or post-communist environments in Europe and Latin America. Nonetheless, there is current debate in the literature regarding the effect of truth commissions on social trust that this paper intends to explore. The causal mechanism presented in this paper is that the exposure of truth is linked to the capacity to trust because official recognition is given to the human rights abuses of past regimes, and citizens are more informed about the past than before the truth and reconciliation commission was implemented. This paper examines how people take truth by analyzing social and political trust before and after the implementation of truth and reconciliation commissions in Africa.

    A fundamental assumption that this paper rests on is that truth, particularly as a form of restorative justice, has an influence on victims of past human rights abuses. This paper does not include retributive justice, in the form of mass prosecutions. An important clarification that must be made is that victims are acceptant of TRCs as an appropriate form of justice upon implementation. Post-conflict regimes that invite TRCs see it as a suitable form of justice. The restorative versus retributive justice debate has been waged time and time again in previous literature. However, for the purpose of this study, it is assumed that the exposure of truth about the past is highly influential on victims’ sense of justice, who would rather know the details of what happened in the previous regime than not know at all and have perpetrators of political violence imprisoned. This attitude towards justice is observed in many Eastern and Central European and Latin American countries, where mass criminal prosecution held very little support in post-authoritarian regimes (Huyse, 1995). In the context of Africa, a group that initially formed to lobby for a stronger bill during legislative discussions of the implementation of the South African Truth Commission quickly turned into a victims’ support group, with people meeting to tell their stories (Hayner, 2001). Incorporating other modes of justice unrelated to the functions of justice in a TRC would veer from the central goal of this paper, which is the effect of truth on levels of social and political trust.

    A second assumption is that people ascribe at least some degree of legitimacy to truth and reconciliation commissions. This is exemplified by peoples’ decision to participate in the TRC process in the first place. Most proponents of truth and reconciliation commissions, such as Justice Richard Goldstone, feverishly tout the healing, reform, and justice that TRCs will usher into a new era of a peaceful regime. Nonetheless, the public often suffers from what is recognized as an “expectation problem” that facilitates “unrealizable public expectations and ultimately an unfair assessment that such institutions have failed” (McEvoy, 2008, p. 30). The International Center for Transitional Justice cites unrealistic expectations by the public as one of the biggest problems faced by TRCs, stating that “Raising expectations among victims that a truth commission will solve all of their urgent demands can create frustration and mistrust” (International Center for Transitional Justice, 2014, p. ix). Since the country has been afflicted by civil conflict, transitional justice mechanisms often lack the necessary funding, personnel, and time to carry out wide and conclusive investigations, to properly address the redress of victims, and to evaluate all the abuses committed in the past. Furthermore, TRCs are not actual courts with the power to formulate legislation or prosecute people. They can recommend reforms and forward evidence to prosecutors, but TRCs are also limited in their power because they are meant to be only a temporary institution, not a governmental body. The assumption that people overestimate TRCs’ capacity is critical in evaluating political trust, specifically because it implies that victims attribute at least some form of legitimacy to TRCs.

    Furthermore, truth and reconciliation commissions affect political trust because people attribute at least some degree of legitimacy to them during a time of transition. They can see the efforts the new regime is attempting to make to remedy past abuses, establish a collective memory amongst the citizenry, and take measures in an effort to prevent abuses from happening again. Horne (2014) finds that political trust increased in post-communist environments, possibly because the TRC process reflects an increase in government capacity. This logic leads to my first hypothesis:

    H1a: truth and reconciliation commissions increase political trust

    However, known as the “expectation problem,” citizens’ expectations of what a TRC can actually accomplish often outweigh the TRCs’ true capacity. There is a disparity between what citizens believe a TRC will accomplish versus what it actually ends up accomplishing, leaving them dissatisfied. This logic leads to my second hypothesis:

    H1b: truth and reconciliation commissions decrease political trust

    Yet, TRCs affect social trust differently from political trust. Truth and reconciliation commissions affect social trust because the truth of past abuses committed by ordinary citizens of a previous regime comes to light. Such abuses include human rights violations, corruption, and deception. This truth reaches the general public through hearings, the media, and published findings. The influence that truth has over trust, however, is not necessarily clear in the literature. Indeed, during South Africa’s truth and reconciliation process, a former security police officer described in vivid detail the techniques the South African Police used to torture people (TRC Final Report, p. 206). The truth exposed during a truth commission can prompt people to call into question the character of the people with whom they must now co-exist (Horne, 2014). Once people learn that their neighbor was once a perpetrator, this may call into question trust for other people. This logic leads to my next hypothesis:

    H2a: truth and reconciliation commissions decrease social trust

    The lack of consensus in the literature regarding the effectiveness of TRCs leads to the examination of other possible relationships between TRCs and social trust. Gibson (2004; 2005) argues that South Africa’s truth and reconciliation commission achieved a collective memory of apartheid in the South African population, which helped people realize that all groups were guilty at one point or another during the apartheid era. This helped dissolve the sense that once-opposing groups were solely to blame for the atrocities of the apartheid era, which helped create an overall sense of reconciliation amongst South Africans. Thus, according to Gibson (2004), the presence of a truth and reconciliation commission had a positive impact on South Africa’s post-conflict environment. In the vein of Gibson (2004), the following hypothesis will be tested:

    H2b: truth and reconciliation commissions increase social trust

    Furthermore, as Meernik et al. (2010) find, transitional justice measures are more symbolic of the end of a brutal regime and start to a more democratic one, having no effect on the continuation of human rights abuses in the new regime. Given that TRCs have no effect on the continuation of human rights abuses, the trust that people have towards one another might also not change even after the truth has been spoken, since the human rights abuses continue after the implementation of the TRCs. If people perceive no change in their community regarding human rights violations and other areas of expected progress, people might not necessarily change attitudes on the trust they have towards each other. With this finding, the following hypothesis is also tested:

    H2c: truth and reconciliation commissions have no effect on social trust

    By incorporating all of the above hypotheses, this paper’s findings will be able to more comprehensively contribute to the literature on the effects of transitional justice processes on post-conflict societies. Negative, positive, and no relationships have been associated with truth and reconciliation commissions, and in the context of Africa, will be able to shed more light on the contribution truth and reconciliation commissions can make to the rebuilding of a society.

    Research Design

    To test my hypotheses, I use a multilevel logit that tests within and across country survey data. A multilevel logit was used because social and political trust are both binary variables. A multilevel logit was used to account for the survey responses measured within a country and compared across countries. This analysis of fixed and random effects made the multilevel logit model the most appropriate. This study observes two dependent variables: social and political trust. The measures of social and political trust variables described below are summarized in Table 1.

    Social Trust

    Given the similarity of wording in the questionnaires, social trust is measured using survey data from the Afrobarometer and the World Values Survey. Trust is analyzed before the institution of a truth and reconciliation commission and after its completion. Due to data limitations, this study looks at social trust levels in South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria, which are countries that have had a TRC. The three TRC processes took place at different times, spanning the period 1994 to 2004. Both datasets were used to ensure the availability of data on trust for countries before and after TRCs. Due to limited consensus on the pattern of social trust levels in post-conflict environments, this approach is critical to this study in providing a comprehensive look at social trust. For South Africa, the trust prior to the TRCs implementation is measured in the World Values Survey from 1990 in Wave 2. Social trust after the completion of South Africa’s TRC process is measured with Round 3 (2005) of the Afrobarometer. Social trust in Ghana is measured using Rounds 2 (2002) and 3 (2005) of the Afrobarometer to measure trust before and after, respectively. Social trust in Nigeria is measured in Rounds 1(1999) and 2 (2003) of the Afrobarometer. 

    In Round 1 of the Afrobarometer, the variable “sctrust” is used to measure social trust. In Round 3 of the Afrobarometer, Q 83 is used to measure social trust. In Rounds 1 and 3 social trust is gauged with the question “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you must be very careful in dealing with people?” This study includes this question as a measure of social trust because it is straightforward and generalized, instead of concentrating on one single group. Similarly, to measure social trust in the World Values Survey V 94 in Wave 2 (1990) is used, asking “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people?” In Round 4 (2008) of the Afrobarometer, social trust was gauged through Q 84C, which asks, “How much do you trust each of the following types of people: Other [Ghanaians, Kenyans, etc.].”

    Social trust was also turned into a binary variable. Because a total of five Rounds/Waves was used, trust or a lack of trust was measured differently numerically depending on the Round/Wave. To maintain consistency, social trust was simplified into a binary variable where 0 indicates that the respondent exhibits low levels of trust, and 1 indicates that the respondent exhibits moderate to high levels of trust. In Round 1 of the Afrobarometer, 1 indicates that the respondent does trust others and 2 indicates that they do not. This was recoded so that 1 reflects trust, but 2 was recoded to 0 to indicate that the respondent does not trust. In Round 2, there was no suitable question to measure social trust in Ghana, therefore, Round 2 was principally utilized to measure political trust in Ghana. In Round 3 of the Afrobarometer, 0 indicates that respondents do not trust and 1 indicates that they do trust. Round 4 was scaled in an ordinal scale from 0-3, where 0 indicates that the respondent does not trust, 1 indicates that they trust “just a little,” 2 indicates that they “trust them somewhat,” and 3 indicates that they trust a lot. 0 and 1 were coded as 0 to indicate a lack of trust, and 2 and 3 were coded as 1 to indicate moderate to high levels of trust in others.

    Political Trust

    Trust in courts and parliament is used as a measurement of political trust because asking about the Parliament/National Assembly as a whole encompasses political trust better than a single figure, such as a president. Additionally, asking about trust in the courts has implications for the effectiveness of the TRC process, particularly because the TRCs, due to their lack of official power, pass on suggestions and responsibilities to prosecutors to carry out.

    Political trust is measured using just the Afrobarometer, because the questions in the World Values Survey addressed confidence in institutions, but did not adequately ask about trust in institutions. This posed an issue for this study as far as the availability of data before the implementation of TRCs. Therefore, political trust before the implementation of the South African TRC cannot be measured. Additionally, the earliest available survey for trust in Nigeria in the Afrobarometer was taken between November and December of 1999. Nigeria’s TRC was implemented on June, 1999. Despite political trust in Nigeria being measured after the implementation of the TRC, Nigeria is still included. For the purpose of this paper, the five month difference is noted, but in terms of measuring political trust, Nigeria is used in this study. Political trust in Nigeria is measured by Rounds 1 (1999) and 3 (2005) of the Afrobarometer. To measure political trust in Ghana, Rounds 2 (2002) and Round 3 (2005) of the Afrobarometer are utilized.

    Furthermore, to measure political trust, questions asking about trust in courts and parliament were used. In Round 1 of the Afrobarometer, the variable “trscts” is used to measure trust in courts in Nigeria, asking “How much do you trust the following institutions: Courts of law?” In Round 2 of the Afrobarometer, Q 43B and Q 43J, were used to measure political trust. Q 43B asked “How much do you trust each of the following, or haven’t you heard enough about them to say: The Parliament?” and Q 43J asked “How much do you trust each of the following, or haven’t you heard enough about them to say: Courts of Law?” The questions were asked exactly the same in Round 3, but are Q 55B and Q 55I respectively. Additionally, they are asked in the same way in Round 4, but are Q 49B and Q 49H respectively.

    Similar to social trust, political trust was changed into a binary variable to maintain consistency across the Rounds. In Round 1, a question asking about trust in Parliament was not included, therefore, Round 1 could not measure trust in Parliament. In Round 2, the answer choices were scaled in an ordinal scale between 0 and 3. 0 meant the respondents did not trust, 1 meant they trusted “a little bit,” 2 meant they trusted a lot, and 3 meant they trusted “a very great deal.” 0 and 1 was changed to equal 0, meaning respondents had low levels of trust, and 2 and 3 were changed to 1, meaning they had moderate to high levels of trust. Trust in Parliament in Round 3 followed the same format as far as being scaled in an ordinal scale. The answer choices were: 0= Not at all, 1= Just a little, 2= Somewhat, 3= A lot. Zero and 1 were changed to 0, indicating a lack of trust, and 2 and 3 were changed to 1, indicating trust in Parliament. Round 4 was identical to Round 3 and changed in the same manner.

    Trust in courts was also changed to a binary variable. In Round 1, the answer choices were scaled in an ordinal scale between 1 and 4. The values were measured as follows: 1=I do not trust them at all/Never, 2=I distrust them somewhat/Sometimes, 3=I trust them somewhat/Most times, 4=I trust them a lot/Always. They were recoded so that 1 and 2 changed to 0, indicating low levels of trust, and that 3 and 4 changed to 1, indicating moderate to high levels of trust. In Round 2 the answer choices were also scaled in an ordinal scale, but from 0 to 3. The answer choices followed accordingly: 0=Not at all, 1=A little bit, 2=A lot, 3=A very great deal. They were recoded so that 0 and 1 indicate low levels of trust, and 2 and 3 indicate moderate to high levels of trust. Round 3 and 4’s answer choices were scaled in an ordinal scale, as well, from 0-3. The answer choices were as follows: 0=Not at all, 1=Just a little, 2=Somewhat, 3=A lot. 0 and 1 were coded as 0 to indicate low levels of trust, and 2 and 3 were coded as 1 to indicate moderate to high levels of trust in courts.

    Non-TRC Countries

    I then compare trust before and after TRC presence with countries without TRCs in order to generally control for trust in Africa over time. Comparing trust before and after conflict in countries that did have TRCs and those that did not is used to avoid dependent variable bias. The non-TRC countries used in this study are Kenya, Mali, Malawi, and Namibia. Trust in Kenya will be measured using survey data from the Afrobarometer, and Round 3 (2005) is used to measure trust prior to civil conflict. Round 4 (2008) is used to measure trust post-conflict in Kenya. Trust in Mali, Malawi, and Namibia are measured using Round 1 (1999) and 3 (2005) of the Afrobarometer. These countries are used as controls to see how trust measures fluctuate without a TRC presence.

    The primary independent variable in this study is the presence of truth and reconciliation commissions. This is a simple binary variable. I am utilizing Angie Nichols’ data set on TRCs because it is a comprehensive analysis of TRCs around the world and because it organizes the dates of when the TRCs began and when they were finished, which coincides well with the available data necessary for measuring the trust variables. The data set for TRC countries contains 13,499 observations. The data set for non-TRC countries has 10,506 observations.

    Control Variables

    Because of the tumultuous nature of civil conflict, this study has carefully considered which control variables will be necessary to generate the most accurate results. Ethnic fractionalization and ethnic polarization are controlled for using data from Montalvo and Reynal-Querol (2005). Ethnic polarization measures the “index of ethnolinguistic polarization calculated using the data of the WCE” (Montalvo & Reynal-Querol, 2005, p. 813). Ethnic fractionalization measures the “index of ethnolinguistic fractionalization calculated using the data of the WCE” (Montalvo & Reynal-Querol, 2005, p. 813). Ethnic fractionalization and ethnic polarization are included to account for some of the deep ethnic divides seen in Africa, which can certainly decrease social trust in post-conflict environments. State capacity is also controlled for utilizing data from Arbetman-Rabinowitz et al. (2013). State capacity “measures the ability of a government to extract resources from a population given their level of economic development” (Arbetman-Rabinowitz et al, 2013, p. 2). State capacity is controlled for alternative country level explanations that may affect political trust levels. The “pfenow” variable, Q 1A, and Q 4A in the Afrobarometer, is used to control country-level economic conditions in Rounds 1, 2, 3 and 4, respectively, known as the sociotropic concept. Additionally, V 335 is used to control for country-level economic conditions in Wave 2 of the World Values Survey. Q 3B and Q 6B are used to control for personal economic conditions in Round 2, 3, and 4 of the Afrobarometer, respectively, which is known as the pocketbook concept. Round 1 did not have a question suitable enough to control for personal economic conditions. Additionally, V 132 in Wave 2 was used to control for personal economic conditions. These controls are used to consider possible factors that may affect political trust that are not accounted for in the theory. V 353 in Wave 2 was used to control for gender. In Round 1 of the Afrobarometer, “gender” was used to control for the respondent’s gender, and Q 96 and 101were also used to control for gender in Rounds 2, 3, and 4, respectively.  A polity variable is also included to account for regime type. The polity variable comes from the Polity IV dataset (2013) and measures a country’s level of democracy ranging from +10 (strongly democratic) to -10 (strongly autocratic).

    Results

    This study used multilevel logit to examine the effects of TRC presence on social and political trust in post-conflict environments. This analysis originally included ethnic polarization and polity as control variables. However, due to issues with multicollinearity, they were dropped from the models.

    Table 2 illustrates the effects of TRC presence on social and political trust in Ghana, South Africa, and Nigeria, reporting the odds ratio and standard error. An odds ratio larger than 1 indicates an increase in the dependent variable. When the odds ratio is less than 1, however, a decrease in the dependent variable is indicated. Model 1.1 indicates that there is no substantial relationship between TRC presence and social trust. The large number of observations, however, might be driving these results. The results are not substantively significant because the margins are so small. Furthermore, model 1.2 demonstrates that there is also no relationship between TRC presence and trust in courts, a measurement of political trust. However, model 1.3 illustrates a positive relationship between TRC presence and trust in Parliament, which is the second measurement of political trust. This indicates that TRC presence plays a role in increasing peoples’ trust in Parliament after the TRCs’ completion.

    Table 3 illustrates the effects of non-TRC presence on social and political trust in Kenya, Mali, Malawi, and Namibia. Model 2.1 demonstrates that there is no relationship between non-TRC presence and social trust. Model 2.2 shows that there is also no relationship between non-TRC presence and trust in courts. Model 2.3 shows that there is no relationship between non-TRC presence and trust in Parliament. The results indicate that none of the trust variables demonstrate an effect in African countries without TRC presence when they are compared across different Rounds/Waves.  The relationship between non-TRC presence and trust in Parliament is shown to have a very different effect than the one observed when TRCs are present.

    These findings can support earlier evidence that TRCs are not necessarily driving social trust in post-conflict settings, and are more symbolic than agents of change. These findings indicate that TRCs largely do not affect civil society. This study found no relationship between TRC presence and trust in courts, but did find a significant, positive relationship between TRC presence and trust in Parliament. The increase of trust in Parliament supports the claim that a government’s implementation of a TRC can contribute to its capacity by demonstrating a sincere effort to turn over a new leaf for the new regime and make a commitment to human rights and democracy. These results imply that TRC presence may have more of an impact on peoples’ perceptions of their government than each other.

    Analysis

    Overall, this study was not able to support a relationship between truth and reconciliation commissions and social trust. This might indicate that truth and reconciliation commissions simply have no effect on trust in society. However, these findings could also mean that truth and reconciliation commissions are not as effective at reconciling society as originally assumed. This would support Meernik et al. (2010) finding that TRCs are more symbolic of change in their implementation than an actual agent of it.

    Additionally, the results show that only one of the two variables for the measure of political trust specified statistically significant results. No relationship between TRCs and trust in courts was evident. They do show, however, that trust in Parliament increases following a TRC presence. This supports Horne’s (2014) finding that political trust in post-communist environments increases with TRC presence. This increase in trust in Parliament could be a result of people recognizing an increase in their government’s capacity when they make a sincere commitment to righting the wrongs of the past, holding individuals accountable for political violence, and vowing to discontinue past abuses of the previous regime through the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission.

    The findings on social trust indicate that although Gibson (2005) stated that a TRC presence helped create an overall sense of reconciliation among South Africans, this does not seem to be the case when comparing trust before and after a TRCs presence in Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa. Even though the findings suggest some significance, the margins on the multilevel model are too small to fully make this claim. The results indicate that the large number of observations in the survey data might be driving the results. Thus, there might be other factors that drive social trust in post-conflict environments.

    Moreover, the support for hypothesis 1a indicates that TRCs do positively affect trust in Parliament, as suggested by Horne (2014). One potential reason why we see an increase in trust in parliament and not in courts is that the parliament usually “gets the ball rolling,” so to speak, in the transitional justice process. Truth and reconciliation commissions are often established by a new government’s parliament, and the initiative taken by this new Parliament could signal to the people a sincere commitment to fostering change in the nation. However, the TRC process is often carried out in a court-like format. For example, Nigeria’s TRC was called The Judicial Commission for the Investigation of Human Rights Violations. The TRCs can only recommend reforms, not actually institute them. Therefore, courts may take the brunt of responsibility for the inefficiency that is often attributed to hearings in the TRC process, which may help explain why there was no relationship for the implementation of TRCs and trust in courts. The case may be that the “expectation problem” introduced in my theory applies more to courts than it does to parliament.

    Conclusion

    This paper finds that there is not a strong link between TRC presence and social and political trust. Social trust and trust in courts was not affected by TRC presence. Trust in parliament, however, increased with a TRC presence, indicating that the establishment of a TRC elevated government capacity in the eyes of the people.

    The connection between transitional justice mechanisms and trust in post-conflict environments should be further explored as more data becomes available. Particularly, examining more retributive forms of transitional justice, such as prosecutions, vetting, etc., and their effects on post-conflict environments, should be further explored. Furthermore, as more survey data becomes available, the possible link between trust and other aspects of civil society and TRCs should be further explored. Identifying which specific mechanisms of transitional justice are more effective at facilitating a stable post-conflict environment will create a more efficient and useful transitional justice process. There are many aspects to a civil society, and comprehensively identifying how transitional justice affects these different aspects of civil society is crucial to creating and maintaining stability in post-conflict environments, establishing human rights norms, and preventing conflict reoccurrence.

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    Table 1: Binary Social and Political Trust Variables and Their Measures

    Table 2: Multilevel Logit of Effects of TRC Presence on Social and Political Trust

    Table 3: Multilevel Logit of Effects of No TRC Presence on Social and Political Trust