Monday, 25 May 2015

THE WAGALLA MASSACRE, 31 YEARS LATER

“We are in a country where justice and reconciliation and recognition of past events and understanding our own history is a problem.” – Salah Abdi

On February 9th 1984, during the wee hours of the night as the residents of Wajir town were deep in sleep, a lot of activity that would change their lives forever was taking place in the covering the night as security officers from the military, the General Service Unit and the regular police were busy taking their positions in a move aimed at disarming members of the Degodia clan in the area in which intertribal clashes were rampant.

The residents were woken up by the heavy sound of military apparatus hitting the ground as the operation began. On this day, men from the Degodia clan were rounded up from their homesteads and the streets and taken to the Wagalla military airstrip where they were tortured and many brutally killed.

Torture
In this operation, which the government termed as a disarmament exercise to retrieve illegal weapons from the members of the Degodia clan, the men were forced into police trucks and taken to the Wagalla airstrip where they were stripped naked and forced to lie down under the scorching sun and the cold of the night for three days, without food or water. They were battered, tortured and shot in an ordeal that left hundreds of them dead and thousands unaccounted for. The government claimed that only 57 men lost their lives but witnesses indicated close to 500 were killed.

As the men were being burned and tortured at the airstrip, women and children were not spared. Many women were raped, beaten and dragged out of their houses leaving many wounded and even some even permanently disabled.

Violation of Human Rights
The United Nations condemned this incident describing it as the worst case of violation of human rights in Kenya.

This massacre termed as government genocide against its own people, immediately attracted a lot of criticism from far and wide not only from the United Nations, but also from NGOs like the UNICEF, the Kenya Red Cross and the World Vision. However, the government downplayed the operation with a series of cover ups and frustrations to the international organizations that had the quest for justice for the Wagalla victims and families.

Three decades after this incident, three different governments have been in power but little has been done to bring justice to the people of Wajir. Though they have tried to move on with life, many of them say their pride and humanity was trampled down.

Moi Era
This heinous act was conducted when president Moi was in power, and many of the intelligence and security officials during his reign were alleged to either have authorized or had information of the attack before it took place.

Two days before the operation began, some top government, security and intelligence officials met in Wajir at the DC’s office, and according to the list obtained from the visitors book the following government officials attended the meeting; Benson Kaaria (PC North Eastern Province), Bethuel Kiplangat (PS Ministry of Foreign Affairs), David Mwiraria (PS Ministry of Foreign Affairs), John Gituma (PS Ministry of Information and Broadcasting), Bigadier J,R Kibwana (Department of Defence), John Kagathi (Senior Administrative Secretary – office of the President) and James Mathenge (PS Office of the president).

Many of the above have never spoken on the matter while others denied the said meeting ever took place, and distanced themselves from any involvement in the planning of the operation. When the matter was tabled before parliament on several attempts by former Member of Parliament for Wajir West, Abdi Mohamed Sheikh, to institute a probe into the circumstances surrounding the massacre, the parliament was hostile and did not give a hearing into the matter.

In 1992, Moi unofficially apologized to some Degodia elders and promised to establish a trust fund for the victims. This promise never came to pass and he remained mum on the matter ever since.

Kibaki era
In July 2010, some women who survived the horrific attack paid a visit to the deserted Wagalla airstrip where there has not been a single plane for the last close to 30 years. Here, they cried and wept bitterly as the deserted place brought forth memories of the ordeal the were forced to go through. Many were widowed and lost sons in the hands of the police, they still had not got justice from the government.

Various groups of women have tried to broker peace in the area with the help of community elders and businessmen reducing inter-clan conflict which was cited as the initial lead to the Wagalla massacre.

In 2008, The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission was set up to investigate the human rights violation and other historical injustices meted upon the people of Kenya. This was after a peace agreement was reached after post–election violence. Bethuel Kiplangat, a former operative in the Moi government, and one mentioned to have attended the Wajir meeting before the termed genocide, was appointed to steer this committee.

In 2010, a new constitution was implemented in an attempt to end years on violation of human rights in the country.

Uhuru Tenure
The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission conducted its investigations and presented its report to president Uhuru Kenyatta who came to power in 2013. In the report the commission stated it was unable to determibe the precise number of persons murdered. It also reported that the security agents committed antrocities including torture, brutal beatings, rape and sexual violence as well as looting and destruction of property.

Several remedies were outlined in the report one of which demanded of the president to make a public apology on behalf of the government to the Wagalla victims. This report was tabled before parliament for discussion and it is yet to be implemented.

So far, none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice, none of the families have been compensated for the loss they suffered.

Organizations such as the Truth be Told, Wajir Peace and Development Agency have been formed to educate people on peace as well as tackle violence and crime as well as campaign for peace and seek justice for the people of Wajir.

31 years later, justice is yet to be found, only a monument has been set up in Wajir town in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the ordeal. However, the wait continues.

We cry out for Justice.