December 16th 2017

Top Stories / Counties

Wagalla Massacre: Failed memorial and a people’s disdain for Uhuru govt

What started as an operation in 1984 to disarm members of the ethnic Somali Degodia clan morphed into what the United Nations termed as one of the worst violations of human rights in the history of Kenya.

By Mohamed Gediyarriska90som@live.comFriday, 17 Feb 2017 10:25 EAT

(L-R): Abdikadir Ahmed alias Bush; Abdi Yussuf Elmi; and a demonstrate by victims of how the people were killed. (Graphic by Mohamed Gedi, photo courtesy of the Star website).

Is justice for victims of Wagalla Massacre hard to realize? The Wagalla Massacre of 10 February 1984 is regarded as the worst violation of the human rights of innocent Kenyans by the country’s military. Girls and women were raped, children orphaned, men forced to lie bare on the hot ground for days and an estimated 5,000 lives lost.

In the book Blood on the Runway: The Wagalla Massacre of 1984, which chronicles the horrors of that day, author Salah Abdi Sheikh describes the hot, sunny afternoon torture and execution of innocent Kenyans as "hell on earth".

Tuesday 14 February marked the 33rd anniversary since the genocide took place, but the apparent reservoir of Wajir people's unshed tears went muted. A commemmorative event that was to be organized by human rights agencies and local leaders flopped, leaving people here anxious about the passage of time amid the government's indifference to the need to do justice.

During President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit to the region in May last year, he didn’t miss to talk about the issue. He bluntly told the residents to forget and move on. He exonerated his deputy and himself from the atrocities and said they shouldn’t be held responsible for the same. He then promised to compensate the victims but he never honoured his promise. Many begged to disagree with this phrase.

The people here are vexed by current administration’s undermining the search for justice which had gained traction with serious and sound reflection on the from 2008 TJRC process and film-maker Judy Kibinge’s documentary, Scarred: The Anatomy of a Massacre, launched at the National Museum in Kenya in 2015.

Those who were at hand to commemorate the massacre included Abdikadir Ahmed alias Bush. Talking to the Kenya Free Press, Bush said, “These victims need justice but forgetting and moving on won’t solve a thing". Emphasizing the need to consider Wagalla Airstrip a historic site, he said: “It is very essential to establish a memorable marks in the scene, be it by way of dedicating a learning institution, university or teaching Wagalla Massacre in schools. Today the world pays tribute to places where human injustices happened, for instance, the Holocaust history is preserved in many western countries”.

Many residents of Wajir have horror stories in the midst of helpless government. Bashir Ismail the former chief of Wagalla, is an elderly man, knowledgeable of the massacre. In a recent interview at the Wajir Community Radio, he explained the Wagalla Massacre days, what followed and the push and pull for the recognition of the atrocities as a human right violation by the governments of Kenya.

The outspoken literate Ismail is explicit that there is a total negligence by the Uhuru administration as well as his predecessors towards the justice of the victims of Wagalla massacre. "During the large-scale military operation, beside the killings, the army raped women, burned houses, the heinous violations were of substantial proportions. Even after 33 years, we still don’t see anybody from the government side involving in the issue of Wagalla; we have pushed for the implementation of TJRC report but all is in vain,” he explains.

His pessimistic comments had praises to the vast contribution by well-wishers including documentary works, Salah Abdi Sheikh's books and to those who contributed to the justice trail and preservation​ of the information on the 1984 Wagalla injustice.

Abdi Yussuf Elmi, 27, a human ecologist, is very cynical about the government involvement. “The Mau Mau war took place way back before British Prime Minister David Cameron was born. However, the fighters were recently compensated by Cameron’s administration. So I react with contempt to what our president told Kenyans that his government shouldn't be held responsible as far as Wagalla Massacre is concerned.

This carefree phrase won’t help this country to resolve the historical injustices. What Kenya needs is the full implementation of the TJRC report that is gathering dust in the State House shelves and this is the key reason why we have not commemorated the massacre this time".

Mohamed is a contributing reporter for the Kenya Free Press based in Wajir County

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