Remembering The Wagalla Massacre

This happened. Only 31 years ago. Lest we forget.

[O]n February [10th] 1984, soldiers of the Kenya Army mounted a security operation around Wajir in Kenya’s North Eastern Province. Having rounded-up all Somali men of the Degodia clan, as many as 5000 were taken to the Wagalla airstrip for interrogation. This was part of the policy of ‘collective punishment’ – a conscious act of state violence against its own citizens. After four days of interrogations at Wagalla, several hundred Degodia lay dead: whether 500 died, or 1000, or more is unknown, but the incident stands as the worst atrocity in Kenya’s modern history. This article recounts what is known about the massacre from witness and survivor testimony, putting this together with documentary evidence recently revealed through the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) and setting the analysis in the wider context of Kenya’s treatment of the peoples of its ‘forgotten north’. The conclusion summarises the findings of Kenya’s TJRC on Wagalla, and comments on the recent construction of a monument to commemorate the massacre, opened at Wajir on 14 February 2014.

The following individuals held a top level meeting in the Wajir DC offices on February 8th, two days before the massacre: Joseph Kaguthi (Asst. Secretary, Internal Security), James Mathenge (PS, OP in charge of Internal Security), Gen. J. R. Kibwana (former CGS), John Gituma (PS, Information and Broadcasting), Benson Kaaria (PC, North Eastern), Bethuel Kiplagat (PS Foreign Affairs), and David Mwiraria (PS, Home Affairs). Mwiraria has in the past argued that he and others at the meeting had not idea about what was about to happen.

Because of the failure to effectively deal with instances of gross state overreach like the Wagalla Massacre, impunity within the security services continues. Government reactions to insecurity in the northwest, at the coast, in the northeast, in dealing with Mungiki, out west in Mt. Elgon, and even in Eastleigh, are continuations of an old habit that goes back to the Mau Mau concentration camps under the emergency.

Throughout the “Shifta” war and well into the 1980s..

collective punishment continued to be used to ‘discipline’ the north, amid a growing sense of official impunity, as was evident in the collective punishment of a Somali community in Garissa

More on this here.

Here is the Citizen TV documentary from 2012.

Insecurity in Kenya and the upcoming March 2013 elections

It is a mere three and a half months before the March 4th elections in Kenya and compounding the problems facing the electoral commission (which is riddled with corruption allegations and is yet to register voters) is the fact that insecurity in the country appears to be on the rise. The recent killing of at least 40 police officers in Baragoi (in northwestern Kenya) says it all. This comes just a couple of months after the Tana River massacre that left over 100 villagers and police officers dead in mid-September.

(credit: Gado)

The Tana Delta and Baragoi massacres exposed the failures of the intelligence and policing operations in the less-governed parts of Kenya (roughly the northern half and most of the east and southeast of the country). In both cases the government was caught flat-footed and unable to respond rapidly to emergent security threats.

A lot of finger pointing followed both incidents, with the police claiming that their hands were tied by strict laws on the use of force (thanks in part to the justifiably hyperactive human rights crowd in Nairobi) and the politicians blaming one another for incitement of the perpetrators of the crimes.

The latest incident in Baragoi has forced the president to order the deployment of the Kenya Defense Forces to assist in bringing to book the bandits behind the murder of dozens of policemen.

But the deployment of the security forces alone will not bring an end to the cycle of killings that have plagued Kenya in the last several months. In order to clean up the toxic mix of archaic cultural practices, local politics and economic interests, the government will have to be a little bit more broad and nuanced in its approach. What ought to be done about the cultural practices behind cattle rustling? How, if at all, are local leaders ever involved in these operations? What is the local political impact of these raids?

Which brings me back to the 2013 elections. The electoral commission has only one month beginning on Monday Nov 19 to register 18 million voters. Serious lapses in security that seem to be commonplace in large parts of the country do not inspire confidence in the agents of the commission who are supposed to traverse the whole country to build a new voter roll.

A failure to register enough voters for the election due to insecurity will de-legitimize the whole process, with dire consequences.

I hope that the electoral commission is following the investigations of these incidents of violence closely (especially since it has the power to punish those in contravention of election laws). Many Kenyans trust that the commission will be fair on election day. It is therefore not inconceivable that knowing that they won’t change the results after people have voted, crooked politicians have resorted to gerrymandering by other means – by dislocating certain pockets of voters or instigating violence to suppress voter registration and eventual turnout.