The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Wagalla 30 Years Later the Shame Lingers On

DAY after day for weeks in 2011, the "weeping widows of Wagalla" trooped into NHIF building's auditorium to hear out the men they hold responsible for torturing and killing their husbands 30 years ago. They had hoped that for once, after decades of deception by the state, they would get to know the truth behind the ill-fated security operation which changed their lives forever.

At the auditorium, the women filled two rows. They were dressed in white-flowing reconciliatory garbs branded by their hosts - Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. Severally, I watched them turn their backs in protest of the people they considered most responsible for the massacre including the chairman of the commission Bethuel Kiplagat.

In their midst was Saharah Abdi whom I had interviewed a year earlier in 2010 when I visited Wagalla. She cut the same image of a troubled soul I had interviewed inside her lonesome manyatta in Bulla Jogoo in Wajir.

I have never forgotten the teary soliloquy she broke into while summing up the hurt she'd went through including repeated rape, beatings and killing of husband: "Look at us, what is left of us? Only God my son, only God... it's not even good to be left alone when all our people have died, not any good... "

Throughout the hearings, the witnesses remained stiff barely releasing any information that could lead to comprehensive understanding of the whole operation. A few nuggets of truth however emerged with the tabling of the Etemesi Report of 1984 which probed the massacre and established that "it was justified but poorly executed."

Another positive in the effort to unravel the truth was the tabling of the minutes of the Wajir District Security Committee meeting of February 9, 1984 which expressly sanctioned the operation and which was attended by five people. It was also a huge positive that most of those adversely mentioned came before the commission and met their accusers.

Despite the countless denial of responsibility from all those who took the witness stand in front of the widows, the commission acknowledged the occurrence of the massacre in its final report. In its report handed over to President Uhuru Kenyatta last June, the commission confirmed that "Wagalla Massacre was a systematic attack against a civilian population and thus qualifies as a crime against humanity."

According to the Rome Statute which Kenya is party to, crimes against humanity means murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or imprisonment committed as 'part of widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population with knowledge of the attack'.

The commission established, after listening to evidence across the board, that the massacre entailed detention, torture and killing of the male members of the Degodia tribe at the airstrip, rape of women, killing of livestock and burning of homes in the villages.

Unable to establish the precise number of the persons murdered in the massacre, the commission said "a large number died, possible close to a thousand." It rejected the official figure of 57 given by the government, saying it reflects the "thoughtless manner in which the state traditionally treated massacres committed by its own agents."

More important, it figured out the people most responsible for the massacre and made specific recommendations against them. It held the members of the District Security Committee in Wajir, Provincial Security Committee and Kenya Intelligence Committee at the time as most culpable of authorising the massacre.

The people indicted in the report were I N Muthuuri a former OCPD in Garissa, Inspector Muli, a police officer in Wajir, JK Kinyanjui, a member of KIC, former DC AH Lindambisa, former PC Amos Bore, JP Gatui from police headquarters, Njeru Mugo from Kenya Army in Wajir, Major Isaiah Kamau of Kenya Rifles, Garissa, former DO Marete, former DCIO Patrick Mugo and former OCS, a Mr Wabwire.

Others are Sgt Ahmed Bishar, Stephen Amaratia, former Internal Security PS James Mathenge, former deputy PC Alex Njue, former PC Joseph Kaguthi, former cabinet minister David Mwiraria, former DC David Mativo, former PS JP Mwangovya, former PC Benson Kaaria, former DC Manasseh Tiema, former PS Bethuel Kiplagat (who also chaired the commission), former PS John Gituma, former OP operative ZM Kimencu, Lt Muriungi, Major (rtd) Philip Chebet and former PPO M Aswani.

Also former Chief of General Staff Gen (rtd) J Kibwana, former DC Joshua Matui, former intelligence oficer JM Ndirangu, former CID officer PN King'ori and Senator GG Kariuki. It recommended further investigations into these people and apart from GG Kariuki, the rest should not hold public office.

The commission also unearthed what it said to have been a "deliberate effort by the government to cover up the details and extent of the massacre." It said members of the KIC including Kiplagat and who visited Wajir on the eve of the massacre "deliberately mis-characterised" to the Commission the nature of their trip and withheld information concerning their knowledge and/or involvement in the security operation.

"The commission finds the conduct of the KIC members unbecoming of their high offices. Indeed the commission finds that particularly because of their continued cover up of the circumstances surrounding the massacre that none of the individuals who were members of the KIC are fit to occupy any position of responsibility in the new Kenyan constitutional order," the report said.

It regretted that the government refused to make available to the commission specific documents related to its investigation of the massacre especially the full set of minutes of high level meetings held to plan it.

Almost eight months later after the commission handed over the report, the shame of Wagalla massacre continues to haunt the nation. Despite the commission recommending that the individuals identified be barred from public office "or any other position of public authority", the government has refused to honour the recommendation.

Some like Kaguthi were recently honoured with a public appointment. The Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko has not investigated the individuals as recommended. President Kenyatta, Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo and Chief of Defence Forces Julius Karangi have not acknowledged or apologised for the massacre within six months as recommended by the commission.

There are no immediate plans, publicly known, to convert Wagalla airstrip into a national monument. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights has however saved the situation by erecting a monument in Wajir town in memory of the victims. The monument set to be launched today is engraved with names of victims as recorded by TJRC.

The site to be recognised as a heritage site through the National Museums of Kenya will, according to KNCHR, "serve to constantly remind the government on the need for accountability for the massacre."

Everything else has stalled. The reparation to victims cannot come through because parliament has sat on the report. Instead of effecting implementation procedures, parliament has set about to amend the Act to give MPs power to amend the report.

How MPs can amend a scientifically crafted report collected after intensive interviews, site visits, analysis of testimonies and research is baffling. The law is however on their side. They may as well amend and say Wagalla never happened, that it was all Valentine's in Wajir on February 14, 1984. One thing is however certain: The cry for justice for Wagalla victims will persist long after they start pushing up the daisies.

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