By Wajir Chronicles
The infamous Wagalla massacre led to the killing of more than 5000 innocent men. There crime? They unfortunately belonged to the Degodia clan of the Somali community.
Kenyan troops descended on the area to reportedly help diffuse clan-related conflict. David Mwiraria, who died on Thursday at a Nairobi hospital after a long illness was by then the powerful PS of the Ministry of Interior (PS Office of the president in charge of Internal Security), and had visited Wajir a day before the massacre. What role did he play? How will his death hinder justice for the victims?
In a TWO PART SERIES, I try to unearth and answer these burning questions.
It is February 10th 1984, a sunny morning in this sun baked North East part of the country. Halima Ali Hussein was just newly married and like any other girl in this part of the country, she was happily overwhelmed by the treasure she was carrying in her womb. She was three months pregnant.
Her equally excited young groom, Abdullahi Mumin, then aged 24 and a casual laborer in Wajir town, was determined to support his young family. With news of Halima’s pregnancy, the future looked promising.
An aura of happiness swept through their small Somali manyatta (aqal hori) that evening as the two young love birds sat down on a mat, sheepishly laughed over cup of tea as the sun prepared to set, and darkness slowly hovered in.
Their dreams were soon to be shattered and flipped upside down by the same people they expected to offer them protection. That fateful night, soldiers of the Kenya Army mounted a vicious security operation in and around Wajir.
Their orders were clear; round up all Somali men of the Degodia clan. Abdullahi and 5000 other men were rounded up and mercilessly beaten, bundled onto on-waiting military trucks and driven off to the nearby Wagalla Airstrip.
Their only crime; they unfortunately belonged to the Degodia clan, the largest in Wajir District (as it was referred to at the time).
As news of David Mwiraria’s death went viral across the country, I instantly embarked on a literary, epic journey that led me to finding Halima, a victim of the infamous Wagalla massacre.
The once young, bubbly and beautiful teenage girl, beaming with hopes and dreams of a bright future, and now aged 51, Halima paints a grim picture of hopelessness and dejection in life.
She visibly looks older than her age, her protruding cheek bones betraying the hardships in her life.
“People were screaming all around. We jumped out of our bed in fear, Abdullahi wanted to venture out and find out what was going on. I held him back and pointed at my slightly protruding belly, reminding him that we both needed him around,” she vividly recalled the events of that night, her teary eyes almost overwhelming me.
Unknown to both of them, events that led to the massacre of more than 5000 men on that day had just begun. Within minutes, armed men in full military gear stormed their house.
Abdullahi was hit with the butt of a gun and he fell onto the ground.
“There was so much noise,” she recalled. “People were begging for mercy and you could hear the soldiers saying, ‘Catch them, catch them, and don’t let them get away.”
Abdullahi was identified as a Degodia, and immediately two burley soldiers, twice his skinny size, dragged him out of the manyatta and onto the waiting military truck.
Three soldiers remained behind as Halima wailed uncontrollably not knowing her husband’s fate.
“As they stood above me, it never crossed my mind that they intended to rape me. I tried to resist, but they overpowered me. They repeatedly raped me, and left me for dead” she said amid sobs.
Unfortunately, Halima lost her pregnancy as a result of the rape. Abdullahi was killed alongside thousands of other Degodia men at Wagalla airstrip. This massacre was extremely low tech – no gas chambers – just machine guns of our own soldiers.
Mr Mwiraria, was by then a Permanent Secretary of the powerful Ministry of Home Affairs and a member of the Kenya Intelligence Committee (KIC) which had visited Wajir a day before this massacre.
The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) recommended that all KIC members be investigated and prosecuted. It also recommended that they should not hold any public office.
When I revealed to Halima news of his demise at Karen Hospital in Nairobi on Thursday, after a long battle with cancer, it hit her like thunderbolt.
Her heartbreak with her own Government over lack of interest in ensuring justice prevails for victims of that horrendous massacre are evidently seen in her wrinkled eyes.
Historians and civil rights activists term the Wagalla massacre “a part of the policy of collective punishment’ – where the State knowingly metes horrendous violence against its own people.
Four days of bloodshed and ruthless interrogation by state agents led to death of thousands of Degodia men, many of whom were forced to drink their own urine.It remains the worst atrocity in Kenya’s modern history.
“They killed them straight away. The killings took place over four days. At night the butchers rested and, guarding the perimeter so that nobody would escape. ,” she told me.
Halima is just one of thousands of families affected by events of that hot February day.
There detailed accounts, horrific pictures, earthshaking testimonies and retrospective reflections attempt to cope with the hard questions raised by the events of spring 1984.
What motivated my beloved State to plan, execute, and devote substantial resources to the butchery of of its citizens? What role did Mwiraria play? What went through the minds of those uniformed soldiers who killed, raped, and tortured men, women, and children? What is that keeping the international community silent?
As I try to dig deeper, I understand the answers will always remain partial, for no investigative report, eyewitness account, scholarly study, legal procedure, or work of art can fully represent massacre. The cruelty of the perpetrators, the fear of the victims, the cynicism of officials and the sights and smells of the killing air field will always be hard to grasp.
WATCH OUT FOR PART TWO TOMORROW!!