This week marked the 31st anniversary of the Wagalla massacre. The massacre happened between 10th to 14th February 1984, in the Wajir district. Although the official government report states that 57 people died in the incident, the TJRC report states approximately 1000 people died, while eye witness accounts claim the number may go up to 5000.
The Wagalla massacre was perpetrated by state security officers, who were acting on information that members of the Degodia community had accumulated weapons to attack those of the Ajuran commuty. The state security rounded up men from the Degodia community locking them up on the Wagalla airstrip, under the hot sun, without food or water for four days.
Hundreds died from heat, hunger and thirst, while those who tried to escape were shot dead. Back in their homes the mothers, wives and daughters of the Degodia community, were raped and tortured, and their homes set ablaze, as state security officers searched for the hidden weapons.
The wounds of the massacre, both physical and emotional, are yet to heal. The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) was established to investigate this and other historical injustices between 1963 and 2008.
To date, none of the recommendations of the TJRC have been implemented. Not a single arrest has been made with regard to the massacre. Sadly, after the Wagalla Massacre, there have at least 12 other massacres resulting in more than 3000 deaths. Most of these massacres have been in the Northern and Coastal parts of Kenya. The culture of “accepting and moving on” and failing to learn from the past has not done any good, in terms of achieving justice.
To many of us, this is a story we have never heard. It is so distant from us, we struggle to empathise with the survivors. But the truth is, that we cannot move forward as a nation, if certain communities continue to bleed from the wounds of injustice.
It is very ignorant of us to imagine that our actions, inactions, and choices to ignore certain historical events, will not catch up with us one day. We act as if the resultant threats to security and livelihoods won’t affect us. We act as if the security failures in the North-East and the Coast won’t affect us in “safer parts of the country”. Westgate proved otherwise. The post-election violence of 2007/2008 is a stark reminder that this short-sighted optimism is misplaced.
What the Wagalla massacre reveals is that the truth will always emerge. Though the events of the massacre had been concealed for a long time, and treated as a taboo subject, people can now discuss it freely on social media, and in public spaces, through screenings of “Scarred: the Anatomy of a Massacre” for instance in Nairobi and Wajir.
Just as truth is emerging, a strong quest for justice will emerge. The question is, what incentive do victims of impunity have to trust the State to deliver justice, when it has constantly failed them?
Former Speaker of National Assembly, Farah Maalim Mohammed, in his remarks after the screening of the Wagalla Massacre documentary in Nairobi, reflected on the fact that both local and international justice systems had failed Kenyans.
The TJRC failed to deliver justice for victims of historical injustices, while the ICC failed to deliver justice for victims of the 2007/2008 post-election violence. In the absence of trust for both local and international justice systems, communities may resort to their own mechanisms for justice.
Such a scenario paints uncertainty, and calls for Kenyans to demand truth, justice and reconciliation through proper state mechanisms. It also calls for us to demand and fight for restoration of faith in our justice systems.
We must be our brothers and sisters keepers. In the words of our national anthem “May justice be our shield and defender”