Resolving the Wagalla Massacre case; a cultural approach
For a period of 26 years the survivors of Wagalla Massacre have been literally crying their hearts out for justice. The quest for justice for this perplexing case has been long and odious. It began immediately after the incident when the late Ahmed Khalif, former Minister for Labour, who in 1984 was the Member of Parliament for Wajir West, took the issue to the international community. He talked to the international press and asked the United Nations to act on the case. Scandinavian countries such as Norway cut diplomatic ties with Kenya after the uproar created by the publication of Wagalla Massakren a book by Josten Bjordal who witnessed the massacre firsthand. Josten was working for an NGO in Wajir when the massacre took place.
There were various attempts by Khalif and Abdi Mohamed Sheikh, former Member of Parliament for Wajir East, to bring a motion to the floor of Parliament to institute a probe into the circumstances surrounding the Wagalla Massacre. As it was recorded in the Hansard, the parliament was hostile and did not give even a hearing to the matter. At times, one can feel that the assembled members took delight in humiliating, embarrassing and dismissing their colleagues.
The quest for justice was propelled further by court cases filed by brahim Khamis Adan and Alinoor Yussuf Mohamed Hussein through their lawyers, Munikah and Company Advocates. The cases were mired in procedural sandbagging by the Attorney General through M. Ole Keiwua who was a state council then. The Attorney General would not institute any criminal probe into the matter and the evidence asked for was beyond the capacity of the litigants. The cases were finally withdrawn even without the consent of one of the plaintiffs. The courts have never been friendly to cases against the Kenya government. Judges were used to frustrate any individual who had the audacity to go to court over human rights violations.
Survivors of Wagalla Massacre did not let up the pressure even after the various setbacks that befall them. The annual protests in front of the Kenyan High Commission in Canada were organized by the Kenyan Somali Community in North America. The Chairman of this organization was Abdi Yalahow. These protests were intended to keep the struggle alive until an opportunity arises to further the struggle. Yalahow took up the issue with the Indigenous People’s Commission of the United Nations. While the UN body agreed to the fact that the genocide took place, it did not do any follow up on the issue. Various other activities were organized by different personalities intended to move the Wagalla Massacre case forward but the Kenya Government would not be cowed to listen.
The TBT Network in collaboration with Kenyan Somali Community in North America began the new internal struggle in 2003 after the publication of “In the Eyes of the Miaow”. The first attempt was to organize a commemoration of the 19th Anniversary at Wagalla Airstrip. The commemoration brought together over 10,000 participants, many of whom were the families of the victims. The objective was to create a forum for those who were not allowed to show their emotions for 19 years to reminisce and mourn. It also created an opportunity to educate other Kenyans about the heinous crime that took place in Wagalla in 1984. The TBT Network organized a commemoration of the Wagalla Massacre on 9th to 14th February every year since. These days are marked with prayers, meetings and rallies. The commemorations are set to continue into the future.
In 2005, the TBT Network through Gitobu Imanyara filed a case at the high court to compel the government to acknowledge that a crime of genocide was committed by the Kenyan security forces and to compel the government to institute an inquest into the matter. The case was hurled from one judge to another without much progress. The judges were content with debating the locus standi of the parties rather than any substantive issue. Finally the case stalled because no hearing date was given and one of the allotted judges was appointed to a non-judicial position. Gitobu Imanyara also became too busy when he was elected to parliament in 2007. The case is still before the courts awaiting a fair and just hearing. There is hope that the establishment of a new judiciary under the new constitution will attract new attention to the case.
In 2007, a detailed account of what happened at Wagalla Airstrip in 1984 was published in the book “Blood on the Runway: The Wagalla Massacre of 1984″ by S. Abdi Sheikh. While the book attracted attention from academics and civil society internationally, the Kenyan media refused to discuss the details in the book. It seems the same forces that frustrated parliament and judiciary from discussing the Wagalla are also gagging the media too. It is the details in this book that shed light on the personalities behind the massacre.
The government has refused to acknowledge the killings at Wagalla in 1984. Acknowledgment in a mild form came from Wiliam Ruto a Minister in Daniel Arap Moi’s government in 1999 while answering a question in Parliament when he intimated that the security forces killed over 300 people. Admission of Wagalla as genocide came from Kiraitu Murungi, the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs in 2003 when he said it as a matter of fact that Wagalla Massacre was genocide. That is all the government said about the matter in the last 26 years. In 1992 Moi apologized to some Degodia elders unofficially and promised to establish a trust fund for the victims. The promise never came to pass.
The government established a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission headed by Bethuel Kiplagat a former operative of the Moi government. TBT Network and many of the victims of the past atrocities have rejected the TJRC as constituted and asked for disbandment of the commission and formation of a more powerful and independent commission. The survivors of Wagalla Massacre have presented evidence to show that the Chairman of the TJRC was present at a meeting at Wajir District Commissioner’s office on February 8th 1984.
The basic quest for the survivors of Wagalla Masscare has been Truth, Justice, Reparations and acknowledgement. Truth cannot be achieved through a biased and unfair process. Justice cannot be gained by grandstanding and chest-thumping of the perpetrators. It is not possible to hold a gun to the head of an individual so that he can reconcile with his tormentors. There must be a process that is fair, transparent and respects the dignity of the victims and survivors. So long as the credibility of the current TJRC is tainted, so long as among the Commissioners are people who are perceived to have participated in the Wagalla Masscare of 1984, no justice can be contemplated.
There is a way to solve this matter that will respect the dignity of the victims and survivors and provide acceptable reparations to them. This is a kin to the Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts. Among the Somalis of Northern Kenya, there is no crime without restitution. If a man is killed; the deceased’s family is paid 100 camels by the killer’s family. The society understands that camels are not a substitute for life but the payment of such reparation creates an avenue for reconciliation as well as spares the life of the perpetrator who may have committed the crime but by then feels remorseful about the unnecessary death. The Kenya government can sincerely apologize for the Wagalla Massacre, identify the perpetrators by name and publish their pictures in all major newspapers and then pay the survivors and families of victims an equivalent of 100 camels for every person killed. The onus of determining the genuine cases falls on the government rather than the claimants. Official documents seen by various sources, state that the number of victims of Wagalla Masscare totalled 2619. The TBT Network and representatives of survivors and families are willing to negotiate on this basis without prejudicing the right to be heard in a properly constituted court of law either in Kenya or internationally.
S. Abdi Sheikh is the Co-ordinator of Truth Be Told Network and a trustee of Wagalla Massacre Foundation Trust. He can be reach at email@example.com