This week marks the 32nd anniversary of the the gruesome killing of 5,000 Somalis, most from the Degodia sub-clan. Writer and researcher SALAH ABDI SHEIKH argues that the massacre was a premeditated act of genocide, not a military operation gone wrong. This is the second and last part in the Wagalla massacre series.
By SALAH ABDI SHEIKH –
The official government reports available show that Wagalla massacre was a military operation gone wrong. According to a report prepared by Etemesi Committee, there was no clear “operational order” given to the junior commanders of the army and the police.
The District Security Committee panicked and made terrible errors and the methods of interrogation they used was unusual and unprofessional.
The acting DC and the OCPD demonstrated clear lack of leadership and tact and in their cowardice left the situation to junior military and police officers.
Etemesi Committee reached one damning conclusion that threw a spanner in the works of all the official truths about the massacre. The District Security Committee members were “to date unwilling to state the truth regarding the incident.
The credibility of the officers is hence doubtful”.
Despite its damning conclusion, there is one problem; Etemesi inevitably relied on doctored reports and explanations of those who perpetrated the massacre that the incident was as result of operation gone wrong.
The more plausible explanation is it was planned that way.
To understand Kenya’s policy towards Somalis of Kenya, one must look beyond the borders in the politics of Somalia and Ethiopia.
Kenya and Ethiopia have a security pact that is intended to put up a defense against Somalia.
The Wagalla Airstrip runway has never been used since it was constructed in 1984.
In all the massacres that took place in North Eastern Kenya, there was instigation of some cross-border activity. When people were killed in Malka Mari, Ethiopian forces or militias had burned a Kenyan military vehicle.
Kenya ended up killing its own citizens because of the policy of not differentiating Somalis wherever they may live. The idea of “they all look alike” exists to date.
When Garissa town was burnt by the military in 1980, the idea was to flush out one Abdi Mathobe who went to Somalia, armed himself and came back for revenge.
The Somalia connection to all the violations on Somalis of Kenya was manifested in the 1989 Kenya Somali Verification and Registration, which led to mass deportation of Somalis out of Kenya.
The idea behind this exercise was the notion that there were, according to Daniel arap Moi, Vice-President of Kenya in 1978, Somalis who have “sympathy with Somalia”. It took the Kenya government 11 years to implement Moi’s 1978 directive.
Wagalla massacre happened at confluence of three potent forces; Somali clan chauvinism, Somalia border instability and Kenya’s suspicion and subjugation of its Somali population.
At the time of Wagalla massacre, there was bitter conflict between Degodia and Ajuran sub-clans. The official story states that Degodia had become “aggressively hostile” and this phrase “aggressively hostile” was used in the minutes of PSC and DSC.
The Ministerial Statement given in parliament chronicles aggressive action by Degodia sub-clan against the Ajuran sub-clan.
As the hostilities between the two sub-clans escalated, the government came in and asked both groups to surrender their arms. The Minister of State Office of the President, Hussein Maalim, visited Wajir in December 1983 and gave each group 10 days to bring in their guns and ammunition.
By the end of the grace period, “Ajuran had complied but Degodians had shown little response”. Etemesi report says 12 guns were surrendered by the two groups, with Degodia only surrendering one. The grace period was extended by 10 more days and this time more guns were surrendered.
Ajuran surrendered 26 and Degodia surrendered eight. This was an arms race in reverse.
Official reports say instead of implementing the government directives, the Degodia started migrating to nearby Mandera and Garissa districts. They were however stopped by the respective District Security Committees.
Further the Security Committees’ minutes bring in a new angle which was picked by the Etemesi Report. Degodia threatened to “assassinate senior civil servants”.
This particular language seems to pervade the whole official story; they had to be killed because they were “aggressively hostile”, refused to surrender more guns, migrated to other districts and threatened to assassinate senior civil servants.
This story was cooked up to look like the government was protecting one group of Somalis by killing another group wantonly.
The schism between Somali sub-clans flared and ebbed since the time immemorial and continues to date. It is easy to poke holes in this official narrative.
The first gaping hole is how many guns did each group own? How did the number of guns surrendered become a measure of compliance?
Etemesi Report observes that the number of guns surrendered should not have been a yardstick of compliance or discrimination.
Second, the clan clashes were confined to Giriftu division, why were Degodia clansmen abducted from Wajir South, Wajir East, Moyale district, Mandera district and Garissa district? Why was Wajir town being burnt? Again Etemesi Report asks this pertinent question.
It also observes that “burning of the aerials (huts) in Bulla Jogoo in Wajir Township was unjustified and uncalled for in view of the fact that the plots had been officially allocated to the owners”.
A close reading of the official story reveals a determined effort to confound everyone with tales of raging, armed and out of control tribal militia rampaging through the district.
There has always been the suspicion among Wajir residents that Wagalla massacre was engineered to tame an armed rebellion against a government rather than to quell tribal tension [Ed.: the author would here better speak of clan tension].
There was no armed rebellion against the Kenya government in Wajir in 1984 in which the Degodia sub-clan played any role. There was however an armed rebellion against the government of Somalia in which Degodia had a not so insignificant involvement.
There was Somalia National Movement (SNM), also known as iriria, which apparently operated within five miles of the Kenyan border.
A brief prepared for Kenya Intelligence Committee’s visit to North Eastern Province between February 8-10, 1984, states that this rebel group operated in Sidamo and was recruiting Kenyans along the border.
The leader of this group was, according to the brief, one Sheikh Yarrow Haji Ibrahim, Degodia from Wajir, who according to the brief was a defector from Somali National Army. The brief states that although the rebel leader’s ambition was primarily against the Somali government, chances of him changing the “the idea against Kenya, if he (ever) succeeds cannot be ruled out”.
Somalia’s involvement was given credence by claims made in parliament by Ahmed Khalif in March 1984 after the massacre. According to a report that appeared in the Weekly Review of April 13, 1984, a certain rebel group had a camp five miles from the Kenya border.
The report quoting a senior North Eastern politician claimed that there existed in the province an underground political movement called iriria, which was responsible for the violence.
The politician claimed that iriria was an alliance of small tribal [better: sub-clan-based or familial) groupings backed by a livestock agency in Nairobi, which was using huge amounts of money to recruit local people in pursuit of “an eventual foreign objective”.
After Wagalla massacre, this was the last reference ever made to iriria’s existence in the province. It is dropped from the official story like it never existed thereafter.
The last potent force that may have played a catalyst role in Wagalla massacre is the Kenya government’s official suspicion of its Somali population.
Between 1978 and 1984, three massacres occurred in the three districts of North Eastern Province. In Mandera district in 1978, hundreds were killed at Malka Marri when a Kenyan military vehicle was allegedly burnt by an Ethiopian militia.
In Garissa district in 1980, half of the town was burnt, people murdered and their bodies thrown into the river according to witnesses.
There was a clear reference to Garissa incident in the minutes of the Provincial Security Committee meetings where in his remarks, the PC refers both military operations as “impromptu security operations” and in the second reference, indicates “judging from previous events in Garissa in 1980, the DSC Wajir decided to round-up Degodia male adults”.
The incidents in Mandera and Garissa were not as publicised as Wagalla massacre probably because they were indiscriminate and the numbers involved were fewer. However, there was a pattern of the military running rampage on the population and massacring them at will.
The government explanation that the massacre was a normal operation gone wrong falls flat against evidence provided in its own reports.
Wagalla massacre was a premeditated genocide targeting a small community identifiable by distinct ethnic reference and location.
The primary objective was mass murder and displacement, the first was achieved but the second objective failed.
According to the Wajir DSC special meeting of February 9, 1984, the primary objective of the operation was to apprehend the killers of six civilians on that day.
There were no other objectives stated by the DSC. The strategy was clear, to spread the military across the district, round up all Degodia tribes[clan-}men and interrogate them until they identify the killers among them.
The DSC observed since “the exercise is a big, the security personnel in the district will not be able to cover it adequately, the OC … 7KR and O.C.P.D were asked to request for more manpower from their respective superiors”.
The minutes of the DSC says nothing about the objectives other than to apprehend some killers and does not mention Wagalla airstrip or any other holding place for the prisoners.
The PSC meeting of February 14, 1984, the last day of the massacre however provides a list of two objectives; “to ask all Degodia tribesmen who possess illegally acquired firearms to surrender them to the authorities immediately” and “to try and obtain from the Degodia tribesmen under interrogation any names of known people in possession of illegal firearms, so that such people can also be rounded up and be made to surrender illegal firearms”.
Again the PSC omits the primary objective of the operation provided by the DSC which purports to have ordered the operation. The PSC goes further and says, “The only convenient and suitable place to gather all those rounded up was agreed to be at the Wajir civilian airstrip”.
This detail was not provided at the beginning of the operations on February 9 when the DSC Wajir met and authorised an operation against the Degodia sub-clan. Official story gets murkier, the PSC restates its objectives on February 17, 1984 that the operation was carried out after defenseless civilians were killed.
Etemesi report provides a clear list of objectives, which includes all the DSC and PSC have said about the security operations but adds its own aims which were never in any of the minutes of the district and provincial security teams.
The aims of the operations, according to the committee, were: to force Degodia to surrender their firearms, try and get names of the bandits who killed the family of six in Griftu, force all the Degodias to their traditional grazing area i.e Wajir East, restore law and order.
Tying up all these mutating reasons for Wagalla, it is evident that there was a plan which was probably too sinister to be on official documents.
The objective of mass displacement of a population who by 1984 were a majority in a constituency, off the land, was one clear indication that Wagalla massacre was designed to shock its victims to submission or cause such atrocious annihilation that it would be difficult for the targeted community to ever regenerate.
This attempt itself is a sign that genocide was afoot.
Events preceding Wagalla massacre point to the premeditated nature of this heinous crime. Prominent Degodia leaders were detained for instigation to violence before the massacre.
This included former MP Abdisirat Khalif, chairman Wajir County Council Mohamed Ali Noor, former councillor Omar Ali Birik and local resident Ahmed Elmi Daud.
Mohammed Elmi was emotional during the TJRC hearings on the Wagalla Massacre in 2011
This indicated that the operation was not “an impromptu security situation” but a well planned military operation. The other event was the disarming of 52 APs and five police officers who were from Degodia sub-clan.
Etemesi Committee indicates that Wajir DSC were reacting to “intelligence reports from Garissa, whereby it was alleged that the Degodias were planning to retaliate against the government and use Degodias in the system to assassinate civil servants”.
The other startling issue was that on February 11, 1984 when people were gathered at Wagalla airstrip naked, lying face forward on the hot surface, the DSC, according to Etemesi report, withdrew the ID cards. By the time Etemesi committee was writing its report, the IDs had not been returned to the owners.
After the massacre, rescue teams led by Sister Analena Toneli and Mohamed Ibrahim Elmi, current MP for Tarbaj constituency, collected survivors and bodies from all over the district. They also provided much of the information.
The government did not take this rescue effort lightly and came hard on the Catholic lay sister. Etemesi Report recommended that Analena Toneli’s activities at the TB Manyatta that she managed for over 10 years be observed. In few months, DSC Wajir recommended that she be declared a security risk and eventually she was deported.
In the end the perpetrators got a pat on the back and are still living in the Kenyan society oblivious to the blood of the innocent victims on their hands.
Wagalla massacre remains a stain on the conscience of the Kenya government, past, present and the future. Etemesi Committee recommended that communal punishment be suspended, the likes of Nabwire, Tiema and Mudogo be given severe reprimand, transferred and dealt with departmentally and finally and most importantly, Degodia’s confidence in government be restored.
The committee recommended, “The government’s immediate task should be to try and restore the confidence of the Degodias” and to wrap up their recommendation, they repeated the same line word for word just for emphasis.
Some 32 years later, their recommendations still fly out of the page for any government official interested to read and implement.
For a committee that was operating under such severe restrictions, the Etemesi Report in most parts except where they relied on the regional security committees, provides an insight unlike no other about the Wagalla massacre.
The official truth about the massacre however was convoluted and corrected to fit into rogue security team and military operation gone wrong paradigm.
Nothing could be further from the truth; Wagalla massacre happened the way it happened because it was planned that way.
(*) Salah Abdi Sheikh is the author of ‘Blood on the Runway: The Wagalla Massacre of 1984, firstname.lastname@example.org