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Kenya Govt Untold Sins: The Wagalla Massacre - Horror On Day One Of Three

Monday August 23, 2021

This incredibly brave woman is Abdia Warmoge.

Abdia wasn't born disfigured. The lifetime scars were inflicted on the first of three days of horror that was inflicted on her community.

At the time, she was a thriving business lady at Wagalla - she'd deal on the front end with everything from fabrics, electronics, foodstuffs, and everything in between.

She had a huge amount of money in her house - banking in the early '80s wasn't as robust as it is today.

A group of heavily armed men kicked in her door and ransacked it and took the money. One of the men was left behind to rape her.

She resisted. She tried to bite the man trying to rape her. He turned to violence. He swung his rifle's butt so hard at her mouth that all her front teeth were knocked out. She didn't give up.

The man's next swing hit so hard on her temple that her right eye popped out.

The physical scars nearly took her life but eventually healed. Not so much for emotional and psychological scars - and the tragedy remains buried 36 years later.

Abdia hailed from the Degodia Clan, the unfortunate victims in the infamous Wagalla Massacre. The men behind the torture, rape and plunder were government forces - police and soldiers.

The fateful day - 10th February 1984. Over three days, government forces killed over 5,000 Kenyans in Wagalla Town - then a thriving township in Wajir, in Northern Kenya.

At the time, this region was known as the Northern Frontier District (NFD). This was an operative term to describe it as it was a buffer zone between Kenya and Somalia.

A lot of legislation was made to control and isolate the NFD starting decades earlier to end in the '84 tragedy.

In 1902, the British restricted movement in and out of NFD. In 1932, the colonialists installed and bestowed administrators in NFD - with extensive powers to arrest, restraint and detain.

The final cog in that wheel, the British legalized collective punishment of tribes and clans in NFD.

By 1963, Kenya was practically divided into two - the North and the South. The people in the north called the south 'Down Kenya'. The general feeling was that they were not part of Kenya.

In the early 80's, the two major clans Degodia and Ajuran fell into acrimony over a communal well. The fights and conflicts rocked an otherwise sleepy Wajir landscape.

In the first major incident, the Degodia clan attacked the Ajuran clan killing one man and five women. The weaker Ajuran started blaming President Daniel arap Moi's government for failing to offer protection to them querying if they were alienated as Kenyan citizens.

As it predictably happens with the government even to this day, a decree was issued through the Provincial Commissioner demanding that both clans should surrender all their weapons.

Retired PC Benson Kaaria, then all-powerful PC in NFD (file image)

At the time, Benson Kaaria (now retired) was the all-powerful PC in the region.

The Degodia Clan surrendered guns - 8 rifles. The government took it as a mockery, and a disarming operation was mounted to disarm the Degodians. That set the stage for what followed over a period of 3 days that left an indelible mark on Kenya's history.

Day One - Friday, 10th Feb 1984. Time is 5:00am EAT.

At crack of dawn, soldiers arrive at Wagalla village, in Wajir Town. Soldiers weren't here to knock on doors. They systematically started kicking in doors and pulling out males.

In 1984, most household doors rocked flimsy thatched mats on a twig frame. It was a piece of cake.

The soldiers beat men with rungus and rifle butts, throwing them in their army trucks for transport. Whenever they found a man, they only enquired of their clan. Woe unto you if you mentioned Degodia Clan - instant beatings, and bundled into the truck.

The round-up operation for Degodia men lasted up to 1pm. As each lorry filled up, the load of men was ferried to Wagalla Airstrip.

By afternoon, an estimated 5,000 men were squatting at the airstrip.

More beatings awaited.

In the afternoon, some calm and peace descended as police officers from Garissa started addressing the men. They insisted that the men had guns and should co-operate. They had to surrender their guns.

Military officers arrived at the airstrip, and chaos returned. They started a two-hour beating session for the victims. A soldier would get a line of squatting victims and descend that line hammering at heads and shoulders with a long stick.

It gets hot in Wajir. The sun became unbearable.

A boy, well known as Ishmael,  a camel herder tried to run. He was shot in the back by a soldier, remarking that the hyenas had got their first meal of the many to come.

Images from the Wagalla Massacre memorial (file image)

Meanwhile, back in the village, the soldiers left were having a field day commiting heinous acts on the women.

Many women were raped, from girls as young as eight, to pregnant women.

As some soldiers raped innocent Degodia women, other soldiers not so predisposed started torching houses. Between 2pm and 3pm, over 100 houses went up in flames.

Later reports show more than 15 children were burnt alive in the houses.

By evening, the soldiers in the raping frenzy had victimized more than 500 women. Post-interviews have records of some of the women willing to talk, amongst others: Abdiya Abei, Sekawa Samwai, Mariansha Abdilahi and Abdia Warmoge.

Hundreds more were too traumatized to speak to the press.

Physical scars served as a daily reminder. Any woman who resisted rape was either stabbed or shot to death. Others had their legs broken their legs to immobilise them before being gang-raped by the soldiers.

One woman, named Zainab Hussein was 8 months pregnant. She was so brutally raped that she suffered a miscarriage in the night.


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