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We are still lost in Wagalla Massacre maze 27 years on

By Ibrahim Rashid
Monday, February 14, 2011

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The period 10th to 14th February 2011 marks the 27th anniversary of the infamous brutality that came to be known as Wagalla Massacre.

In context, the Second Republic was born on 27th August 2010 when the new Constitution was promulgated. This year’s Wagalla Massacre anniversary is unique in that this month, Kenyans and the Wagalla victims will celebrate the appointment of a new Chief Justice and Attorney General should political sanity prevail.

There is faint hope that the impending exit of the duo could bring more than just a sigh of relief to the victims of Wagalla and the entire North Eastern Province.

This is borne of the fear that the duo had by design delayed justice sought against the atrocities that occurred under their watch.

Twenty-seven years ago today, the world was shocked to learn that the Kenya Government turned its artillery and physical might to kill, maim and rape thousands of its citizens.

On this day every year, residents remember the reported killing of more than 5,000 men from the Degodia clan who were reportedly killed by security forces following Degodia/Ajuran clan clashes of the 70s and 80s. Government disputes these figures.

Outgoing Attorney General Amos Wako was by then a UN Rapporteur busy investigating the death of eight people killed in East Timor by the Indonesian Government. That sojourn was to be a significant accomplishment that earned him his current job.

But under his watch as the longest serving AG in Kenya, the "Butchers of Wagalla" went scot-free serving successive regimes, all the while enjoying the tax revenues from people they subjugated.

All attempts by victims to seek remedy and reparation for the last 27 years were blocked and treated as a non-issue as the principal legal adviser of the Government saw no evil, heard no evil and is most certainly, saying nothing.

Yes, the Chief Justice lent hope to Wagalla by appointing a tribunal to investigate disgraced former chair of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), Bethuel Kiplagat, but it seems too little too late. First, the timeframe of the tribunal is a mockery. The six-month period given to investigate Kiplagat borders on the end mandate of the TJRC in November this year.

A mere pledge

Is there a riddle surrounding the tribunal, the resigning of the judge to head the team and his speedy replacement? Then three months lapsed without the team starting work or getting funding or an office. Was TJRC meant to die a silent death much like those who died at Wagalla?

Who’s fooling whom on TJRC vis-‡-vis Wagalla Massacre? Was the appointment of Kiplagat a deliberate move to drag the commission’s work? In 27 years, the victims are turning in the widening gyres of an unjust judicial system. But is the Government committed to justice? President Kibaki was Vice President when the massacre happened and when he was elected president, he promised that his government would leave no stone unturned to find a way out of the "Wagalla Maze".

It has remained a mere pledge.

How come he appended his signature to the Chang’aa Bill so fast but referred the repeal of the Indemnity Act Bill, spearheaded by Nominated MP from Wajir South Mohammed Affey, to Parliament for amendment?

All this did was strap the TJRC’s independence so as not to unearth the truth about the alleged atrocities in NEP. Which is mightier or weightier? Is it the Chang’aa Bill or the Indemnity Bill?

So far, Prime Minister Raila Odinga seems the only safe pair of hands in this matter, perhaps because he was not in government in the 1980s. He joined Parliament in 1992, eight years after Wagalla. He is also the only presidential candidate of 2007 General Election who visited Wagalla Airstrip in November 2007 where the massacre took place and met survivors and families of those that died.

He also promised that if elected president, he would establish the truth about Wagalla and get the victims compensated. Can he nudge this stop-start TJRC process forward now?

Will it hurt for Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, who was a Kanu operative since 1983 — a year before Wagalla — to spare some of the Sh30 million-plus slush funds being burnt on "shuttle diplomacy" to make a stopover in Wagalla?

Even as he seeks relief for the Ocampo Six and deferral of cases at The Hague, why not start this charity at home? Surely as a lawyer, he must know that justice delayed is justice denied.

Does the TJRC have power to unearth the elusive truth and justice as the curtain comes down on Wako and the CJ?

The re-energised TJRC will soon go round the country to conduct public hearings and collect statements. Can they spare some time to officially document the atrocities that have defied official acknowledgement for 27 years?

The Government should avail resources to the TJRC to complete its immense workload for the remaining period and compensate for lost time by extending its mandate by an extra one year.

The writer is an analyst of political and development matters.
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