There are many ways people get to the truth about human rights violations. On the International Day for the Right to the Truth, we celebrate those who seek it.
Salah Abdi Sheikh is the author of “Blood on the Runway: The Wagalla Massacre of 1984” has been advocating for the rights of the victims and survivors of Wagalla Massacre since 1997 through the Truth Be Told Network.
What is the truth that you are after and why?
I am agitating for the truth about Wagalla Massacre of 1984. Wagalla Massacre happened in Wajir County, a rural area about 800km from Nairobi City. In February 1984, Kenya security forces killed an estimated 5000 men of the Degodia clan of the Somali tribe. The operation targeted male members of the clan above 12 years of age, but also women were raped, houses were burned to the ground, and property was looted in every locality where the operation took place. The men rounded up were subjected to torture, in an effort to force them to confess to owning firearms. Some died of their wounds before they reached Wagalla Airstrip, the final holding area where hundred were eventually slaughtered.
The government of Kenya has never acknowledged the truth about the massacre. To date, it has only acknowledged that 54 people were killed.
The reason we are after the truth is to ensure that the victims are recognized and acknowledged as survivors, as people who had families who were killed unfairly, for no reason at all.
How will such truth benefit you and Kenyan society as a whole?
The truth will benefit me as an individual in the sense that I have become a witness to mass-murder by living with survivors and victims in my own extended family. I grew up in a traumatized society which needs healing. Any member of this community would feel relieved if the truth were accepted and acknowledged. As a child I grew up in a community of one-parent families, headed by mothers. In these situations, one becomes aware of the sense of injustice all around.
With truth comes responsibility and justice. Those who were responsible for these crimes must face justice. This will promote law and order. The fact that nobody is being held responsible for these crimes means that our law and order has failed.
With the truth, reparations for the victims, either as individuals or as community, can be considered.
The truth will also prevent future crimes of this nature. If the truth is told about Wagalla Massacre, the community that was targeted will feel safer, and more secure to know that they would never again be subjected to such atrocities. The history of Kenya seems to exclude occurrences like Wagalla Massacre. As such, there is no national soul-searching to accept the events of the past and learn from them
Has the truth-seeking effort in Kenya satisfied your right to the truth? Are there other truth-seeking efforts you think are needed, and if so, what would they be?
The truth-seeking in Kenya has not satisfied my right to the truth. The Governments of the past—as well as the present—have completely ignored all attempts to correct the erroneous official narrative that hides the real truth from being uncovered and disseminated.
Although the government established the Kenya Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) to collect information, hold hearings and recommend a way forward, the eventual report is gathering dust: its recommendations remain ignored, and the TJRC law deadlines all passed without government’s notice.
The families of victims and survivors are not satisfied with the situation as it is now. It seems the state has no plans to reopen past injustices or hold anyone to account.
Truth-seeking in Kenya should continue. More detailed documentation of past events are necessary. Historical documentaries, popular books based on occurrences like the Wagalla Massacre and other criminal actions of the state should continue. Historical injustices should feature in political campaigns. Activists and organizations should organize communities around issues so that politicians seeking votes will be forced to add resolving these issues a priority in their manifestoes.