Last week marked 37 years since the Wagalla Massacre in Kenya. This was an operation in Wahir in 1984 meant to crush the Shifta War that resulted in the massacre of hundreds at Wagalla Airstrip.
The Shifta War (1963–1984) was a secessionist conflict in which ethnic Somalis in the Northern Frontier District (NFD) of Kenya attempted to secede from Kenya to join Somalia.
The method of execution used by the government of the day leading to the massacre has always been condemned by human rights activists while the world sympathizes with the victims.
However, 37 years later, security experts believe the government was justified to show strength and decisiveness in dealing with a security threat of that capacity.
Were it not for the government’s show of strength, maybe today we will be talking of a different story, most probably, of NFD being part of Somalia and begging to be returned back to Kenya following the destruction of the once great Horn of Africa country since the fall of Siad Barre in 1991.
Another example was the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF). A guerrilla militia which operated in the Mount Elgon District of Kenya and part of Uganda since 2005. The group was reported to have conducted merciless killings of more than 600 people, committing a variety of atrocities including murder, torture, rape, and the theft and destruction of property with so much impunity.
Wycliffe Matakwei Kirui Komon was the deputy commander; he claimed to command 35,000 soldiers and scouts.Unusual for groups in the area, they wore jungle camouflage uniforms and had access to ammunition – although AK47s and other guns are easily accessible from bordering nations such as Somalia, costing around $130 while ammunition is more difficult to acquire. The SLDF was funded by unofficial “taxation” of the local residents, and implemented a parallel administration system.
To deal with the gang, the government launched a large scale military assault in March 2008, killing the commander of the militia who was former bodyguard to the President, and Wycliffe Matakwei Kirui Komon, who was the deputy commander.
Just like Wagalla, the successful operation invited allegations of serious human rights abuses alleged by the security forces, including murder, torture, rape, and arbitrary detention.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) called for an investigation into allegations of torture committed by security forces which were denied by the then police spokesman Eric Kiraithe who instead accused SLDF for the violence acts.
Another group in Kenya’s Coast Province known as the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), caused controversy because of its demands for secession and its campaign to mobilise inhabitants of the coastal region not to participate in the forthcoming general elections.
Formed in 1990s, the MRC, whose rallying call is Pwani Si Kenya (The Coast is not part of Kenya), was dormant until about 2008, when it publicly called for the establishment of an independent state to ‘liberate’ the coastal people ‘from mistreatment and marginalization by successive Kenyan governments’. Al-Shabaab group openly supported to the group’s demands, even acting as the military wing on behalf of the group.
This blow up forced the government to declare the group illegal in 2010, along with 33 other ‘organised criminal groups’. A significant operation by security forces ensued leading to the group’s defeat.
In 2008, former Minister for Internal Security, the late John Njoroge Michuki, was accused of issuing a ‘Shoot-to- Kill Order’ against the out-lawed Mungiki sect.
Although it could be argued that he was moved to another ministry after Human Rights groups condemned the order citing that it contravened both the Police Act and general Human Rights guaranteed by the constitution, Michuki is also praised by a substantive number of security experts and Kenyans at large, for putting to an end to the group accused of violence, vast human rights abuses and anti-government resistance since the 80’s.