AK KAIZA – The Sands of the Ogaden Are Blowing Across East Africa – The Elephant

Much like in 1977, all the conditions have come together that could turn conflicting interests into ruinous warfare across the region.
Even in a season of bad years, it is a particularly very bad year for the Horn of Africa. War and hunger tearing at Somalia, revolutionary hope in Ethiopia turned into existential crisis, the coming end of Kenyatta’s reign over Kenya with a Kalenjin successor and ethnic tensions in the wings, and in Uganda, the recent suspicious death of an Archbishop amidst a military regime openly massacring the country’s citizens, bring the region to the very edge of catastrophe.
As always happens for the region, it all starts with failed rains, most likely somewhere between Ethiopia and Somalia, although because the way in which it works is complex, few pause to consider that stopping hunger deaths in the Ogaden could create a more stable East Africa. But the rains have failed for more than three years now, and in time, the impact will be felt as coups and massacres as far afield as Kampala and the Congolese border.
In the meantime, as superpower rivalry swoops in, a looming election cycle is setting unease. The elections come. They are stolen. Civil war breaks out in Uganda. In Kenya, tensions between Luo, Kikuyu and Kalenjin politicians push the country to the brink of civil war; in no time, there will be an attempted coup in Nairobi.
But for the more alert readers, if the above scenario sounds more like a description of 1977, rather than of 2022, then there is a good reason for it; it is 1977.  There have been many turning points in our post-independence history, but if I were pressed hard to pick the one that unites us in our common fate, I would settle for 1977.
And then, I would back up a little to 1972. For this was the year in which a general, global drought hit East Africa in a serious way. An indictment of public media discourse in the region is the degree of ignorance it engenders not just in its audience, but also in its reporters and editors, and so it was not until 2012 that, travelling to Kaabong from Kotido in Karamoja, I first heard the words “Loreng Lega”, from a pastoralist-turned farmer, Faustino Odir. He was explaining why he, a Jie man, started farming, saying that his family fled Loreng Lega in Karamoja in 1973 and lived in Masindi in Western Uganda for 36 years.
When I inquired further, I was told that Loreng Lega means Red Jewels, in Ateker. At the time, before plastic and glass spread across the pastoralists’ lands as beads, women wore loops of iron wire as neckpieces and kept them fresh with cow butter. In 1973, the cows died. There was no butter. The neckpieces turned rusty and the ever-poetic Ateker found a name for the famine. I might have left it there but there were others. I was told of Lopiar and Loreng Arup, all describing famines — Lopiar in 1980 and Loreng Arup in 1986.
The 1972 famine — also named the Dimbleby Famine by the international media after the British journalist Jonathan Dimbleby who brought it to Western attention — caused what I came to see as the most important political event in all of Eastern Africa for 50 years. Without that event, it is arguable that Eritrea may never have split from Ethiopia, Somalia might still be stable, Museveni would not be president and the Rwanda genocide of 1994 would not have happened.
The fall of Emperor Haile Selassie undid settled but fragile political ties that had kept Somalia, north-eastern Uganda, northern Kenya, parts of South Sudan and all of Ethiopia manageably stable for centuries. The immense legitimacy that comes from a political system widely seen as both righteous and lawful is not a cheap one, and with the great 19th century opening of all the world’s corners to communication and commerce, Ethiopians learnt that the feudal system they had so naturally accepted was in fact a very bad system. Attempts at reforms did not go far enough, and the fact that by 1974 Ethiopia still had actual, rather than metaphoric peasants, who gave up a part of their harvest to the landlord, meant that the country was really asking for it.
The fall of Selassie, heart-rending and ruinous as it was, was a foregone conclusion, which is not to say the successor system was deserved nor that those who carried out the coup de grace to an ossified system were angels. The tragedy of Ethiopia has always been that the rules of political dialectics that describe a move to a better system, don’t usually apply.
We have been paying the price for Selassie’s fall ever since.
With the fall of Selassie, subject ethnic groups on the empire’s periphery began to question their status — questions unthinkable whilst Menelik’s progeny sat on the throne. For a measure of how recent this is, Somali writer Nurrudin Farrah once told me that he met the Emperor as a child when he came on a tour of the territories and was picked to read a poem to him.
The loss of Ethiopia’s sacerdotal myth (aspects of it still exist in what is described as Solomonite society in origin) combined with the ascendency of the Derg to convince the empire’s provinces that the time to leave had come. The most important departure was Eritrea. But in 1977, it looked as if Somalia might be the first.
The tragedy of Ethiopia has always been that the rules of political dialectics that describe a move to a better system, don’t usually apply.
The Ogaden war that broke out in July 1977 was a tragic event that should have been avoided, if only for the fact that it produced none of the intended goals. When Siad Barre launched his Greater Somalia wars, the irredentist suit for the unification of ethnic Somalia, he may not have foreseen an even greater shrinkage of Somalia. But it was an explicit threat to territorial Kenya as it was to Ethiopia, both countries more important to world powers than Somalia.
That Siad Barre chose to launch a revanchist campaign in the deep winter of the Cold War only ratcheted up the stakes. It ensured that his war was very quickly hijacked to become a USSR-USA affair. It is here that one of the most cynical manoeuvres of the Cold War era took place.
Since the 1930s, Imperial Ethiopia had aligned with capitalist powers after Haile Selassie petitioned the League of Nations to stop Italian aggression against what was then better known as Abyssinia. American patronage of Ethiopia continued even after the Derg was entrenched, but the openly Marxist Mengistu Haile Mariam could no longer be accommodated. Down in Mogadishu, Siad Barre was in bed with the Soviets. The march down to the Ogaden war happened with cold abject calculations. The Soviets helped Mogadishu draw up a battle plan against Ethiopia. The popular version of the story, as told to me by the late Kenyan cameraman, Mohinder Dhillon who covered the fighting, is that at the 11th hour, the Soviets, doubtless with the battle plans in their breast pockets, switched sides and supported the Ethiopians while the Americans fled Addis Ababa to take sides with Siad Barre. Beyond all belief, the Somalis marched into battle with the same Soviet battle plan. The result was a complete rout of Somali forces, the centre of battle converging at Jijiga. But there are more subtle ways in which it happened, which is beyond the scope of this piece.
That Siad Barre chose to launch a revanchist campaign in the deep winter of the Cold War only ratcheted up the stakes.
The result was that Mengistu got allies he was comfortable with, and the Americans, the port of Barbera and the Eastern Africa Indian Ocean. Which was cold comfort for both the USSR and the USA; scholarly journals make the argument that, by so openly going to war against the Soviets in Africa, Jimmy Carter and his national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, may have precipitated the end of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty — the detente with the Soviet Union — meaning they threw away something bigger for a regional conflict.
It was a short war, lasting from June 1977 to May 1978. But it put an end to short regional wars for it put in the hands of non-state actors the means to wage guerrilla warfare. Before that, guns and ammunition had been the preserve of state actors. Both the Americans and the Soviets decanted ship and plane loads of arms into the conflict. They inaugurated a regional small arms market that is nigh impossible to shut down. And this is where the tragedy begins.
The first groups to acquire those guns were the pastoralists that straddle the Horn. The testing ground for the destructive power of guns easy to acquire, hide and maintain were the cattle rustlings which had for centuries been little more than sporting, manhood-proving raids. Supercharged with the AK47, they became lethal.
The Turkana had hitherto ruled the pastoralist roost, acquiring their first guns from Menelik in 1911, and lording it over the Samburu, Karamojong, Didinga, Tepeth, Pokot, Toposa, and Nyangatom. Now, all these groups had guns. The region’s descent into hell had begun; these gun trails were to feed Joseph Kony’s war, and all still feed conflicts in the region.
As it was, the timing could not have been worse. The pastoralists had not fully recovered from the famine of 1972, but the famine was not a singular factor. The fate of pastoralists is one that those living in the capital cities — who are nearly all from agricultural communities — don’t fully appreciate nor care about. What had happened was that colonialism had closed up lands and created administrative units corresponding to ethnicity, in effect, inventing tribes. This did not suit nomadic pastoralism, which not only required open lands, but also did not want national borders.
The region’s descent into hell had begun; these gun trails were to feed Joseph Kony’s war, and all still feed conflicts in the region.
The worst affected pastoralist groups were those of south-western Uganda and Rwanda, who suddenly found themselves stateless for their forage lands were split between Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Congo.
Deep into independence in 1977, pastoralists started to realise that the post-colonial state had left them out and would continue to leave them out. The race to pick up guns was a belated reaction to the knowledge that unless they fought, their way of life was doomed.
The death of animals and humans from the 1972 famine broke pastoralism. But now, unbeknownst to all, an even bigger event — Lopiar — was coming in 1980 to effectively bury it. Before that, another fateful event occurred. The fall of Idi Amin in 1979 left tens of thousands of guns floating in Uganda. Just think of what it means that, when the Ugandan army under Amin fled in 1979, all of Uganda government’s guns fell into private hands. A lot of the suddenly unemployed Ugandan soldiers found that the Ogaden war had already created a market for the guns in their hands. In Moroto, the story is still told of how people carried guns like so many bunches of firewood on their heads.
Hence, when 1980 came, pastoralists were armed to the teeth. The famine of that year is hard to outdo. It is estimated that up 21 per cent of pastoralist lives were lost in that year, first to the drought and the loss of animals, but the bulk of it to the cholera outbreak that followed. They called it Lopiar, The Sweep, in Ateker languages. (On a minor note, this was the event that gave birth to Kakuma Camp, for the relief agencies that arrived found the Turkana assembled in this high, cooler and moist valley. Henceforth, arriving refugees from Somalia, Sudan and Uganda would go there, because it was a feeding centre.)
But the biggest impact was still in the future. In Uganda, 1980 is thought of narrowly as the year that Museveni launched a bush war in response to a lost election. What is rarely thought of is that Museveni, himself a pastoralist, was merely doing what pastoralists all over The Horn of Africa were doing. He was playing the part of kraal boss, and like all kraal bosses, he was leading a group of young pastoralists to fight to keep their way of life viable, for it falls upon young men in pastoralist societies to go out and fight for animals when the herd is either dead or rustled. This time, they were going to rustle the entire Uganda.
Museveni not only led Ugandan pastoralists to battle, but combined those with pastoralist refugees from Rwanda as well. The mass of guns floating all over the region found eager takers.
Overall, the decision could not have been worse. The gun turned against pastoralists, and for the next two decades, hundreds of thousands would perish in ensuing conflicts. The shadow of the Rwanda genocide of 1994 obscures the fact that the 1990s was the worst decade for pastoralism. The drawing up of colonial borders had kettled in nomadic lifestyles. The attack on Rwanda in 1990 by Paul Kagame and the late Fred Rwigyema was not too different from the Somali attack on Ethiopia in 1977; the aim was the same, to pry loose the 1884 Berlin conference borders and let the herds roam free. It was not too different from the armed gunfights by the Turkana, Pokot, and Karamojong against the Kenyan and Ugandan armies. The Toposa of Southern Sudan were caught in a much more complex battle, for they were caught between the Khartoum forces and the SPLA, who both supplied them with guns, and although they were better off with the SPLA, whom they chose in the end, they were still part of the “Karamoja” cluster, their fate still impacted by the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie.
The shadow of the Rwanda genocide of 1994 obscures the fact that the 1990s was the worst decade for pastoralism.
Grimly, the killings in Rwanda in 1994 were not too distant in form from the gun deaths that happened with such casual repetitiveness between Ugandan, Kenyan, Ethiopian and Sudanese pastoralists at the same time that they were rarely reported. But hundreds of thousands perished in the decades between 1977 and 2006.
The one pastoralist struggle that made good was the ascension of Museveni to power. He has said it many times — and makes propaganda use of herding his animals for the cameras — but what perhaps explains the seeming paradox of his reformist rhetoric which clashes with his dictatorial practice, is that he was driven to pick the liberation lingua of his time to gain support beyond his clannist instinct, whilst fighting for something closer to his heart. If Museveni does not seem that presidential, it is because his psychological make-up is that of a kraal leader. You have to meet many of them throughout the pastoralist lands in the north to meet his kind: tyrannical, brash, hard-driving, imperative, brooking no argument, but above all uber-clannist. The massive land grabs in the latter days of his presidency have a central pattern — to benefit pastoralists as unreported conflicts in many, many parts Uganda between farmers and pastoralists protected by the army attest. The colonial and postcolonial abuse of pastoralists made its mark. They are called “backward”, which is derogatory, considering that pastoralists today remain the true custodians of African cultures abandoned by agricultural communities, and that many in agricultural communities are only a generation removed from pastoralism. But conflict is conflict, and Museveni used to state that he would not leave power while his people remained backward. He has since turned every government institution into an ethnically monolithic stronghold.
If Museveni does not seem that presidential, it is because his psychological make-up is that of a kraal leader.
The biggest coming conflict of Museveni’s life, and one which will survive him for the coming decades, will be a rebalancing of the power stakes between pastoralists and agrarians, for in the long term, agriculture always wins, even if by absorbing pastoralists. This means that this coming conflict will once more pit Museveni’s pastoralists against the agricultural communities of southern and south-western Uganda. The break with Buganda and Busoga, hitherto Museveni’s biggest supporters, is only the opening salvo of this coming conflict. Bobi Wine may be the spearhead of this struggle, but it will outlive him and reshape Uganda for generations to come.
It is Museveni’s terrible, bad luck that Cold War II is returning when his government has lost all legitimacy, meaning that in the event of another armed rebellion, he will no longer be the good guy. He lost that tag forever when he ordered his goons to shoot to death dozens on 18 November 2020. Even worse, he is now the de facto Haile Selassie of Eastern Africa, meddling in Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Kenya and Somalia. By positioning his son to succeed him, and now openly saying that Ugandan public offices will be ring-fenced to those with money (effectively his bush war pastoralist compadres), he is creating a feudal monarchy out of Uganda, like Ethiopia in reverse. He is making Selassie’s mistakes. But he is also giving a bad name to pastoralists who are otherwise noble people.
That is because, as in 1977, the factors to turn conflicting interests into ruinous warfare are in place, almost comically so in how much the players of 1977 are back in place. In Kenya, another Kenyatta is about to exit office. His vice president happens to be a Kalenjin. In the wings, vying for succession, is another Odinga. You cannot make this stuff up. But unlike 1977, and unlike Moi, Ruto is Museveni’s protégé. The ethnic configurations of Kenya are such that should Ruto become president, he will find himself forced to govern like Moi, albeit a Moi who can count on another Idi Amin in Uganda as his ally. This will mean that the coming political instability in Uganda will also become political instability in Kenya. Ruto is opening the gates for Uganda’s political incompetence to be imported into Kenya. We just hope that among his intimate exchanges with Museveni, military rule in Kenya did not crop up.
Like in 1977, Ethiopia is at war. It might be a matter of time before dreams of Greater Somalia are revived, as Mogadishu once more watches Addis Ababa’s discomfiture. Somalia’s options are not that many. After all, the state disintegrated after Siad Barre was beaten on the plains of the Ogaden. It is a matter of time before someone in Mogadishu sees a foreign military adventure as a way to unite the country’s clans. Should this happen, the Ogaden could well be the playing field. But this will not be too much news to Kenya whose biggest threats have so far come from Somalis.
Almost beyond belief, Russia, in the place of the Soviet Union, could very well join China and the USA in messing up the politics of the region, which mess is already in high gear. In 2022, there could well be more AK47s poured in, but there might be other weapons as well.
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A.K. Kaiza is a Ugandan writer and journalist.
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The world’s biodiversity hotspots are in the Global South and they have become the targets for capitalist pirates fronted by “conservation” organizations.
The global climate crisis is beginning to manifest in extreme weather events like floods, droughts and temperature rises all over the world. It is therefore important that the world come together at this time to meet this new challenge. However, the rate of commercialization of “climate finance”, carbon trade, carbon offsets, and other financial instruments are overtaking the pace of actual reduction of emissions, which is what the environment needs.
In tropical Africa, Asia, and other parts of the Global South, indigenous people are now suffering injustices like dumping of European toxic wastes, displacement of people for carbon trading, displacement of people to create protected areas, and violent law enforcement to “protect” the environment and wildlife. The payment of money for planting of trees does not reduce emissions, which are the source of the crisis. The UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in Glasgow in November 2021 clearly demonstrated the depth of this problem in the fact that the summit was reduced to a business meeting for cutting deals rather than leading environmental stewardship.
The conference resulted in a lot of financial calculations and discussions, but failed to make any concrete commitments on reduction of emissions or reliance on fossil fuels. The success of these financial machinations has created and publicized a myth that a clean environment is something that can be bought and paid for instead of being achieved through action and behavioural change. A major “elephant in the room” at COP26 was the open display of skewed power relations between the major polluters (wealthy Western nations) and their “clients”. These clients or “subject” states are relatively poor nations in the Global South that are responsible for a very small fraction of global emissions and are also the most biodiverse.
Heads of states from African countries were diverted from policy discussions with their peers into parallel meetings (euphemistically called “side events”) with NGOs or corporate interests. The discussions in these side meetings typically centred on what financial inducements could be offered to the individuals or governments involved to subvert their existing natural resource regulations for the benefit of the NGOs or their corporate patrons. This is the point at which colonization and resource looting is happening because intergovernmental meetings are governed by frameworks of sovereignty, diplomacy, and laws as opposed to the “side events, which are essentially backroom deals, all greenwashed in the “detergent” that is climate change and global “biodiversity crisis”. The seriousness of the challenges posed to humankind by environmental pollution and climate change cannot be overstated, but what the whole world is failing to do is recognize and acknowledge human behaviour, capitalism and consumption patterns as the primary cause.
Capitalism is currently very close to its apex in human history and has lost sight of any coherent objectives, other than the mantra of “more”. Very few (if any) global corporations have any visions defining their “endgame” or how big they want to become, or why. It has become de rigueur for global corporations and organizations to grow far beyond their ability to positively manage their own impact on the human society within which they exist. The fallacy of using engineering and technology as surrogates for human impact has been ruthlessly exposed by the current global pandemic and the exponential growth of technology as an end in itself, rather than a solution to specific needs. The resultant “disconnects” are so wide, that the world is now struggling to recognize cognitive dissonance for what it is.
This bizarre “open ended” approach has led to untrammelled consumption, landing the world in the environmental and moral miasma where we currently find ourselves. For example, Amazon, a runaway success that has become probably the world’s most profitable company, pays some of the lowest taxes relative to its earnings, and is staffed by a workforce that barely earns a living wage and must fight for the right to use toilets at work. It now has a fabulously wealthy CEO who donates some money to combat climate change, while spending part of it on a flying into low orbit on a phallus-shaped rocket simply for self-actualization.
Consumers have also become startlingly slavish to brands, forgetting even that basic tenet of choice. Apple Inc. is a manufacturer of high quality (and very highly priced) technological devices, which have won it customers all over the world. However, it is difficult for anyone who hasn’t visited the United States to fathom the bizarre hold the company has on its clients. Stories abound in the media of (normal, sane, mature) people camping for a few days on the streets to buy an expensive new model of a mobile phone on the day of its release. None of them can explain why they cannot buy it the following day. A friend recently shared a harrowing tale of how she bought an Apple computer and spent two hours on the phone talking to machines before she finally got a human being to address her user issues after spending thousands of dollars purchasing the machine. This is a professional person who is never wasteful or profligate or tolerant of nonsense in any of her habits. These are just two of countless examples, and the upshot of this malaise is that global corporations, organizations and even governments have moved away from managing policies, actions and human outcomes into the management of perceptions.
The other inescapable effect has been the untold sums of money accrued in profit. These twin threats have brought capitalists to the table of sovereign heads of states, where they pose the greatest danger to humankind. Leaders around the world are now discussing policies with the heads of corporations that have been unable to achieve internal self-control. This is perfectly illustrated in the co-called mitigation measures being put in place to combat climate change, where the only tangible movement is the normalization of propaganda, greenwashing, and human rights violations and other absurdities that are perpetrated in the name of combating climate change. It is a classic case of elite capture, more astounding because it is happening on a global scale.
One of the more egregious examples of this is the much-touted 30×30 campaign, which recommends that 30 per cent of all land around the world be set aside as protected areas by the year 2030. This was initially proposed by conservation organizations, pushed by their corporate donors and, crucially, supported by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The support of a UN body is the easiest path to obtaining the compliance of governments around the world by creating “goals” and making the action look like an achievement.
Leaders around the world are now discussing policies with the heads of corporations that have been unable to achieve internal self-control.
The UNEP recommendation serves conservation interests well, because despite its history of ethical and practical failures, the veneer of “greater good” that hangs over the UN discourages even the most basic scrutiny. In this particular case, none of the many documents written in favour of this recommendation says whether the 30 per cent is a global calculation, or whether every country will have to set aside 30 per cent of its own land. This apparent lacuna is where the prejudice is concealed, because it is common knowledge that the world’s biodiversity hotspots are in the tropics (primarily inhabited by non-Caucasian people). Besides, no significant biodiversity gains are likely to accrue from creating new protected areas in Europe and much of the Global North. Besides, the high human population density and regard for human rights in the Global North would present a challenge as regards the violence and human rights violations required to create that many new protected areas. This demonstrates that the creation of protected areas is a deeply flawed concept and a primitive, obsolete conservation tool.
Philosophically, protected areas are by definition lands that are taken — or “protected” — from their owners, the indigenous people. They are based on the globally popular myth of ideal nature existing within a matrix of “pristine wilderness” devoid of human presence. This isn’t remarkable, knowing that the concept — first developed in United States — was the brainchild of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir. Neither of these men had any ecological knowledge and their assertions are based on the pillars of white supremacy and the need for self-actualization. This “poisoned root” of conservation is the reason why in the Global South, the practice still requires continuous unmitigated violence; it remains a continuous slow-burning war against indigenous people. Together and separately, Muir and Roosevelt both regularly expressed their disdain for Native American societies, referring to them as “dirty” and “uncivilized”, respectively, in their writings.
It is also crucial to understand that this model was developed in a settler colony by racist immigrants without any reference to the presence, let alone the needs of indigenous populations. In recent years, there have been numerous attempts by conservation interests to make protected areas “inclusive” of local people, more “community focused” and to “share revenues” without much regard for their impact or their overall effect. This is because none of the practitioners has dealt with the principle issues of why protected areas were exclusive, visitor-focused (as opposed to community-focused) and why none of the revenue was being shared with the communities in the first place.
The emphasis on tourism is an avatar of the dominance of external influences over the needs and aspirations of locals in conservation policy and practice. The influences and involvement of external parties cannot be driven by livelihood dependencies on in situ resources, so they are also dependent on external drivers, namely capitalism and neoliberalism. Conservation organizations have realized this and to satisfy their ever-increasing needs for funding they have deliberately moved to engage closely with the corporations and capitalists who bear the greatest responsibility for the current environmental crisis through their resource use patterns.
It is also crucial to understand that this model was developed in a settler colony by racist immigrants without any reference to the presence, let alone the needs of indigenous populations.
The corporations in turn have their eye on marketing and have realized that any association with environmental responsibility, however tenuous, is commercially beneficial. This has given rise to what is generally known as “greenwashing” of products and services, a process that has grown from a marketing gimmick into a global battery of financial instruments that include carbon credits, nature bonds, grants, easements, and a myriad other ways in which real or perceived financial muscle can be used to acquire ownership or control of natural resources. The power of the propaganda machine is such that all the global financial structures have failed to ask how carbon trading differs from money-laundering and other white-collar crime.
The reality we live with today is that this casual lip service to environmental concerns has evolved into full-blown corporate partnerships between the self-styled “saviours” of the environment and those who over-exploit its resources. This has created an all-powerful monster whose preferred victims are the nations and peoples who still have and live within relatively intact natural environments and biodiversity. Ironically, the environmental stewardship shown by nations and various indigenous societies in the Global South has now made their homelands and resources targets for capitalist pirates, fronted by “conservation” organizations, backed by UNEP, and facilitated by governments.
The organizations pushing this injustice need to temper their self-absorption with some caution, because we are currently living in the information age, and it is only a matter of time before previously “ignorant” rural societies realize that wildlife and forests are the “enemy” causing them to lose their rights and start acting accordingly. The prevalence of armed personnel, aircraft, fences, drones and surveillance equipment in conservation are an indication that practitioners are aware at some level that what they are doing is socially unsustainable and needs to be backed by violence. However, this is a provision of false assurance, because societies that have nowhere else to go cannot be moved. Barring a change of policy, there will necessarily be bloodshed, pitting “conservationists” against people who have nothing left to lose. Already, the number of extrajudicial killings in Eastern, Southern and Central Africa under the guise of conservation is untenable, so attempts to implement the 30 x30 proposal and effectively double the amount of land under protected areas would further escalate this slow-burning violence.
The power of the propaganda machine is such that all the global financial structures have failed to ask how carbon trading differs from money-laundering and other white-collar crime.
The growth in the size and budgets of conservation NGOs gives them the ability to step beyond the roles that are generally expected of civil society organizations. In Kenya and in many parts of Africa, these organizations are now even involved in armed law enforcement, hitherto the preserve of the state. They also move to influence formal policy decisions by funding the necessary processes like stakeholder meetings. In Kenya, The Nature Conservancy, International Fund for Animal Welfare and World Wildlife Fund routinely fund policy discussion meetings and Kenyan delegations to international conferences. The government pretends not to know that this is akin to brewers and distillers funding liquor licensing board meetings. In a nutshell, this is capitalism and investment being presented as conservation and philanthropy. This example demonstrates a key effect of the increased conservation funding levels in that some of the larger organizations have the financial muscle to effectively achieve state capture.
Climate change is, and will continue to be an existential threat to our world, but the human greed and racism that feeds on it moves much faster than the much-touted rise in global temperatures and sea levels. The arts and humanities must therefore step up and necessarily participate in the quest for environmental justice, because the prostitution otherwise known as donor-funded “science” cannot be expected to point out the ills of their capitalist benefactors.
In a major exposé of the ‘fintech revolution’ in Africa, Milford Bateman and Fernando Amorim Teixeira write that the investor-driven fintech model is nothing less than a ‘digitalised’ extension of the earlier colonial-imperialist ‘extractivist’ models that enabled the western nations to appropriate Africa’s natural resource wealth to fund their own economic prosperity.
It is very widely accepted that Kenya’s iconic mobile money transfer platform, M-Pesa, has spearheaded what has been called the ‘Fintech Revolution‘. Defined as ‘[c]omputer programs and other technology used to support or enable banking and financial services’, in its very simplest form fintech involves a greatly enhanced ability to transact financial services via a mobile phone or smart device, making it easier, cheaper and quicker, for instance, to (1) obtain a loan; (2) make a savings deposit; (3) transfer and receive money; and (4) pay for and be paid for goods and services. Such is the excitement created by M-Pesa, especially in Africa, that many regard fintech as having the potential to re-engineer capitalism towards “sustainability, equality and the advancement of humanity as a whole”, and thus make it capable of ushering in a new ‘golden age’ of abundance and prosperity.
Since the development of M-Pesa was initiated and funded by the UK’s then aid agency, the Department for International Development (DFID), the largest international development organisations soon heard about M-Pesa, and they were transfixed by it. Above all M-Pesa attracted the attention of the World Bank. Among other things, it saw this radical new fintech application as providing a way to rescue the brick-and-mortar microfinance model that was now seen as having failed in its objective to address global poverty.
After very aggressively promoting the Nobel-award-winning microfinance model from the 1990s onwards, the World Bank inevitably found itself in a very awkward position in the early 2010s when many one-time leading microfinance advocates began to concede that the microfinance model had in fact had no real effect on global poverty. Even worse, as some heterodox economists had long argued, the microfinance model appeared to be guilty of seriously setting back the effort to address global poverty, especially in Africa. The World Bank’s first reaction to these important reassessments was not to consider abandoning the microfinance model – for neoliberal ideological and corporate profit-making reasons the microfinance model was far too important to simply cut loose – but to mount a rescue attempt. This involved simply rebadging the microfinance model as the ‘financial inclusion model‘, the hope being that a changed name and a somewhat wider explanatory narrative would give it a new lease of life.
The importance of this rebadging was that at almost the exact same time as it was initiated, the fintech model was bursting on to the global development scene. It was quickly realised that the fintech model would greatly assist in turbo-charging the revised financial inclusion narrative, and would thus make it possible to very rapidly achieve ‘full’ financial inclusion almost everywhere. With every single individual and household in Africa soon having access to a range of basic fintech services, including digital microcredit, it was possible to state once more, this time with even more confidence, that virtually all of its poor were now on the way towards escaping their poverty by establishing or expanding their own microenterprise. The extended argument began to take shape that the old brick-and-mortar microfinance model had perhaps failed because it had been unable to achieve ‘full’ financial inclusion – essentially not enough microcredit was made available to every individual that wished to set up a microenterprise – but the new fintech-driven financial inclusion model would ‘go the last mile’ and brilliantly finish the job.
When it became clear that the fintech model was also capable of generating huge profits for investors, its upward trajectory became unstoppable. This profitability factor was first amply demonstrated when Safaricom, the corporate entity that owns and operates the M-Pesa platform, quickly emerged to become one of Africa’s most profitable corporations (see below). Many other investors soon joined the party in an attempt to get their own share of the spoils. Thanks to a wave of foreign investors that began to arrive in Africa in the mid-to-late 2010s a large number of new fintech financial platforms were established. In addition, many of Africa’s existing brick-and-mortar financial institutions joined them by quickly migrating their financial services over to new or bought-in fintech platforms. Requiring far fewer employees and much less expensive business space, this was the key to raising their own profits significantly. Like previous natural resource discoveries (gold, platinum, diamonds, cocoa, spices, etc), Africa’s fintech sector was soon being held up as one of the world’s most attractive investment destinations. What we might call the ‘investor-driven’ fintech model had started a new ‘gold rush’ in Africa, and then everywhere else.
The possibility that the investor-driven fintech model might be able to combine investor and corporate enrichment with seemingly demonstrable progress in addressing Africa’s poverty was clearly an extremely seductive narrative. It looked as though capitalism might finally be working in Africa for everyone, and not just for a tiny elite. However, in a discussion paper produced for the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute, Fernando Amorim Teixeira and I argue that this uplifting narrative represents a fundamentally flawed and inaccurate portrayal of the emerging global reality, especially in Africa. While it is quite clear that fintech has delivered many initial benefits for Africa’s poor, including reduced costs of, and greater access to, many important financial services, its full long-term impact is very likely to be far less rosy given the way that it has begun to evolve.
Like many financial innovations that elite groups wish to sell to the wider public in order to make a financial killing at their expense (think sub-prime mortgages), we contend that, for the very same reasons, almost all of the early hugely uplifting analysis of the impact of the investor-driven fintech model was seriously flawed. Largely commissioned, funded, published and promoted by those financial institutions linked to the fintech sector, this was perhaps only to be expected. Notably this problem began with the assessment of the impact of M-Pesa itself. Bringing M-Pesa to the world’s attention were publications produced by staff at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. not coincidentally one of the world’s most aggressive advocates for all manner of technological innovations in the financial sphere. These early outputs all celebrated M-Pesa, while conspicuously failing to mention any of its downsides. Nor did they even mention the fact that M-Pesa was able to secure by dubious means a crucial near-monopoly for its services that enabled it to succeed very quickly thanks to having almost the entire market to itself.
The UK government that was otherwise advising African governments to accept free markets and competition was silent about this anti-competitive tactic. UK government and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funding then helped the US-based economists, William Jack and Tavneet Suri, to produce several influential early research papers promoting M-Pesa. Latterly this included by far the most influential output of all on the subject of M-Pesa – a 2016 article they published in the prestigious, peer-reviewed journal Science that concluded, “[A]ccess to the Kenyan mobile money system M-PESA increased per capita consumption levels and lifted 194,000 households, or 2% of Kenyan households, out of poverty”.This claim created a sensation among the international development community and, even though the article was based on numerous flaws, logical inconsistencies and obvious biases, it was cited in almost every major official publication promoting the investor-driven fintech model.
In fact, the investor-driven fintech model that dominates in Africa today is, we believe, shaping up to be not just deeply damaging to the lives of Africa’s poor majority, but also represents a major lost opportunity to deploy a radical financial innovation to create far more productive, inclusive, equitable, dignified and socially just African economies and societies. We outline six of the main problem areas that have arisen with regard to the investor-driven fintech model. These include: extending the failed brick-and-mortar microfinance model’s support for the ‘wrong‘ type of unproductive ‘no-growth’ ‘here today and gone tomorrow‘ microenterprises and SMEs; increasing financial fraud and thievery; undermining the ability of important social solidarity networks to support the poor into the longer-term; and, plunging Africa’s poor (especially in Kenya itself) into even more individual debt than even the brick-and-mortar microfinance model managed to do in previous years.
The final over-arching problem we highlighted is also one of the most far-reaching: the investor-driven fintech model is nothing less than a ‘digitalised’ extension of the earlier colonial-Imperialist ‘extractivist’ models that enabled the western nations to appropriate Africa’s natural resource wealth in order to fund their own economic development trajectory at the expense of ‘under-developing’ the African nations. Nowhere is this conclusion more in evidence than with regard to the example of Kenya’s Safaricom within which M-Pesa is a key constituent. It first helped that its founding shareholder, the giant UK telecom corporation Vodafone PLC, was able to engineer a near-monopoly for M-Pesa’s services right from the start thanks to a secretive ‘shares for lobbying’ arrangement concluded with key local business and political elites. With this market unfriendly structure neatly in place, Safaricom was then able to go on to ‘mine’ and appropriate considerable value from the tiny digital transactions of Kenya’s poor. Safaricom was soon earning quite spectacular Wall Street-style profits. Crucially, rather than reinvest these profits in the development of the Kenyan economy, the bulk of Safaricom’s profits have been sent abroad to reward its foreign shareholders, starting with its still 40% majority shareholder, Vodafone, which is garnering a huge long-term financial reward for its early support for a UK government initiative. Furthermore, such is Safaricom’s strong commitment to Vodafone (rather than, say, the Kenyan economy and to its poorest citizens) that during the COVID-19 crisis, when its revenues were falling thanks to a lower fee structure imposed on it by the Kenyan government to help the population better cope, Safaricom was willing to take a nearly $US200 million loan on to its books in order to help pay Vodafone its usual high dividend (just short of $US200 million). Equally revealing from another angle is the fact that Vodafone has quite openly admitted that it uses its large foreign dividend flow, including that amount generated from its ownership stake in Safaricom, to fund its vital infrastructure spending in the UK, which is clearly good for the UK economy. But then Vodafone uses this fact as the justification for why it manages its global financial structure in such a way as to pay almost no corporate tax in the UK.
We thus conclude that the initial and not inconsequential benefits arising from the introduction of many new investor-driven fintech platforms are now in real danger of being swamped entirely by the downsides that have begun to emerge. So does this not mean that an alternative fintech model would make more sense? It probably does. However, replacing the current investor-driven fintech model is right now simply not on the agenda of the global investment community or the major international development organisations.
But if we assume that change is still possible in some locations with relatively independent national and sub-national governments, then what might be the alternative to the investor-driven fintech model? We end our TNI discussion paper by briefly discussing this issue using the experience of a fintech’ model that has been deployed since the mid-2010s in the city of Maricá in south-eastern Brazil. While still in its early stage and clearly still subject to modification, this ‘people-centered’ fintech model has nevertheless already demonstrated that it is perfectly possible for basic fintech applications to be directly used to promote the common good. Piloted by the city government, the emerging ‘Maricá Model’ is based around a community digital currency, the Mumbuca, that is managed by the city-owned community development bank, the Mumbuca Bank. One of its centre-piece policies is a generous Basic Income program that is paid out in Mumbuca and which provides demand for many other local enterprises. Other initiatives include financing local enterprise development with no to low cost loans that allow sustainable local SMEs to emerge, as well as for existing informal microenterprises to expand, diversify and otherwise try to increase their level of productivity in order to make a more substantive contribution to the local economy. Crucially, the not inconsiderable financial savings enjoyed by the Mumbuca Bank using fintech applications to manage the Basic Income program and other services are all retained and then directed into expanding the benefits it can offer to the local population as a whole, not to reward a narrow elite of investors.
Even a cursory comparison of the various inter-locking aspects of the ‘Maricá Model’ in action reveals that it is already generating significant value for Maricá’s citizens, and especially for those living in poverty. Pointedly, the ‘Maricá Model’ was able to fashion probably the best response to the COVID-19 crisis that emerged anywhere in Brazil, if not the world. We believe African countries urgently need to learn from and begin to adapt such community-driven fintech models to their own requirements if they genuinely want the global fintech revolution to sustainably benefit all of their citizens into the future, and not just a lucky few.

This article was first published by ROAPE
An act of genocide was committed against a Kenyan community in 1984. Thirty-eight years later, no one has been held responsible and, every February, survivors and victims’ families, the relive their sense of abandonment.
Thirty-eight years later, the quest for justice has remained nothing but an illusion for the people of Wagalla and, between the 10th and the 14th of February of every year, the sense of neglect is heightened. Survivors and victims’ families meet every year during this period to rejuvenate their resoluteness to seek justice. The only real solace the suffering families have received is the acknowledgement in the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report that atrocities were visited upon them by their very own government. But the affected families still await the execution of the recommendations made in the report.
The Wagalla massacre is possibly one of Kenya’s worst human rights violations. It took place between the 10th and the 14th of February 1984; heavily armed security officers descended on the quiet Wajir area, ostensibly to mop up guns illegally held by locals.
To truly understand what led to the Wagalla massacre, one must go back to the very formation of Kenya.  Only in doing this do we realize that massacres such as Wagalla do not just happen – they are the result of a ‌history that precedes them.  And for the north, this history began even before Kenya became a nation.
According to a Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) paper, Foreigners at Home – The dilemma of citizenship in Northern Kenya, the Scramble for Africa carved up much of the continent with little regard for the need to keep ethnicities together. In 1896, Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia, buoyed by his conquest over Italy II, wrote to the heads of states of Britain, Italy, France, Germany, and Russia, stating his claim over ‌territory stretching from Juba River on Lake Turkana (formerly Lake Rudolf) to Marsabit Mountain.
The British, afraid that he would encroach on their colony, formed a boundary commission that was mandated to establish boundary features and map out the ethnic identities of the populations. The Northern Frontier District (NFD) was created as a buffer zone against international and inter-clan territorial conflicts that threatened to spill over into the colony.
To this end, several legislations were enacted by the colonialists. First, in 1902, the Outlying District Ordinance Act effectively closed the NFD, restricting movement in and out of the district. The Special Districts (Administration) Ordinance of 1934 gave extensive powers of arrest, restraint, detention, and seizure of properties in the north. Finally, the Stock Theft and Produce Ordinance (1993) legalized the collective punishment of northern tribes and clans declared hostile by the Provincial Commissioner (PC). The definition of what constituted a hostile tribe was left to the Provincial Administration to determine.
By the time of its independence, Kenya was practically divided in two — north and south — with specific laws in place that ensured that the north continued to be governed under draconian legislation that became even harsher after independence. An Indemnity Act passed in 1970 restricted the taking of legal proceedings regarding certain acts carried out in certain areas between 25 December 1963 and 1 December 1967. The Indemnity Act was passed to protect members of the security forces who participated in the secessionist Shifta War in northern Kenya between 1963 and 1967.
The stage was set for what happened in Wagalla two decades later.
In the 1980s, scarce natural resources and political tensions had led to feuds and repeated violent conflict between the Degodia and the Ajuran in Wajir. The government issued an ultimatum to both groups to surrender their weapons. The ruling administration felt that the Degodia, who surrendered just eight weapons (in comparison to the 27 surrendered by the Ajuran), had not complied fully and decided to mount a joint operation to disarm them.
The massacre at the Wagalla Airstrip occurred in what is presently Wajir County. The bloodbath began in the small hours of 10 February, ending with a stampede and a shootout on the chilly morning of 14 February 1984. All men and boys over the age of 12 years belonging to the Degodia sub-clan of the Somali tribe in north-eastern Kenya were rounded up and detained at the newly constructed airstrip in Wagalla, nine miles from Wajir town.
According to Annalenna Tonelli, 1,000 people were killed, but according to various community groups, the number is closer to 5,000. Annalena is the undisputed heroine of Wagalla. An Italian volunteer and Catholic lay sister, Annalena had lived in Wajir for 15 years prior to the massacre, assisting the less fortunate, running a tuberculosis and rehabilitation centre.
The Wagalla massacre destroyed a community, changed its social cohesion, and placed the burden of regenerating the dead society on the shoulders of widows. Those murdered were husbands, fathers, brothers or guardians, citizens of this sovereign republic who had a right to have their lives protected by the state. If indeed the state had a case against these people, natural justice would have dictated that they be brought before the courts and charged according to the laws of the land. That was not the case.
This is the worst massacre recorded in Kenyan history. Previously, the government has said that only fifty-seven people had died. However, On Wednesday 18 October 2000, when he was minister in the Office of the President, William Ruto told parliament that 380 people had died in what has been called the Wagalla massacre.
The Wagalla massacre destroyed a community, changed its social cohesion, and placed the burden of regenerating the dead society on the shoulders of widows.
The Member of Parliament who raised the issue, Elias Barre Shill, said the minister was trying to avoid crucial questions. Shill charged that more than 1,000 ethnic Somalis were victims of the 1984 killings, adding that the Kenyan government should apologize and pay compensation.
There were other massacres in Bulla Karatasi in Garissa, in Turbi, and in Malka Marri, but Wagalla remains a classic example of a state run amok, an illustration of the genocidal intentions of a government incapable of exerting any meaningful control over the security of its citizens.
Like most Kenyans, I learned about the Wagalla Massacre from newspaper stories about 5,000 men who were killed at an airstrip by the Kenyan government. I was shocked by what sounded like a tale from another world; in many ways, it was a tale from another planet.  The Northern Frontier District, as it was then known, had for long operated under a different set of military laws from the rest of Kenya. Successive regimes treated its populations brutally. Only during the sunset years of the Moi era did the residents begin to feel free to speak out about that terrible event.  
The facts and figures from the Wagalla massacre are now etched into the fabric of the history of Kenya. What is probably less known is that this massacre was a deliberate act of genocide, not a military operation gone rogue. It began at the policy level.
It all started with a high-level cabinet meeting at Harambee House, where the political idea of justifying a massacre was mooted. No details emerged from this meeting, no minutes or reports. Even the efforts of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Committee could not unearth ‌ the policy prescriptions discussed that initiated a process that culminated in the death of so many people. More fundamentally, the TJRC came under fire because of “inherent flaws” in its mandate – which allowed for amnesty recommendations in some cases – and concerns that it would fail to hear from the perpetrators as well as from the victims, and would thereby fail to explain how the crimes were allowed to occur.  
What is probably less known is that this massacre was a deliberate act of genocide, not a military operation gone rogue.
These concerns led the late Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai to describe the commission as one designed “to facilitate impunity, hoodwink and massage the victims and sweep the crimes under the carpet”.
Sources within the corridors of power confirm that a meeting did take place at Harambee House where security issues concerning Wajir were discussed and orders issued to the Provincial Security Committee in Garissa to initiate a security operation against a small Somali sub-clan living in Wajir District.
The meeting gave authorization, but the timing, strategy, and resources were left to the Provincial Security Committee led by Benson Kaaria who was the Provincial Commissioner of North Eastern Province at the time. This committee authorized the District Security Committee (DSC) to prepare the ground for the military operation. The District Commissioner at the time, J.P. Matui, was on leave. In the available documents and in his own testimony at the TJRC, the acting District Commissioner, M.M Tiema, appears to have been used to achieve a predetermined objective.
The final order for the operation was given on 8 February 1984. This was at a meeting held in Wajir by the Kenya Intelligence Committee. The DSC and the Provincial Security Committee were in attendance. This meeting was the crucial source of authority to undertake the major security operation.
According to the Etemesi Report, the military operation began on 10 February with a signal from the Garissa Provincial Police Officer that read:
All Degodias plus stock in Griftu Division plus adjacent divisions will be rounded up and treated mercilessly. No mercy will be exercised. You will get more instructions from this Head Quarter in another two days. No nonsense will be accepted. Further instructions will follow on the relief of the stock. Report progress daily.
On that day, the military moved into all the areas occupied by the Degodia sub-clan and carried out their orders. The Commander of the operation was Major Mudogo. According to the Etemesi Report, the operation had no written “Operational Procedures”. In layman’s language, the military operation had no rules or limits, and the security forces were given a blank cheque to run riot. And run riot they did. They started detaining people from northeastern and eastern Kenya at four o’clock in the morning. The military was assisted in identifying their targets by KANU youth wingers, some of whom were from the targeted community.
Early in the operation, the military moved into Bulla Jogoo, a heavily populated section of Wajir. The Ministerial Statement and the Etemesi Report have their versions of what happened. Survivors have an altogether rather different and chilling story.
According to the Ministerial Statement made in parliament by the Minister for Internal Security, the military moved into Bulla Jogoo at five in the morning and ordered the residents to leave their huts.  The order was not complied with and “the commander gave orders for the huts to be destroyed.”
The Etemesi Report has a slightly different version of events: by five in the morning, under the command of Captain Njeru, the army had already placed a cordon around the Manyatta. Administration Police and Kenya Police then moved in to round up the people. Residents were hiding in their huts in fear of the ‌security forces. They were ordered to dismantle their homes and move out of the area. By two in the afternoon, they had not complied with the order and Major Mudogo gave the order for the huts to be razed.
Survivors say the huts started burning at daybreak when ‌soldiers raided the area.
Government documents that appear to have been doctored after the event and suffer serious contradictions, say that 381 male Degodia were detained.
According to the Ministerial Report tabled in parliament, all the people were gathered and detained for screening and interrogation at the newly constructed airstrip at Wagalla. The Etemesi Report says the people were first divided into various sections for easy identification, then forced to strip naked. Survivors say those who refused to strip were summarily executed in front of their colleagues. A prominent religious leader was the first to be executed after he resisted the order to strip. All of this happened on 10 February 1984.
The military operation had no rules or limits, and the security forces were given a blank cheque to run riot.
The operation to round up the Degodia sub-clan continued on 11 February. People were arrested from their settlements in places far away from Wajir District. Some herders were picked up as far away as Jalaqo in Modogashe, Garissa District. Some were captured in Eastern Province and others near Mandera District.
The net was cast so wide that nobody could escape the reach of the security forces. The Etemesi Report says that those arrested were placed under guard, and interrogations continued at the airstrip.
According to the DSC, having so many people detained made it impossible to interrogate them individually, so they were divided into subsections. In total, there were 11 subsections of the sub-clan at the airstrip. The method of interrogation applied was extreme even for that era.
After being forced to strip, the prisoners were ordered to lay face down on the hot surface of the airstrip during the hottest month of the year. Temperatures are so high in February that one can get cooked by the sun. Survivors say many people succumbed to heatstroke, and this is corroborated by the Etemesi Report, which adds that detainees were subjected to “physical beating”. The physical beating, according to survivors, involved the butt of a gun, batons, and bayonets. A witness at the TJRC testified that the torture was so extreme that men complained they were sodomized at night. Survivors say people were being beaten to death in front of their colleagues.
To add to their misery, the people were denied food and water. A situation was created at Wagalla Airstrip that led to disaster in the following days.
On 12 February, the acting District Commissioner (DC), M.M. Tiema, addressed a public gathering in Wajir. Witnesses say he issued a lot of threats. Official records indicate that he assured members of the public of security in the town and asked them not to panic. In reality, most people in town had either been detained or displaced due to fear of the military. The targeted sub-clan were the dominant urban poor in the town and the place looked deserted and desolate. Tiema and Officer Commanding Police Division (OCPD) Wabwire decided to take a stroll to the Wagalla Airstrip to assess the progress of the operation. They were accompanied by another officer, C.M. Mbole, who was the head of the dreaded — now defunct — Special Branch.
Official reports indicate that as soon as the DC alighted from his vehicle, the crowd burst out shouting, some detainees moving towards him and others running away through an opening in the perimeter fence. That is when Wabwire ordered that those escaping be shot. A total of 13 people were shot dead in the confusion. Survivors remember the District Commissioner’s visit, the shouting and the brief melee but have no recollection of shooting at this point. The Etemesi Report suggests that due to the difficult conditions they were subjected to, the people were begging for clemency from the District Commissioner. Witnesses report that there were many people who were killed in the first three days of the operation and the report of people running away was used to cover up that fact.
A witness at the TJRC testified that the torture was so extreme that men complained they were sodomized at night.
The District Commissioner jumped into his car and left the venue amidst the cries of the suffering men in the airstrip. The Etemesi Report says that the operation did not succeed in recovering guns or arresting any known bandits. The report is scathing about the DC and the OCPD leaving the situation to junior officers, calling their action a “cowardly move” lacking “any sense of responsibility”.
On 13 February, official reports showed for the first time the confusion reigning among the authorities in Wajir. There was a state of “fear, confusion and panic” within the DSC. This is probably because of the sheer numbers of the dead at the Wagalla Airstrip. By this date many people had been tortured to death, others had died from heatstroke and a large number were facing death due to thirst and starvation. Since the operation had no clear guidance, there was no way forward. Reports indicate that a decision was reached to release the remaining men and transport them back to their homes. The Provincial Security Committee visited Wajir on this date and received a briefing on the situation. The committee agreed with the DSC’s decision to release the remaining detainees.
The provincial security did not visit Wagalla Airstrip but flew right over it. Survivors told the TJRC that they clearly remember a helicopter flying over the airstrip and being threatened by being told that the PC was supervising the operations. The order to release the detainees was given as part of a cover-up that was conjured up after the event.
The 14th of February, Valentine’s Day 1984, is completely absent from official reports regarding what happened at the Wagalla Airstrip. The Etemesi Report says nothing about this to date. However, survivors say it was the morning on which the stampede happened.
By this date, the Wagalla Airstrip was full of dead bodies. The military and police manning the area were tired and jittery. They were butchering the detainees one after the other. It was no longer an interrogation, just a slaughter.
Witnesses recall the crowd surging once towards the barbed wire fence, which gave way, allowing hundreds to make a dash for the nearby bushes. The military opened fire and many were shot. In fact, people survived because of their determination to escape or to die trying, and not because they were released from the Wagalla Airstrip. The stampede saved many but caused confusion. It was no longer the clean operation envisaged by the government. A lot of people escaped and ran naked into the bushes near Wagalla. Corralling them was difficult because there were no roads and the forces involved in the security operations were by that time fatigued and demoralized. It was a nightmare of immense proportions. That Valentine morning the Wagalla Airstrip was full of bodies in different stages of decomposition. Some had died moments before, with fresh bullet wounds in their backs, others were injured and screaming for help. Dazed, weak men were milling around naked and totally disoriented.
The 14th of February, Valentine’s Day 1984, is completely absent from official reports regarding what happened at the Wagalla Airstrip.
According to the Etemesi Report, Tiema and Wabwire reported that 13 people were shot in the stampede and that, as arrangements were being made to transport people to their various destinations, 16 more bodies were discovered at the airstrip. The report says that it is “believed that they may have died as a result of dehydration, hunger and excessive exposure to the sun”.
At that point, the security team was faced with the question of what to do with the dead bodies and the injured persons at the airstrip. Official reports say there were 29 bodies at the airstrip and, in a state of panic and confusion, the DSC decided to “dispose of the bodies”. The Etemesi Report further states that “a total of 20 bodies were thrown into the bush near Korodile, 100 miles northwest of Wajir town, while the other nine were buried at an area 6 to 10 miles from the Wagalla Airstrip on the way to Giriftu. This was done by Lieutenant Chungo of the army and police inspector Wachira respectively”.
Survivors remember things very differently. The dead, the injured, and the weak survivors were all thrown into the backs of army Lories and disposed of in different locations. Some were discarded in the places mentioned in the official report and others were dumped as far away as Moyale and Mandera Districts. What they all agreed on is that bodies were disposed of as far away as 100 miles away from the Wagalla Airstrip. The Etemesi Report agrees with the survivors when it states that the “officers were unable to verify what took place at the airstrip and how many people died”.
Official records say that the Wagalla Massacre was a routine military operation gone wrong. The Etemesi Report is specifically focused on this angle. The report says there were no specific instructions given to the subordinate commanders other than to show no mercy to the detainees. It seemed to the committee that compiled the report that no individual was responsible for any specific action. Accordingly, this was mob action. The report says that the situation got out of hand and an “unfortunate incident occurred at Wagalla Airstrip”. It adds, “The system of interrogation used at the airstrip left a lot to be desired and was very unprofessional”.
There were no specific instructions given to the subordinate commanders other than to show no mercy to the detainees.
The most contentious question concerning the Wagalla Massacre is the death toll. Just how many people died in the carnage? The government has for decades stuck with the figure of 57 dead, but this figure has no basis. No names or any other details of the deceased were given. The Etemesi Report, which was written under circumstances that guaranteed no independent judgment, arrived at this figure by adding up figures from various sources. According to the DSC, 29 people died at the Wagalla Airstrip. It was confirmed that 15 bodies were buried at Sister Annalena Tonelli’s compound. Sister Annalena allegedly left 12 bodies in the bush. One person died in the hospital and was buried in the public cemetery. These different numbers were added up to come up with the official death toll. The government’s own report admits that the confusion that reigned makes it impossible to know what happened at Wagalla Airstrip in February 1984.
When hope departs from a heart, only darkness remains, and where once a bright future promised, nothingness abides. The psychological scars caused by the absence of all the men in one’s family run deep. But the worst scars of all are the ones left when a community that once believed in justice and the truth is for decades denied them.
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