Kenya’s painful age of bloodletting

BY: Isaac Yeboah

A child consoles her mother following ethnic clashes in the Tana Delta in January this year. PHOTO/FILEValley of Death — The Kedong Massacre: In November 1895, a caravan left Murang’a for Eldama Ravine. The procession of about 1,100 comprised men, mostly porters from the Kikuyu community and the Swahili, tasked with delivering supplies across the hills and vales to Ravine, which they successfully did, then embarked on the journey back home.
However, somewhere near Kedong, a quiet neighbourhood located a few kilometres from Naivasha town, unruly men who were part of the caravan raided a Maasai manyatta and kidnapped two women.

Bad move

Maasai elders, it is claimed, appealed to the porters to leave them alone and cease further provocation. But, perhaps emboldened by their large numbers, the porters decided to display their might by stealing cattle from the manyattas.

Another bad move

The Maasai waited for the rustling porters to leave and set up camp elsewhere, then, on November 26, launched their retaliatory attack, killing 555 members of the caravan.

Things, however, did not end there. After learning of the attack on his caravan, Andrew Dick, a transport and supplies businessman, enlisted the assistance of a French explorer in pursuing the Maasai. They caught up with the morans as they celebrated their victory and shot 100 of them. By the time things cooled off, more than 600 people lay dead. A commission of inquiry, probably the first in the history of the nation, was set up to look into the massacre. Its findings faulted the porters.

Death by the Sea — The Giriama Massacres: Between 1912 and 1914, the Giriama got into conflict with the White settlers, whom they accused of encroaching on their lives. Led by the fierce Mekatilili wa Medza, they staged a series of protests, rebellions, and revolts. One such uprising would later be labelled The Giriama Rebellion because of its intensity and blood-curdling consequences.

The British first had contact with the Giriama in the 1840s but, probably due to the little economic value of the Giriama land and society as a whole — and the fact that their pacification efforts had yielded little as few of the Giriama were willing to convert to Christianity — they did not have a lot of influence in the area.

That was why, in 1912, a new assistant district commissioner was posted to the area. Arthur Champion was shocked at the low level of British influence among the Giriama. To announce his arrival, he launched an “impressive” influence-building endeavour by imposing taxes and even conducted a census to establish who was living where and not giving unto Caesar his due.

The Giriama, led by Mekatilili (then aged 70), resisted. They fought Mr Champion and his men from 1912 to 1915 and the result of that war is said to have been more than 500 Giriama lives and hostile relations between the natives, the colonial forces, and any other person or institution affiliated to them, like the Kings African Rifles (KAR) and converted Christians from the community.

Some versions of the story claim that the rebellion started when Mekatilili slapped Mr Champion on the face, while the end is recorded as multiple deaths of religious leaders, some of whom were killed in sacred worship areas.

Dying to Believe — The Kollowa Massacre: There is a little place called Kollowa to the west of Baringo town. You probably have never heard of it, but you need to. In the early 1940s, after several years of neglect due to the low economic value of the area, the British administration, as it had done with the Giriama at the Coast, decided to have its presence felt in the area by introducing livestock quotas for this nomadic pastoralist community and some form of crop husbandry.

The Pokot rejected the interference, which they believed would upset their daily lives. They had one or two leaders to look up to in the advancement of their collective cause and one of those was Lukas Pkech, an ardent follower of the Dini ya Msambwa religious sect.

Pkech organised and armed the Pokot for battle. When, in 1950, they decided to take on the British, the collateral damage was massive. Various estimates put the death toll at between 50 and 1,000 and anything in between, but official records from the era do little to shed light on the actual figures.

A monument in the form of a dove and the Christian cross stands at the site of the massacre, serving to honour the gallant men whose deaths the colonisers did not even bother to record.

Fight for Identity — The Mau Mau Massacres: The Mau Mau uprising reached its bloody apex between 1952 and 1959, when thousands were herded into concentration camps and their voices muzzled through the gun. A number of battles between the white man and the natives have been recorded, but two stand out, perhaps because of the degree of their severity.

On the night of March 26, 1953 — some call it the Night of the Long Knives — the village of Lari became one of Kenya’s worst killing fields. Residents here went to bed a happy, united, loving lot, but by the time the sun rose on the morning of March 27, 400 of those happy, united, loving souls were no more.

Two things made Lari stand out: the number of the dead and how those deaths happened. The latter, particularly, shocked the entire nation.

Here is why: The first reported case was that of a local loyalist who was found by home guards badly mutilated and nailed to a tree. That was one hour after they got in for work that evening.

By 9pm, a couple of houses were ablaze. An hour later, 75 people had been shot, strangled, and hacked or beaten to death. A woman who survived the massacre described to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) how the attackers licked the blood on their pangas after hacking people to death.

As the day broke, villagers woke up to the gory sight of about 200 bodies scattered all over the place. Anger hit the roof and they reached for their machetes. The loyalists were, however, not going to go down that easily. They reached for their guns.

Many believe that the ensuing wave of violence was ordered by the colonial administrators and executed by the home guards, reservists, and police, who went around pulling people from their homes and shooting them. A fortnight later, the government released a statement through the East African Standard saying the security personnel had killed 150 people alleged to have been involved in the massacre.

Then all went quiet

The true number of those killed in Lari has remained a matter of speculation. One man who was part of the team recording the death toll claimed that, for every one person killed in the first massacre, two were killed by the government forces in the second phase.

The Bulla Karatasi Massacre: In 1980 in Liboi, after district officer Johnson Welimo was shot dead by suspected shifta, the then provincial commissioner, Mr Benson Kaaria, called a meeting to discuss the state of insecurity in the area. During the meeting, he is said to have uttered what has since been referred to as a declaration of war against the natives:

“Since there are only 678,000 of you in your province,” Mr Kaaria is said to have warned, “all of you will be eliminated and Kenyans will be left to live in peace.”

At 8pm on the day the warning was issued, four senior civil servants went down in a hail of bullets at a local bar. Three more later succumbed to their injuries. The government responded viciously; a curfew was imposed to clamp down on night movements, then a security operation that has been equated to “collective punishment” of a whole community was launched.

What happened in the following few days has been branded the Bulla Karatasi Massacre, a vicious military action whose death toll, according to those interviewed by the TJRC, stood at anything between 300 and 3,000.

Blood on the Runway — The Wagalla Massacre: This is the country’s most known massacre. In 1983, there was a lot of inter-clan violence which was deemed a security concern in the larger North Eastern region. As 1983 drew to a close, ethnic Somali clans formed retaliatory militia groups that regularly attacked each other.

The government interpreted the constant conflict as lack of loyalty to the establishment and, after consultative meetings by various regional heads, came up with recommendations on how to curb the violence and instil a collective sense of patriotism, once and for all.

Their plan involved jamming Radio Mogadishu signals, forcing local residents to speak Kiswahili, and instructing patriotic programmes and music to be played on the Voice of Kenya. They also prescribed increased “military presence”.

The last measure was hoped to help calm things and assist in disarming the warring parties, but tensions persisted. This resulted in a “security operation” between February 8 and 14, 1984. Hundreds of men were rounded up by government forces and taken to the Wagalla Airstrip, where most of them died in unclear circumstances. Back home, women, girls, and boys were raped and their houses burnt.

By Valentine’s Day in 1984, Wagalla was one bloody expanse where the government stood tall as the residents writhed in pain. The number of casualties varies exponentially, according to the source (government, local papers, international reporters, and international non-governmental organisations). It has been variously put at 57, 59, 300, 1,000, 1,400 and 5,000.

Residents, however, insist that the numbers were higher than these. Most of the dead, they say, were dumped far away from their home areas or chemically decapitated.

Slaughter of Children — The Turbi Massacre: In July 2005, a gang of armed bandits high on ethnic passions descended on Turbi Primary School and opened fire on the scared children, some of whom even called out their attackers’ names before they were shot down. The gunmen, believed to belong to the Borana community, then descended on nearby villages, where they shot any member of the Gabbra community they came across. In total, 95 people were killed in the few minutes of that momentary madness, 22 of them the children at Turbi Primary.

The attack was the culmination of a simmering row between the Borana and the Gabbra, who share grazing fields.

That same evening, the Gabbra organised a revenge attack, killing four children and six adults. The attacks then degenerated into an on-and-off affair that has come to be known as The Bubisa Massacre

Deaths in the North Rift — Murkutwa, Lotirir, and Loteteleit Massacres: Most of the conflicts in the North Rift have centred on tensions among the Marakwet, Pokot, and Turkana, and are caused by cattle rustling, ethnocentrism, and bad politics.

Since 2001, there have been a number of warrior attacks in the area, but the Marakwet raid on the Pokot that took place in February 2001 stands out. In retaliation, the Pokot organised a team of over 3,000 fighters, armed with sophisticated weapons. They descended on the Marakwet living at Murkutwa Location on March 12 and killed 44 people, burnt 316 houses, and stole over 5,000 animals. Theirs was named the Murkutwa Massacre.

The Pokot have suffered government security operations time and again. These operations, though designed and marketed as order-restoring activities, have been accused of leading to loss of life under the boots and gun butts of police and army officers.

It should be noted that the Pokot are also at risk from the Karamonjong and Sebei of Uganda. There are, in fact, cases when the Ugandan bandits have raided the area. In order to protect themselves, the Pokot turned to acquiring weapons since they felt that the government was doing little to protect them.

In 1984, the government carried out a forced disarmament operation that went way out of control, with security personnel accused of shooting the unarmed, some of whom were young boys. Others are said to have been shot even after surrendering, their hands high in the air.

A witness talked of an old man who was taken up in a helicopter. With a rope around the neck, his body was left to dangle from the aircraft that flew around for close to 30 minutes. The body was thrown away near the border with Uganda.

This was christened the Lotiriri Massacre. The number of deaths remains unclear.

On April 28 1988, raiders believed to be from the Toposa community of South Sudan and the Nyangatom of Ethiopia staged a raid on the Turkana. They struck at a watering hole, killing the herdsmen. Then they moved to the nearby kraals, where they killed and maimed many people. At the end of the four-day raid, the TJRC report puts the number of the people killed at 290.

The General Service Unit officers stationed around the area did not respond during the attack.

This report has been obtained from the TJRC report, Volume 11A.

Source: Daily Nation