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The Wagalla Massacre: What Really Happened

9 min read.

It has been exactly 38 years since the Wagalla massacre. The victims have refused to stay quiet and until the government takes concrete steps to provide redress, it will be hard for the victims and their families to move on.



The Wagalla Massacre: What Really Happened
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On 11 January 1985, the Principal State Counsel, Moijo Ole Keiwua, wrote on behalf of the Attorney General to Ibrahim Khamis Adan and Alinoor Yussuf Mohamed Hussein through their lawyers, Munikah and Company Advocates, asking them, by the rules of civil procedures, to supply specific information about the deaths of their fathers. The information requested included the dates and times when the deceased persons were killed; whether they were killed by the Kenya Army personnel, the Kenya Police or 1982 Air Force personnel; and the names of the specific officers responsible for the deaths of the deceased.

Khamis Adan Mumin, Ibrahim’s father, worked for Wajir County Council until his death. Yussuf Mohamed Hussein was a civil servant in the Ministry of Health. The two were among 55 or so employees of various government agencies who disappeared from work in early February 1984, never to be seen again. Their employers reported them as having deserted their duties, and their families could not access their terminal benefits.

The question of who killed these two men and others was raised in parliament by the former Member of Parliament for Wajir West, the late Ahmed Khalif Mohamed, on 21 March 1984. During a debate on then President Moi’s speech at the opening of that parliamentary session, Khalif accused the security forces of killing hundreds in Wajir District. The government forces, he said, had placed more than 4,000 people in a concentration camp, over 300 had been immediately executed, and over 600 were confirmed missing.

Khalif directly accused the Provincial Commissioner for Northeastern Province, Benson Kaaria, and the Somalia government of collusion in the murders. Kaaria had claimed, as reported by the Standard on 9 November 1980, that he would eliminate all Somali-speaking people in the country unless they exposed the Shifta who had killed a District Officer. Khalif’s accusations were met with utmost hostility by the entire parliament. Mwai Kibaki, Kenneth Matiba, A.Y. Boru and Samuel Ng’eny demanded substantiation. Charles Muthura accused Khalif of irrelevance in his contribution to the presidential speech, while Parmenas Munyasia jestingly demanded to know the names of those who had threatened to wipe out the Somalis. Khalif was cornered into dropping the Somalia claim but stood his ground on the mass killings of Somalis in Wajir. In a bid to substantiate his claim, the late MP tabled the list of victims of the massacre and their photographs in parliament on 28 March 1984. Many were civil servants, including Noor Haji, the former Senator from Wajir, who had been killed in the military operation.

During a debate on then President Moi’s speech at the opening of that parliamentary session, Khalif accused the security forces of killing hundreds in Wajir District.

The question of just what happened at the Wagalla Airstrip between 10 and 14 February 1984 was partially answered by the late Justus Ole Tipis in a ministerial statement about the military operation, read on the floor of parliament on the night of 12 April 1984, and reported in the Nation of 13 April 1984. Ole Tipis revealed that the security situation in Wajir was politically motivated and that leaders were involved in divisive strategies that were planned based on ethnic considerations. He claimed that the government decided to carry out its operations against the Degodia community to provide security to a neighbouring clan. Ole Tipis gave an accurate account of the processes but avoided mentioning the resulting genocide.

The Wajir District Security Committee and the Provincial Securities Committee were convened by an order from the National Security Council. The meeting took place on 8 February 1984 at the Wajir District Commissioner’s office. The District Commissioner himself was conveniently replaced by a District Officer, M.M. Tiema. According to the signatures in the visitor’s book at the DC’s office, and eyewitness reports, this meeting was attended by J.S. Mathenge, Permanent Secretary Office of the President; B.A. Kiplagat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; David Mwiraria, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs; John Gituma, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting; Brigadier J.R. Kibwana, Department of Defence; B.N. Macharia of the Treasury; Z.J.M. Kamencu, Deputy Secretary in the Office of the President; J.P. Gitui, D.C.O. Police Headquarters; J.K. Kaguthi and J.P. Mwagovya of the Office of the President; C.M. Aswani, Provincial Police Officer, North Eastern Province; Lt. Col. H.F.K. Muhindi of 7 Kenya Rifles; J.K. Kinyanjui, Director of Land Adjudication Nairobi; and finally Benson N. Kaaria, Provincial Commissioner, Northeastern Province. The meeting resolved to carry out an operation to disarm the Degodia and force them to provide the names of the bandits who were committing crimes in the district.

According to the statement by Ole Tipis, once the operation was authorized, it began in earnest on 10 February at 0400 hours and involved the Police, the Administration Police, and the Army. The operation covered Elben, Dambas, Butelehu, Eldas, Griftu and Bulla Jogoo. According to the government statement, most of these areas had been swept by 11 February. When the army surrounded Bulla Jogoo, they ordered the residents to vacate their homes. According to Ole Tipis, the residents refused to comply with the order. The military then forcibly removed 381 male members of the Degodia clan from their homes and took them to the Wagalla Airstrip, nine miles West of Wajir Town. Ole Tipis admitted that those held were interrogated for three days, and a scuffle erupted when the District Commissioner, accompanied by the OCPD (Officer Commanding Police Division), entered the airstrip. Some of the crowds started to escape while others shouted at government officers. In the confusion, 29 people died of gunshot wounds or were trampled to death, while 28 others were killed when the army met with resistance during the operations, according to the ministerial statement.

The official story narrated in the government statement closely mirrors what happened, save that the government minimized callousness of the operation. The operation covered the entire Wajir District, including Tarbaj, Leheley, Wajir-Bor and Khorof Harar. The target community was the Degodia but it is believed several Somalis of other extraction were caught up in cases of mistaken identity. The operation targeted male members of the clan above 12 years of age. Still, women were raped, houses were burnt, and property was looted in every locality where the operation took place.

The military then forcibly removed male members of the Degodia clan from their homes and took them to the Wagalla Airstrip, nine miles West of Wajir Town.

The men rounded up were subjected to torture to force them to confess to owning a rifle. Some died of their wounds before they reached the Wagalla Airstrip. Those who got to the airstrip were sorted by sub-clan, and up to 30 members of the Jebrail sub-clan were burnt alive in an orgy of unprecedented violence. Their clothes were piled up on top of them, petrol or some other highly flammable chemical was poured on the clothes, and a bonfire whose fuel was human flesh was lit. The other detainees watched as their colleagues were roasted alive. The rest of the men were forced to strip naked and told to squat in the hot sun – those who resisted were shot. The late Ahmed Khalif reported that the detainees were held at the airstrip for five days, that they were denied food and water, and that during this period, those who tried to pray were shot. In those five days, more than 1,000 people either starved to death, were shot for questioning the orders of the armed forces, or died at the hands of gangs that were allowed into the airstrip at night to carry out revenge attacks against those against whom they held a grudge.

On the fifth day, the remaining men bolted, breaking through the barbed wire fence and running for their lives. The military opened fire, and hundreds were shot — many in the back — and killed. The stampede helped most escape into the bush, where they received help from nomads. It was an escape that should have happened in the first couple of days before so many were murdered, but the Degodia people would have been wiped off the map without it. The military found itself amid thousands of dead and injured men. The plan had gone awry: men had escaped and told others what happened. The army attempted a massive cover-up that involved piling the dead and injured into lorries and dumping them in the bushes. Many bodies were also disposed of by fire and acid. Mohamed Ibrahim Elmi, Catholic nun Analena Toneli, businessman Noor Abdille and others saved many people who had been ferried into various parts of Wajir district and abandoned by the armed forces. That is how the Wagalla Massacre took place. The survivors’ stories are almost unbelievable.

One survivor says that he had never stepped into Wajir town before 9 February 1984. He had decided to visit his father there and they were both picked up by the military the night he arrived. He found himself at Wagalla naked, hungry, and thirsty, watching as life ebbed out of his father. Another survivor woke up in a pile of bodies in a depression in a bush; next to him was a 16-year-old cousin’s corpse — just an innocent boy shot in the back of the head. One survivor escaped in the stampede naked and found a young girl herding goats who helped him cover his shame with her scarf.

The army attempted a massive cover-up that involved piling the dead and injured into lorries and dumping them in the bushes.

It has been exactly 38 years since the Wagalla massacre. In all these years the victims have refused to stay quiet, the dead are bursting out of their graves and giving clues to those who wish to resolve the massacre. The available evidence is sufficient to recreate what happened at Wagalla. It is possible to give State Council Moijo Ole Keiwua the specific information he requested, to allow Ibrahim and Alinoor to bring to justice those who killed their fathers, Yussuf Mohamed Hussein and Khamis Adan Mumin, along with 3,000 others —the figure given in the UN report — on 10, 11, 12, 13, or 14 February 1984 by a combined contingent of security officers from the Kenya Army, the ‘82 Air Force, the Kenya Police and the Administration Police. (The larger casualty figures were also mentioned to the author by Ahmed Khalif while he was still alive). The officers who took part in this massacre received an order from their superiors who met at the Wajir District Commissioner’s Office on 8 February 1984. The sons of the deceased could not give information of this kind in 1984. However, the same information can now be adduced in a court of law in the light of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) report and recommendations.

One of the most intriguing stories about the Wagalla Massacre was how it was planned and implemented. The target community was collected from three districts and detained at the Wagalla Airstrip.

My uncle, Abdullahi Jehow, who left Wajir District in 1965 when the Kenya Army killed his family’s herd of 200 camels, had established himself in Madogashe in Garissa District. On the morning of 9 February 1984, he was at Jalaqo, about 30 miles from Modogashe on the road to Garissa, in a shallow well with other men, busy filling troughs with water for his livestock, when a column of army vehicles arrived.

The soldiers asked them to which Somali clan they belonged, and they innocently replied that they were Degodia. They were arrested, taken to the Habaswein police post overnight and driven to the Wagalla Airstrip the following day where they witnessed the atrocities first-hand. Today in his late 80s, Uncle Abdullahi has had a very long life, but he avoids Wajir like the plague. He has lived in Isiolo, Garissa, and Tana River, but nobody has been able to convince him to go back to Wajir.

The stories told of the Wagalla Massacre demonstrate a broader conspiracy to commit genocide. Wagalla was never about the immediate security concerns in Wajir District. It had nothing to do with the low-level conflict between Somali clans; such conflicts have been simmering since time immemorial and have never resulted in genocide.

Wagalla was a classic extermination of a people; the implementation of a policy that began at independence that was aimed at clearing the inhabitants out of their land and pushing them off the map of Kenya. It was a policy set by Jomo Kenyatta and inherited by Daniel Moi. It is a policy practiced by low-level government officials and the Provincial Administration as can be gleaned from official documents and public pronouncements.

One survivor escaped in the stampede naked and found a young girl herding goats who helped him cover his shame with her scarf.

The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report recommends reparations for the victims of the Wagalla massacre and other mass killings in the country. The report also recommends actions against the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, which includes banning them from public office. The report however was ignored by the government and parliament failed to adopt it. The Government Printer gazetted only parts of the report leaving out the sections relating to the massacres and killings, Volume 2A and 2B. In a bid to sidestep the broad redress mechanism proposed by the TJRC, on 26 March 2015 the president issued a bold apology and announced the establishment of a KSh10 billion Restorative Justice Fund of which only KSh3.6 billion was budgeted for in the subsequent year, 2016/2017. The Attorney General failed to initiate guidelines for victims to make claims against this fund until 2018. The beneficiaries of this fund are not aware of these guidelines as no public participation and awareness was conducted. The lethargy in implementing the TJRC report seems to emanate from the system’s determination to protect its own. Many of the perpetrators named in the TJRC Report are still serving in the boards of public institutions. Until the government takes concrete steps to provide redress for the victims of the Wagalla massacre and other crimes against humanity reported in the TJRC Report, it will be hard for the victims and their families to move on.

Moijo Ole Keiwua rose to become President of the East African Court of Justice and Judge of the Court of Appeal. He succumbed to cancer in 2011. Ibrahim Khamis Adan recently retired from the government after a long career in the diplomatic service including a stint as deputy ambassador. The writer is not aware of the whereabouts of Alinoor Yussuf Mohamed Hussein. Abdullahi Jehow is at an advanced age and lives in Tana River County; he will probably never again set foot in Wajir. The TJRC interviewed most of the persons named in connection with the Wagalla massacre, including its own Chairman, Benjamin Kiplagat. None of them accepted liability and their standard defence was, “I do not remember.”

Abdi Sheikh is the author of “Blood on the Runway: The Wagalla Massacre” of 1984. A version of this article first appeared at

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Salah Abdi Sheikh is an academic and an activist.


Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning

Rwandans are welcoming, but the government’s priority must be to solve the internal political problems which produce refugees.



Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
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The governments of the United Kingdom and Rwanda have signed an agreement to move asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda for processing. This partnership has been heavily criticized and has been referred to as unethical and inhumane. It has also been opposed by the United Nations Refugee Agency on the grounds that it is contrary to the spirit of the Refugee Convention.

Here in Rwanda, we heard the news of the partnership on the day it was signed. The subject has never been debated in the Rwandan parliament and neither had it been canvassed in the local media prior to the announcement.

According to the government’s official press release, the partnership reflects Rwanda’s commitment to protect vulnerable people around the world. It is argued that by relocating migrants to Rwanda, their dignity and rights will be respected and they will be provided with a range of opportunities, including for personal development and employment, in a country that has consistently been ranked among the safest in the world.

A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives. Therefore, most Rwandans are sensitive to the plight of those forced to leave their home countries and would be more than willing to make them feel welcome. However, the decision to relocate the migrants to Rwanda raises a number of questions.

The government argues that relocating migrants to Rwanda will address the inequalities in opportunity that push economic migrants to leave their homes. It is not clear how this will work considering that Rwanda is already the most unequal country in the East African region. And while it is indeed seen as among the safest countries in the world, it was however ranked among the bottom five globally in the recently released 2022 World Happiness Index. How would migrants, who may have suffered psychological trauma fare in such an environment, and in a country that is still rebuilding itself?

A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives.

What opportunities can Rwanda provide to the migrants? Between 2018—the year the index was first published—and 2020, Rwanda’s ranking on the Human Capital Index (HCI) has been consistently low. Published by the World Bank, HCI measures which countries are best at mobilising the economic and professional potential of their citizens. Rwanda’s score is lower than the average for sub-Saharan Africa and it is partly due to this that the government had found it difficult to attract private investment that would create significant levels of employment prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment, particularly among the youth, has since worsened.

Despite the accolades Rwanda has received internationally for its development record, Rwanda’s economy has never been driven by a dynamic private or trade sector; it has been driven by aid. The country’s debt reached 73 per cent of GDP in 2021 while its economy has not developed the key areas needed to achieve and secure genuine social and economic transformation for its entire population. In addition to human capital development, these include social capital development, especially mutual trust among citizens considering the country’s unfortunate historical past, establishing good relations with neighbouring states, respect for human rights, and guaranteeing the accountability of public officials.

Rwanda aspires to become an upper middle-income country by 2035 and a high-income country by 2050. In 2000, the country launched a development plan that aimed to transform it into a middle-income country by 2020 on the back on a knowledge economy. That development plan, which has received financial support from various development partners including the UK which contributed over £1 billion, did not deliver the anticipated outcomes. Today the country remains stuck in the category of low-income states. Its structural constraints as a small land-locked country with few natural resources are often cited as an obstacle to development. However, this is exacerbated by current governance in Rwanda, which limits the political space, lacks separation of powers, impedes freedom of expression and represses government critics, making it even harder for Rwanda to reach the desired developmental goals.

Rwanda’s structural constraints as a small land-locked country with no natural resources are often viewed as an obstacle to achieving the anticipated development.

As a result of the foregoing, Rwanda has been producing its own share of refugees, who have sought political and economic asylum in other countries. The UK alone took in 250 Rwandese last year. There are others around the world, the majority of whom have found refuge in different countries in Africa, including countries neighbouring Rwanda. The presence of these refugees has been a source of tension in the region with Kigali accusing neighbouring states of supporting those who want to overthrow the government by force. Some Rwandans have indeed taken up armed struggle, a situation that, if not resolved, threatens long-term security in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. In fact, the UK government’s advice on travel to Rwanda has consistently warned of the unstable security situation near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi.

While Rwanda’s intention to help address the global imbalance of opportunity that fuels illegal immigration is laudable, I would recommend that charity start at home. As host of the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting scheduled for June 2022, and Commonwealth Chair-in-Office for the next two years, the government should seize the opportunity to implement the core values and principles of the Commonwealth, particularly the promotion of democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression, political and civil rights, and a vibrant civil society. This would enable Rwanda to address its internal social, economic and political challenges, creating a conducive environment for long-term economic development, and durable peace that will not only stop Rwanda from producing refugees but will also render the country ready and capable of economically and socially integrating refugees from less fortunate countries in the future.

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Beyond Borders: Why We Need a Truly Internationalist Climate Justice Movement

The elite’s ‘solution’ to the climate crisis is to turn the displaced into exploitable migrant labour. We need a truly internationalist alternative.



Beyond Borders: Why We Need a Truly Internationalist Climate Justice Movement
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“We are not drowning, we are fighting” has become the rallying call for the Pacific Climate Warriors. From UN climate meetings to blockades of Australian coal ports, these young Indigenous defenders from twenty Pacific Island states are raising the alarm of global warming for low-lying atoll nations. Rejecting the narrative of victimisation – “you don’t need my pain or tears to know that we’re in a crisis,” as Samoan Brianna Fruean puts it – they are challenging the fossil fuel industry and colonial giants such as Australia, responsible for the world’s highest per-capita carbon emissions.

Around the world, climate disasters displace around 25.3 million people annually – one person every one to two seconds. In 2016, new displacements caused by climate disasters outnumbered new displacements as a result of persecution by a ratio of three to one. By 2050, an estimated 143 million people will be displaced in just three regions: Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. Some projections for global climate displacement are as high as one billion people.

Mapping who is most vulnerable to displacement reveals the fault lines between rich and poor, between the global North and South, and between whiteness and its Black, Indigenous and racialised others.

Globalised asymmetries of power create migration but constrict mobility. Displaced people – the least responsible for global warming – face militarised borders. While climate change is itself ignored by the political elite, climate migration is presented as a border security issue and the latest excuse for wealthy states to fortify their borders. In 2019, the Australian Defence Forces announced military patrols around Australia’s waters to intercept climate refugees.

The burgeoning terrain of “climate security” prioritises militarised borders, dovetailing perfectly into eco-apartheid. “Borders are the environment’s greatest ally; it is through them that we will save the planet,” declares the party of French far-Right politician Marine Le Pen. A US Pentagon-commissioned report on the security implications of climate change encapsulates the hostility to climate refugees: “Borders will be strengthened around the country to hold back unwanted starving immigrants from the Caribbean islands (an especially severe problem), Mexico, and South America.” The US has now launched Operation Vigilant Sentry off the Florida coast and created Homeland Security Task Force Southeast to enforce marine interdiction and deportation in the aftermath of disasters in the Caribbean.

Labour migration as climate mitigation

you broke the ocean in
half to be here.
only to meet nothing that wants you
– Nayyirah Waheed

Parallel to increasing border controls, temporary labour migration is increasingly touted as a climate adaptation strategy. As part of the ‘Nansen Initiative’, a multilateral, state-led project to address climate-induced displacement, the Australian government has put forward its temporary seasonal worker program as a key solution to building climate resilience in the Pacific region. The Australian statement to the Nansen Initiative Intergovernmental Global Consultation was, in fact, delivered not by the environment minister but by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Beginning in April 2022, the new Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme will make it easier for Australian businesses to temporarily insource low-wage workers (what the scheme calls “low-skilled” and “unskilled” workers) from small Pacific island countries including Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu. Not coincidentally, many of these countries’ ecologies and economies have already been ravaged by Australian colonialism for over one hundred years.

It is not an anomaly that Australia is turning displaced climate refugees into a funnel of temporary labour migration. With growing ungovernable and irregular migration, including climate migration, temporary labour migration programs have become the worldwide template for “well-managed migration.” Elites present labour migration as a double win because high-income countries fill their labour shortage needs without providing job security or citizenship, while low-income countries alleviate structural impoverishment through migrants’ remittances.

Dangerous, low-wage jobs like farm, domestic, and service work that cannot be outsourced are now almost entirely insourced in this way. Insourcing and outsourcing represent two sides of the same neoliberal coin: deliberately deflated labour and political power. Not to be confused with free mobility, temporary labour migration represents an extreme neoliberal approach to the quartet of foreign, climate, immigration, and labour policy, all structured to expand networks of capital accumulation through the creation and disciplining of surplus populations.

The International Labour Organization recognises that temporary migrant workers face forced labour, low wages, poor working conditions, virtual absence of social protection, denial of freedom association and union rights, discrimination and xenophobia, as well as social exclusion. Under these state-sanctioned programs of indentureship, workers are legally tied to an employer and deportable. Temporary migrant workers are kept compliant through the threats of both termination and deportation, revealing the crucial connection between immigration status and precarious labour.

Through temporary labour migration programs, workers’ labour power is first captured by the border and this pliable labour is then exploited by the employer. Denying migrant workers permanent immigration status ensures a steady supply of cheapened labour. Borders are not intended to exclude all people, but to create conditions of ‘deportability’, which increases social and labour precarity. These workers are labelled as ‘foreign’ workers, furthering racist xenophobia against them, including by other workers. While migrant workers are temporary, temporary migration is becoming the permanent neoliberal, state-led model of migration.

Reparations include No Borders

“It’s immoral for the rich to talk about their future children and grandchildren when the children of the Global South are dying now.” – Asad Rehman

Discussions about building fairer and more sustainable political-economic systems have coalesced around a Green New Deal. Most public policy proposals for a Green New Deal in the US, Canada, UK and the EU articulate the need to simultaneously tackle economic inequality, social injustice, and the climate crisis by transforming our extractive and exploitative system towards a low-carbon, feminist, worker and community-controlled care-based society. While a Green New Deal necessarily understands the climate crisis and the crisis of capitalism as interconnected — and not a dichotomy of ‘the environment versus the economy’ — one of its main shortcomings is its bordered scope. As Harpreet Kaur Paul and Dalia Gebrial write: “the Green New Deal has largely been trapped in national imaginations.”

Any Green New Deal that is not internationalist runs the risk of perpetuating climate apartheid and imperialist domination in our warming world. Rich countries must redress the global and asymmetrical dimensions of climate debtunfair trade and financial agreements, military subjugation, vaccine apartheidlabour exploitation, and border securitisation.

It is impossible to think about borders outside the modern nation-state and its entanglements with empire, capitalism, race, caste, gender, sexuality, and ability. Borders are not even fixed lines demarcating territory. Bordering regimes are increasingly layered with drone surveillance, interception of migrant boats, and security controls far beyond states’ territorial limits. From Australia offshoring migrant detention around Oceania to Fortress Europe outsourcing surveillance and interdiction to the Sahel and Middle East, shifting cartographies demarcate our colonial present.

Perhaps most offensively, when colonial countries panic about ‘border crises’ they position themselves as victims. But the genocide, displacement, and movement of millions of people were unequally structured by colonialism for three centuries, with European settlers in the Americas and Oceania, the transatlantic slave trade from Africa, and imported indentured labourers from Asia. Empire, enslavement, and indentureship are the bedrock of global apartheid today, determining who can live where and under what conditions. Borders are structured to uphold this apartheid.

The freedom to stay and the freedom to move, which is to say no borders, is decolonial reparations and redistribution long due.

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The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections

The Murang’a people are really yet to decide who they are going to vote for as a president. If they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves. Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Can Jimi Wanjigi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction?



The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections
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In the last quarter of 2021, I visited Murang’a County twice: In September, we were in Kandiri in Kigumo constituency. We had gone for a church fundraiser and were hosted by the Anglican Church of Kenya’s (ACK), Kahariro parish, Murang’a South diocese. A month later, I was back, this time to Ihi-gaini deep in Kangema constituency for a burial.

The church function attracted politicians: it had to; they know how to sniff such occasions and if not officially invited, they gate-crash them. Church functions, just like funerals, are perfect platforms for politicians to exhibit their presumed piousness, generosity and their closeness to the respective clergy and the bereaved family.

Well, the other reason they were there, is because they had been invited by the Church leadership. During the electioneering period, the Church is not shy to exploit the politicians’ ambitions: they “blackmail” them for money, because they can mobilise ready audiences for the competing politicians. The politicians on the other hand, are very ready to part with cash. This quid pro quo arrangement is usually an unstated agreement between the Church leadership and the politicians.

The church, which was being fund raised for, being in Kigumo constituency, the area MP Ruth Wangari Mwaniki, promptly showed up. Likewise, the area Member of the County Assembly (MCA) and of course several aspirants for the MP and MCA seats, also showed up.

Church and secular politics often sit cheek by jowl and so, on this day, local politics was the order of the day. I couldn’t have speculated on which side of the political divide Murang’a people were, until the young man Zack Kinuthia Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) for Sports, Culture and Heritage, took to the rostrum to speak.

A local boy and an Uhuru Kenyatta loyalist, he completely avoided mentioning his name and his “development track record” in central Kenya. Kinuthia has a habit of over-extolling President Uhuru’s virtues whenever and wherever he mounts any platform. By the time he was done speaking, I quickly deduced he was angling to unseat Wangari. I wasn’t wrong; five months later in February 2022, Kinuthia resigned his CAS position to vie for Kigumo on a Party of the National Unity (PNU) ticket.

He spoke briefly, feigned some meeting that was awaiting him elsewhere and left hurriedly, but not before giving his KSh50,000 donation. Apparently, I later learnt that he had been forewarned, ahead of time, that the people were not in a mood to listen to his panegyrics on President Uhuru, Jubilee Party, or anything associated to the two. Kinuthia couldn’t dare run on President Uhuru’s Jubilee Party. His patron-boss’s party is not wanted in Murang’a.

I spent the whole day in Kandiri, talking to people, young and old, men and women and by the time I was leaving, I was certain about one thing; The Murang’a folks didn’t want anything to do with President Uhuru. What I wasn’t sure of is, where their political sympathies lay.

I returned to Murang’a the following month, in the expansive Kangema – it is still huge – even after Mathioya was hived off from the larger Kangema constituency. Funerals provide a good barometer that captures peoples’ political sentiments and even though this burial was not attended by politicians – a few senior government officials were present though; political talk was very much on the peoples’ lips.

What I gathered from the crowd was that President Uhuru had destroyed their livelihood, remember many of the Nairobi city trading, hawking, big downtown real estate and restaurants are run and owned largely by Murang’a people. The famous Nyamakima trading area of downtown Nairobi has been run by Murang’a Kikuyus.

In 2018, their goods were confiscated and declared contrabrand by the government. Many of their businesses went under, this, despite the merchants not only, whole heartedly throwing their support to President Uhuru’s controversial re-election, but contributing handsomely to the presidential kitty. They couldn’t believe what was happening to them: “We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him.”

We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him

Last week, I attended a Murang’a County caucus group that was meeting somewhere in Gatundu, in Kiambu County. One of the clearest messages that I got from this group is that the GEMA vote in the August 9, 2022, presidential elections is certainly anti-Uhuru Kenyatta and not necessarily pro-William Ruto.

“The Murang’a people are really yet to decide, (if they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves) on who they are going to vote for as a president. And that’s why you see Uhuru is craftily courting us with all manner of promises, seductions and prophetic messages.” Two weeks ago, President Uhuru was in Murang’a attending an African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) church function in Kandara constituency.

At the church, the president yet again threatened to “tell you what’s in my heart and what I believe and why so.” These prophecy-laced threats by the President, to the GEMA nation, in which he has been threatening to show them the sign, have become the butt of crude jokes among Kikuyus.

Corollary, President Uhuru once again has plucked Polycarp Igathe away from his corporate perch as Equity Bank’s Chief Commercial Officer back to Nairobi’s tumultuous governor seat politics. The first time the bespectacled Igathe was thrown into the deep end of the Nairobi murky politics was in 2017, as Mike Sonko’s deputy governor. After six months, he threw in the towel, lamenting that Sonko couldn’t let him even breathe.

Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people

“Igathe is from Wanjerere in Kigumo, Murang’a, but grew up in Ol Kalou, Nyandarua County,” one of the Mzees told me. “He’s not interested in politics; much less know how it’s played. I’ve spent time with him and confided in me as much. Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people. President Uhuru wants to use Igathe to control Nairobi. The sad thing is that Igathe doesn’t have the guts to tell Uhuru the brutal fact: I’m really not interested in all these shenanigans, leave me alone. The president is hoping, once again, to hopefully placate the Murang’a people, by pretending to front Igathe. I foresee another terrible disaster ultimately befalling both Igathe and Uhuru.”

Be that as it may, what I got away with from this caucus, after an entire day’s deliberations, is that its keeping it presidential choice close to its chest. My attempts to goad some of the men and women present were fruitless.

Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest. Kiambu has produced two presidents from the same family, Nyeri one, President Mwai Kibaki, who died on April 22. The closest Murang’a came to giving the country a president was during Ken Matiba’s time in the 1990s. “But Matiba had suffered a debilitating stroke that incapacitated him,” said one of the mzees. “It was tragic, but there was nothing we could do.”

Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest

It is interesting to note that Jimi Wanjigi, the Safina party presidential flagbearer is from Murang’a County. His family hails from Wahundura, in Mathioya constituency. Him and Mwangi wa Iria, the Murang’a County governor are the other two Murang’a prominent persons who have tossed themselves into the presidential race. Wa Iria’s bid which was announced at the beginning of 2022, seems to have stagnated, while Jimi’s seems to be gathering storm.

Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Jimi’s campaign team has crafted a two-pronged strategy that it hopes will endear Kenyans to his presidency. One, a generational, paradigm shift, especially among the youth, targeting mostly post-secondary, tertiary college and university students.

“We believe this group of voters who are basically between the ages of 18–27 years and who comprise more than 65 per cent of total registered voters are the key to turning this election,” said one of his presidential campaign team members. “It matters most how you craft the political message to capture their attention.” So, branding his key message as itwika, it is meant to orchestrate a break from past electoral behaviour that is pegged on traditional ethnic voting patterns.

The other plunk of Jimi’s campaign theme is economic emancipation, quite pointedly as it talks directly to the GEMA nation, especially the Murang’a Kikuyus, who are reputed for their business acumen and entrepreneurial skills. “What Kikuyus cherish most,” said the team member “is someone who will create an enabling business environment and leave the Kikuyus to do their thing. You know, Kikuyus live off business, if you interfere with it, that’s the end of your friendship, it doesn’t matter who you are.”

Can Jimi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction? As all the presidential candidates gear-up this week on who they will eventually pick as their running mates, the GEMA community once more shifts the spotlight on itself, as the most sought-after vote basket.

Both Raila Odinga and William Ruto coalitions – Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya and Kenya Kwanza Alliance – must seek to impress and woe Mt Kenya region by appointing a running mate from one of its ranks. If not, the coalitions fear losing the vote-rich area either to each other, or perhaps to a third party. Murang’a County, may as well, become the conundrum, with which the August 9, presidential race may yet to be unravelled and decided.

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