Halakhe D Waqo: Addressing historical injustices: Queries that require an answer

THE POLITICAL PROBLEMS caused by the General Elections has led to a flurry of calls for addressing historical injustices.

The power-sharing accord also contains the objective of working on “historical factors and injustices” in its agenda. Many issues will come to the fore once the injustices are put into focus.

The immediate perception about historical injustices seem to centre mostly on land acquisition in Rift Valley and parts of Coast provinces.

When members of certain ethnic communities were regarded as immigrants to those regions, violence and displacement occurred.

The common refrain was that the displaced should move back to their ancestral homes, which essentially meant that parts of Kenya are deemed to belong to certain ethnic communities.

However, there are several other weighty and deep-rooted injustices that have a history. Does the issue of addressing historical injustices consider them? These issues include:

(1) The Maasai land question:

This issue is the result of so-called agreements between the then Maasai Laibon (Lenana) and the British colonialists. The various purported agreements led to the Maasai losing almost all their productive land to white settlers.

It is argued that the Maasai leadership that signed the agreements neither understood the contents nor implication of such agreements, but the fact was that the Maasai were moved to reserves by force. The departure of the colonial government and settlers led to their immediate replacement by the local ruling elite.

Most of the remaining Maasai pastureland was turned into national parks, game reserves and sanctuaries. Today, these are lucrative tourist attractions and revenue earners.

(2) The Northern Frontier Districts:

As the colonial government prepared to give Kenya its independence, the northern districts occupied by Somali, Borana and related ethnic groups were not consulted. The result of a referendum to determine where they wanted to remain alone, join Somalia, or join Kenya, was never implemented.

This led to secessionist movement in 1960s. The Government decided to crush the northerners with no regards whatsoever for human rights or international law. Children, women, the elderly and innocent non-combatants died.

To deny such people justice, the Government had Parliament pass what was referred to as “Indemnity Act” in the late 1960s. This Act was repealed in 2001.

The subsequent decades saw insecurity, deaths and destruction as a result of chronic banditry – clear evidence of the State’s deliberate neglect and isolation of Northern Kenya.

(3) The Malka Mari, Wagalla and other massacres in North Eastern Province:

The 1960s, 1970s and even 1980s saw many undesirable events taking place in the NEP. Huge numbers of people were massacred by Government security forces with complete impunity.

The Malka Mari massacre in Mandera (1981), the Wagalla massacre of 1984 in Wajir, and various other mass murders were committed by security forces. The people are crying for justice. Will they get it?

(4) Identity crisis in upper eastern and north eastern provinces:

Anybody who comes from the above regions knows very well that some of the inhabitants do not know where they belong – whether they are Kenyan, Somali or Ethiopian nationals.

It does not matter whether ones’ father or grandfather was born and lived in Kenya. It does not matter if one’s grandfather was a colonial chief. There has always been a need to prove to a policeman that you are, indeed a Kenyan. One must always carry one’s identity for without it, one is in great peril.

As if that was not enough, in 1988, the Government introduced a major screening process and an extra identity card for Kenyans of Somali ethnicity (pink cards). This became a serious human rights issue. A number of indigenous Kenyans were deported to Ethiopia or Somalia.

(5) Marginalisation of northern Kenya:

The entire northern region of Kenya has suffered untold levels of neglect and deliberate marginalisation by successive regimes. The North West (Turkana, Pokot and Samburu); Upper Eastern (Isiolo, Marsabit and Moyale); NEP (Mandera, Wajir, Garissa and Ijara); Coast (Tana River and Lamu), are all affected.

Insecurity has become synonymous with these areas as deaths from banditry, raids, and ethnic conflict. The Government security forces are too weak to contain the violence.

Kenya’s political history is based on socio-ethnic foundations where the large ethnic groups call all the shots. The northerners and pastoralists are few and weaker than the rest. Will these issues be addressed? If not, what do we mean by historical injustices?

Mr Waqo is a peacebuilding, conflict management and humanitarian response consultant.

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