A few monuments in Kenya represent a past that never makes sense. It is, perhaps, this air of mystery surrounding them that makes them fascinating. One of these is the Wagalla Massacre Monument. On the day I visited, nearly 20 years after the February 10, 1984 event, Wajir town was sweltering and quiet.

I had come here during a work trip. Driven by an undying curiosity to see and step on the supposedly cursed grounds of the Wagalla massacre, I edged towards the Wagalla Airstrip.

A gale of wind was blew through the deserted airstrip. It made an eerie groan that almost sounded like the mourning of a horde of tormented spirits crying out in unison for help. Such was the aura at the Wagalla massacre site.

That day, a government operation led to the cold-blooded killing of thousands of Degodia Somalis. The United Nations later termed it Kenya’s worst human rights violation.

No one knows how an otherwise innocent government operation turned this brutal and violent. More than 30 years later, memories of that fateful day when an elite force of Kenyan troops descended on the area to supposedly help defuse clan-related conflict remain etched in the minds of the Somalis of Wajir.

Varying eyewitness accounts tell how the exercise quickly degenerated into a blood bath. Some say the death toll at the site was only 57, while others insist it went up to 5,000. Some even give unthinkable figures – 10,000!

Many believe that the focus was on a single dominant Somali clan, the Degodia, who had faced accusations of launching frequent attacks against their Adjuran neighbours. Authorities rounded up several men, including government officials, and transported them to the Wagalla airstrip. There, they endured extreme conditions. Stripped naked and compelled to take the blistering northeastern heat without sustenance or water for five days. Tragically, some of them were systematically executed.

Salah Abdi Sheikh’s book, ‘Blood on the Runway‘ provides the earliest and most detailed account of the massacre. You can get a copy on Google Books to read more on the topic.

The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) uncovered the scale of the operation and the masterminds behind it, leading to the official recognition of the Wagalla massacre much later. The TJRC was established in response to the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya.

In February 2015, a documentary titled ‘Scarred: The Anatomy of a Massacre’, directed by Judy Kibinge, was released at the Nairobi National Museum. The film was the first independent visual attempt to chronicle the history of the Wagalla massacre as experienced by the survivors. You can watch the official trailer below.

The airstrip, to this dayToned like an airstrip poorly healed scar from a deadly wound. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights honoured the day with a monument, oddly placing it in Wajir town instead of the massacre site.

When the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights finally decided to honour the day with a monument, it was strangely erected in Wajir town and not the massacre site.

The monument, a semi-circular wall inscribed with victims’ names, draws history enthusiasts and those wanting to pay respects. Visit the Wagalla Massacre monument in Wajir to honour the lost lives.