As Kenya prepares to commemorate 100 years since the end of World War I in 1918, Saturday November 3, 2018 will remain etched in the minds of Wakasighau community in Voi sub county of Taita-Taveta for a long period to come.
This is the day they interred the remains of a fellow clansman who was among those banished to concentration and labour camps as far away as Malindi by the British Army during the war period (1914 to 1917) into her final resting place in Bungule village.
The victim, Alice Wali Mkoba who died at the ripe age of 114 years earlier in the week, had been forcefully evicted together with others from their beloved homes for what the British termed as betrayal which caused the colonial army to suffer heavy casualties after being ambushed by the Germans who had occupied Tanganyika.
Her kinsmen from the villages of Rukanga, Jora, Kiteghe, Bungule and Makwasinyi where this sub-ethnic tribe of Taita reside came in their numbers to give their last respect to the war survivor.
Speaker after speaker poured their hearts out describing how she was their only remaining reminder of the untold sufferings at the hands of colonialists – the British who evicted them from their beloved land and moved them to Pangani and Magarini in Kilifi district where they lived in appalling conditions.
After years of suffering in Malindi concentration camps, Wali and her community were later transported back for resettlement in Mwatate and thereafter in 1936 back to Kasighau where they still are smarting from the effects of the war without anything good to write home about.
Nearly 100 years after the end of hostilities in 1918, the horrors of the war are still part of local folklore.
Commemoration for this important event are set take place between November 23 to 25, 2018.
The war started in 1914 and the first shot that signified its spread to the region was fired at the Taveta District Commissioner’s office on August 15 of the same year.
Confirming this sad incident Willy Mwadilo who is the General Manager of Savora Hotels noted that the community was forcefully removed from their farms by the British and taken to Malindi after they were accused of colluding with the Germans in the war.
He said the community is still demanding compensation for the damage and injuries it suffered during the war.
“We want the two countries whose armies were involved in pitched battles in the area with devastating consequences, to compensate the Kasigau community or fund community projects to transform their lives,” said Mwadilo.
He said such an initiative will offer them some relief considering they suffered horrifying effects of the war.
“If the British government paid out the Mau Mau war veterans for fighting for independence, why not compensate the innocent locals who now live like squatters on their own ancestral land who were caught in the cross fire of the war between the two countries? Mwadilo posed.
This year’s event is expected to promote battlefield tourism as it will attract many visitors.
But what the world may not know is that the locals suffered a lot in the war that involved foreign protagonists said Dishan Kizaro.
“This was one of the worst moments in my community’s history. They walked on foot from Kasigau to Maungu town without food and water. From there they were loaded onto a train to Mombasa and thereafter into a waiting ship to Malindi,” Kizaro who is a former civic leader said.
“The elderly who could not walk, died of hunger as they were left behind,” he recounted.
Kizaro describes the experience as too dehumanizing and a historical injustice that deserves reparation adding that their chief known as Mwangojilo who tried to resist against them British was killed in cold blood.
“The soldiers had accused residents of providing information to the Germans despite the fact that residents could not even differentiate between the two groups of white soldiers,” Kizaro says.
History has it that the punishment was meted out after a native by the name Mzoghora went to harvest honey in the forest where he encountered a group of German soldiers who demanded to know the whereabouts of their rival British army.
Unfortunately the little information this man gave to the Germans was the genesis of historical injustices to his people for instance under-development in areas like education, health and the like.
The area member of the county assembly Ibrahim Juma has also joined other leaders in demanding for compensation from both the Germans and British saying that because of their action, the locals continue to suffer as they live in abject poverty let alone owning land titles.
“Our community has suffered deprivation following forced eviction from our ancestral land by the British. We are still behind in development compared to other communities in the region who did not suffer as much as we did,” Juma said.
Meanwhile, a Voi based lawyer, Duncan Mwanyumba has vowed to sue the two European governments to claim compensation for the people of Kasighau.
Mwanyumba who also addressed the mourners wondered why these people cannot be treated the same way the Mau Mau veterans were.
“Our people must and will be paid for the suffering which was not their own making,” said the lawyer.
“For 22 years they were away from home, resulting in disintegration as some of the wakasighau are settled in Dalunyi and Maramba locations in Tanga, Tanzania.
It is hope against hope for these people that the death of Wali who has left behind 73 grandchildren, 250 great-grand-children and 59 great-great grandchildren would bring good tidings.
By Fatuma Jumeah