How wounds of global war continue haunting locals decades later

Building used as a holding place for prisoners of war during World War II. It is located at the edge of an airstrip belonging to Njoro Country Club which was established by colonialists in 1904. [Kennedy Gachuhi, Standard]
The life of the late Alice Wali Mkoba informs part of the sad but interesting history of the Wakasigau community, a sub-ethnic group of the Wataita in Taita-Taveta County.

The woman recently passed on at the golden age of 114, having lived to see several generations.

The late Wali was buried on November 3 this year at Bungule village in Kasigau Location, Voi Sub-county. She left behind 73 grandchildren, 250 great-grand-children and 59 great-great grand children.

Hundreds of mourners at her burial said her existence had been a treasured gift for her family and the entire community that suffered deprivation following forced eviction from its ancestral land by the British government. She was the only surviving matriarch among villagers deported from their ancestral land to Malindi.

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Wali was a girl when the community, which scattered across five villages namely Jora, Kiteghe, Bungule, Mwakwasinyi and Rukanga was unfairly targeted for punishment by British colonial authorities and subsequently banished to a painful and slavish life in a concentration and labour camp in Panagani and Magarini in Malindi between 1915 and 1917.

This was allegedly because of betraying the British Military Forces to the Germans then occupying Tanganyika, during the First World War.

After years of suffering in Malindi concentration camps, Wali and her community were later transported back for resettlement in Mwatate following a decision to rehabilitate them. Nearly 100 years after the end of hostilities in 1918, the horrors of the war are still part of local folklore.

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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.

This year’s commemorative event will take place on November 23, 24 and 25 and is expected to promote battlefield tourism as it will attract many visitors.

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The locals were doomed 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 status of their rival British army.

Little did he know what his meeting with these foreigners would later lead to Mzoghora, who inadvertently exposed his people to historical injustices, detained by German spies until dark when they moved with him to a place called Jora, behind the British troops.

At midnight the Germans attacked and killed all British soldiers at the gun nest. “A note the Germans left with Mzoghora somehow ended up in the hands of the British Army. That note was sent to Nairobi and a full report made to the war office and the colony office in London,” said Kasigau Ward Representative Ibrahim Juma. This marked the beginning of their misery as a community.

The British Government declared the area as hostile and mapped it out as a military zone. This is what led to the community’s banishment to Malindi while others were not so lucky as they ended in a bloody massacre.

“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,” said a former area civic leader Dishan Kizaro.

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“The elderly who could not walk died of hunger as they were left behind,” he recounted. Kizaro describes the experience as dehumanising and a historical injustice that deserves compensation.

The villagers remained exiled until after the war when they returned to Mwatate where they worked on the expansive Teita Sisal Estate for 18 years. “We stayed among the Chawia community and we are very grateful to them for hosting us,” Kizaro said.

The community later agitated for return of their alienated ancestral land which was not easy but they finally succeeded.

In a memorandum presented to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission in Wundanyi town several years ago, residents said they had to start from scratch upon returning to their land in 1936.

“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. Today you can find remnants of the now disjointed and impoverished community living 65km South of Voi town, some in Mwatate district and others in Malindi, Mackinnon Township while others dispersed into Tanzania.

Meanwhile a Voi-based lawyer Duncan Mwanyumba during the burial of Wali has threatened to sue the British and the Germans to have them compensate the Kasighau community.

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