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No cheers as world war commemoration starts in Taita Taveta villages

By Renson Mlegwa Mnyamwezi | November 10th 2018
A grave site of World War 1 veterans in Taita Taveta County. The war was fought by British and German soldiers in the county in 1924. [Maarufu Mohamed, Standard]

It’s a strange mix of sorrow and excitement for Taita Taveta County residents as the world commemorates the end of World War I on November 23-25.

Excitement, because they consider it a great honour for the county to host such a historic event, yet sad since the commemoration brings back distressing memories of the misery and suffering they endured as a result of two powerful foreign armies fighting in the county.

The region was one of the epicentres of fighting between the British and German forces and the devastating effects of WW1 are still evident in parts of the county.

As they celebrate the momentous event, residents and leaders appealed to the British and German governments to implement projects like education, health and water geared towards benefiting the community that suffered effects of the war.

Various leaders say the community suffered massive economic losses through loss of life and destruction of property as a result of the war, which was not of their own making.

One of the worst hit communities by the war was the Wakasigau whose members were forcibly evicted and deported to Malindi and their land converted to a battle field.

“One of our communities, the Kasigau sub-tribe, suffered deprivation following the forced eviction from their ancestral land by the British government,” says Sarova Taita Hills and Salt Lick Lodges General Manager Willy Mwadilo.

Mwadilo says this affected the sub-tribe, which to date lags behind in development compared to other communities in the region.

“As a community that suffered some of the worst historical injustices in this country, we look forward to being allocated more resources to help us rebuild our region,” says Kasigau MCA Abraham Juma.

“Today, you can find the few remnants of the now disjointed and impoverished Kasigau community living 65km South of Voi town, some in Mwatate District while others have been assimilated in Malindi and Mackinnon Township and many dispersed into Tanzania.”

Mr Mwadilo, who is also the chairman of the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers in Tsavo and Ambosel, is optimistic that the celebrations will provide the basis for the newly launched battle tourism package and urges locals and the international community to visit the county.

“We are not celebrating but commemorating the day and are also urging the world to come visit the county where World War I was fought,” he says.

The hotelier says the first shot, which signified the war’s spread into the region, was fired at the Taveta District Commissioner’s office on August 15, 1914. He says it devastated the locals who were caught in between the two powerful warring nations.

“It is absurd that locals were indiscriminately killed and deprived of their ancestral land then forced to live as squatters because their vast land was given to British soldiers as a reward by the colonial government,” says Juma.

International visitors

Mwadilo urges the locals to take advantage of this occasion, saying the county has received confirmation from various envoys who will be attending the event.

“We expect to receive numerous international visitors in the coming days as we prepare for the main event. We encourage our local businessmen to cash in on the coming windfall and urge residents to offer home stay options to the visitors as a way of benefiting from these events,” says the official, who is also a member of the celebrations committee.

Apart from initiating the battle field tourism recently, the hotel has erected a monument at Mwashoti Fort World War I site at Sarova Taita Hills to commemorate African soldiers, courier corpse and locals who were killed during the war that they were not party to.

Mwashoti Fort was built by the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in the late 1915. Today it is eroded but fairly visible and easily accessible along the Mwatate-Taveta international road.

“Foreign soldiers were documented and buried in marked military graves but Africans were not and there is no history about them.

“We have created this monument to the memory of the unnamed African soldiers and courier corpse who gave their services and lives for common good,” says Mwadilo.

The official asked the county government and the Museums of Kenya to embrace the new and unique tourism product for the growth of tourism activities and for the benefit of the county residents and the country at large

Some of these war features include the Voi Commonwealth War Graves, Maktau (Mwakitau) War Graves, TavetaCommonwealth War Graves, Taveta (ACK) Holy Trinity Church Mahoo, Railway Bridge – Mwashuma, Mashoti Fort, Cherege Hill and Maktau Hill, both in Maktau.

An inscription at the monument reads “A campaign of the First World War in 1914. They have remarked graves or known resting place. No African soldiers were mentioned anywhere”.


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