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Scarred: An Anatomy of a Massacre

Judy Kibinge’s Documentary on ‘the Anatomy of a Massacre’ in Wajir.

On February 10th 1984, “hundreds –possibly thousands– of Somali’s were rounded, tortured, while some were killed in an airstrip in Wajir (the capital of Wajir county of Kenya, situated in the former North Eastern Province). With no food or water in the scorching February sun, the men were continuously beaten and tortured, with some executed by the Kenyan army,” according to an Aljazeera report.

“What started as an operation in 1984 to disarm members of the ethnic Somali Degodia clan morphed into what the United Nations termed ‘as one of the worst violations of human rights in the history of Kenya’. During the large-scale military operation, the Kenyan army carried out systematic attacks, according to witnesses. The army raped women, burned houses, arrested and tortured men, and later on, forced them to lie bare on the ground for days. The heinous violations were of substantial proportions, and victims narrated stories of thirst, starvation and abuse that much of Kenya hasn’t come to terms with in the three decades since”, states an article in Sahan Journal.

The atrocity –Wagalla massacre– has been recounted as being brutally insensitive and mindless to age or gender. While the mass killings and plunder left the survivors and victims –young, old, women, and men –violated and marked with visibly deep wounds, thirty-one years later the victims have yet to find the answers they deserve. Those responsible for the massacre have still not been brought to justice. Some say, it took “21 years to file a human rights case in Kenya’s judicial system, and in the end, that time lag between the actual massacre and the laborious efforts to document it fails the Wagalla victims and those appealing for the wheel of justice to take its course”. Several others insist, “The truth about what transpired in that airstrip is still mysterious and inconclusive.”

Thirty-one years later, on a mission to document what actually happened, Kenyan filmmaker Judy Kibinge has produced a documentary titled “Scarred: the anatomy of a massacre”. The documentary, by offering the victims and survivors a space to tell their story chronicles the history of the massacre as experienced by both the victims and survivors. The trailer to the one-hour film, courageously, in a first-hand survivor narrative gives a glimpse of the horrific accounts of the Wagalla massacre. The visuals are hauntingly packed with poignant features –distraught looks of mainly women and elderly– merciless visible scars, and voices filled with questions: “How could they be yearning for our blood like that?” The tones insisting on justice and with a sort of intensity to recount –spoken as if the massacre had just occurred, like yesterday.

The Documentary in Review

Since the documentary screening at the National Museum in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, it has received reviews and sparked discussions.

In a critical review of the film in the Sahan Journal, while acknowledging how hard it is “tackling an issue this subjective and sensitive without coming out of it vanquished,” Abdi Latif Dahir writes, “what the documentary captures in artistic dramaturgy, it fails to build on the larger socio-political and economic discussion concerning the Wagalla Massacre. Wajir, for lack of a better word, is presented as nothing more than the arid geography carpeting its horizons”. He further expresses how “in its examination, the documentary maker doesn’t also take to task the Kenyan-Somali political leaders and what role they played in alleviating their own people’s problems since the massacre occurred”. Nevertheless, in the end, he credits Kibinge for being “daring in how she handles this topic, and how she encourages her characters to share their side of the story”. He concludes his review supporting Scarred as a “must-watch narrative”.

In the same article, in response, Kibinge expounds on the decision she had to take while editing: “I had to make a difficult choice to make this film purely about memory and include first-hand survivor recounts only”. Further, she explains how “there is also no voice-over to introduce anyone who isn’t speaking about a first hand memory, which made including historical experts and leaders difficult”, and how, “this is in many regards was a huge loss to the film”.

Expressing the honor she feels in being given the opportunity to tell the story, Kibinge recognizes the film is short of telling the full story, and how it serves only as “a small part of a much larger story that must be built upon and added to, if the telling of this much larger and far more tragic tale is ever possible”. Kibinge hopes to “at some point, put up a site where many excluded (or even much shortened) interviews can be uploaded for posterity”.

Certainly, scenes from the trailer for Kibinge’s Scarred have piqued our interest to watch the full-length documentary. Besides, we trust it will spark a “serious and sound reflection on the Wagalla Massacre” while encouraging further investigation to reveal what actually happened in Wajir, and perhaps a promise to offer the survivors and victims the right to get the answers they deserve.

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