The return of Mungiki

This is extracted from the International Crisis Group report on Kenya which you can read here.

In the second wave of violence to rock the Rift Valley, ethnic gangs engaged in deadly combat for control of two of the principal towns in the province, Nakuru and Naivasha. The busy Nairobi-Nakuru highway was impassable for a few days, with barricades and ethnic militia checkpoints popping up and passengers in buses and minibus taxis (matatus) being asked to produce their national identity cards and then brutally lynched if they belonged to the wrong western tribe. Some of those murders can be blamed on the notorious Kikuyu crime cult, Mungiki.

The sect has its roots in the Rift Valley but is well entrenched in Nairobi slums and central Kenya. Membership is gained by swearing oaths (often forced) and strictly limited to Kikuyu men. The initial aim was the “liberation” of Kikuyus from Moi oppression and a cultural revival of the traditional Kikuyu way of life. It borrows much from Mau Mau symbolism and argues that no one except a Kikuyu should ever rule Kenya. Over the years and especially between 1992 and 1997, it has had contacts with parliamentarians from central Kenya. Though they were sometimes forcibly sworn into the group, they found cooperation with Mungiki useful for political mobilisation.

Mungiki was in disarray following a mid-2007 crackdown by the security forces but is believed to have regrouped and is operating openly despite being a banned organisation. Speculation about official acquiescence in this resurgence is rife. Mungiki now casts itself as the defender of the beleaguered Kikuyu in the Rift Valley. Its handlers and supporters, who are said to include some senior members of the Kikuyu elite, want to make it an effective counterweight to the Kalenjin warriors, and there are reports it is accumulating weapons, including guns. The sect is also bringing young men from Central Province for oathing and then transferring them to the Rift Valley for operations.
The group is aggressively stepping up the search for new members, having deployed recruiters in most of the Kikuyu-dominated IDP camps. It is particularly targeting vulnerable Kikuyu youngsters displaced by the violence. The Mungiki message is stark: it is time for revenge. The angry young men in the camps are being manipulated into believing counter-violence is their only way out. The deadly inter-ethnic clashes that rocked the industrial towns of Nakuru and Naivasha are said to have been mostly carried out by these new recruits. The sect seems to enjoy a degree of support from the local establishment and police, who used minimal force against them as they were torching and killing. Reports that some gangs leading the onslaught in the Central Rift are led by members who have long been in prison suggests that local authorities are releasing some Mungiki convicts.

In Naivasha and Nakuru, Mungiki members were guided by local youths, who identified houses of non-Kikuyu, especially those of Luo and Kalenjin. After the residents had been killed or fled, their property was taken outside and burned as a sign of cleansing before the house was reoccupied by Kikuyu IDPs. Similar cases have been reported in Thika and Ruiru. In Naivasha the sect is behind the ban on women wearing trousers. Operating from land which some of its leaders own along the highway, it wants to assert its authority over the Kikuyu population. Next on its agenda would be to force (or at least request) women to be circumcised. In Kiambu a few years ago, the sect spread leaflets asking all women to do this voluntarily or be compelled. It is likely that thousands of adherents wish to leave the sect, but memories of beheadings of defectors in 2007 serve as a deterrent.

There are also reports of the sect being used to hit back at Kalenjin warriors in Molo, Nakuru and parts of Rongai, as well as in Nyahururu and Laikipia West districts, where the Kikuyu have also organised vigilante groups in villages. Since the latter is a multi-ethnic area, tension is growing between the Kikuyu and the Pokots, Turkana and Samburu, whom the Kikuyu accuse of stealing their animals. There has already been a strike against Kalenjin living in the Ol Jabit area of Laikipia West, who were controversially settled in the former Ngobit forest by Moi in the late 1990s.

The group is also tightening its grip on Nairobi slums and public transport. Some city politicians, including former parliamentarians and defeated PNU candidates, now reportedly work with Mungiki so that they can deploy it against ODM and on behalf of Kibaki if the opposition continues protest actions. Perceived traitors to the Kikuyu cause have become prime targets for intimidation. Kikuyu civil society leaders and journalists who have been criticising the government and PNU receive threatening text messages on their mobile phones and risk attack in Nairobi’s streets. James Maina, from the People’s Parliament organisation, suffered such an attack on 30 January.

Mungiki also demands money from landlords in Eastlands in return for evicting Luos said to be taking advantage of the current crisis and refusing to pay rent. In Kibera, it has taken the battle to their enemy’s home ground, penetrating the Laini Saba and Soweto areas dominated by Kikuyus and the Kamba, where some Kisiis, Luos and Luhyas live. Its threats to kill Luos have scared away tenants and led to creation of an IDP camp at High Rise estate along Mbagathi Way, where it was reported in early February that non-Kikuyu houses had been marked for eviction.

There is a concerted move in government/PNU circles to justify Mungiki’s involvement in the current mayhem in Rift Valley and the city by claiming that ODM has its own gang, called “Taliban”. Originally a self-defence vigilante force, this outlawed, predominantly Luo group is said to operate in Mathare, Huruma, Kariobangi and Baba Dogo slums in the east of the capital. Within these areas, it levies protection and other fees and charges matatu and taxi operators. It brings together a few hundred mainly desperately poor youths native to the city. Taliban has no membership oath or cells throughout the country, but it does have squads in various slum locations. At the Dandora garbage site, it levies fees on dump trucks. Its leader was jailed in 2002 after skirmishes with Mungiki over control of these illegal activities, especially levies on matatus using Juja road. In those fights, the Mungiki used sheer numbers and ruthless tactics to push the Taliban back to the slums.

Not all violence in Nairobi or Central Province can be blamed on Mungiki. Ethnic animosity has contaminated all sectors of society and is used to justify the illegal occupation of houses and forceful eviction of workers. Kikuyu youths can barely tolerate seeing non-Kikuyus holding jobs in their locality. Although Mungiki’s Limuru cell is reportedly behind the killings of two Bata shoe company workers in that area, the incident was probably motivated by the desire for better job opportunities.

In the area of Legeni in Kinoo, non-Kikuyu workers from the local factories were targeted. Kikuyu youths in Thika and Limuru want the Luos out so they can secure the menial construction jobs Luo youths dominate and used the presence of IDPs from the Rift Valley as justification for the violence. Luo workers were forced to seek shelter at Kabete or Tigoni police stations, and hundreds are now sending their families out of the city for fear of attacks while they remain behind alone. This trend is prevalent in Kikuyu and Kabete areas of Nairobi’s outskirts, where many of these men work days and spend their nights in the relative safety of police stations.

Reports also suggest that the use of Mungiki is deeply unpopular among the Kikuyu middle class and is dividing the PNU establishment. Ministers who are in the competition to succeed Kibaki see the sect as a threatwhich could favour their rivals, and senior internal security officials have reportedly warned Central Province parliamentarians against supporting it. The sect is an obvious challenge to state authority and has reportedly infiltrated some sections of the police. It is stepping up extortion of members of the Kikuyu business community and is likely to press middle-class estates and rural land owners for contributions.

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