News 2008


What Are the Mungiki Gangs Up To?

The Nation (Nairobi)

8 March 2008


A protest march by the Mungiki along the Nairobi streets last week left people wondering what the outlawed sect is really up to.

What is clear, however, is that the youths, in an apparent show of might, were sending a message or sounding a warning in the demonstration, which caught the Government security organs unawares.

"We wanted to send a message to our government and to the entire country... that we are still around and we have now resurfaced," said a member who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The marchers caused a scare not only because of their large number, but also because they seemed to have organised the protest fairly well.

First, whistles were blown in different parts of the city to send the message that something was afoot.

And in about five minutes, hundreds of youths were all over the place, marching along the streets.

They carried placards bearing the picture of their jailed leader, Maina Njenga, and demanded his immediate release. Njenga is jailed for having firearms illegally.

"Without Njenga, there will be no peace," they shouted as they walked through the streets.

The demonstration sent shock waves down the authorities' spines, prompting some lobby groups to issue press statements to urge the Government to disarm and disband all militias countrywide.

The march disrupted normal activities in downtown Nairobi, especially street trading.

Their number was so large that the residents first thought it was the hawkers who were protesting against a city council plan to evict them from the central business district.

The Mungiki had almost been wiped out in the city following a government crackdown last year. It started early in the year when the members started descending on people they believed to have been targeting them.

Most of them were from Central province and Nairobi. And to show just how ruthless they could be, they would chop off the heads of people they believed to have been betraying them or deserters.

"We are now back and we must continue with our livelihoods," the sect member told the Saturday Nation, adding that he and his colleagues had resumed their work at bus and matatu stations in the major towns.

Their work had involved collecting levies from matatu operators. The proceeds, the members claim, was to enable them to help to maintain security and order at the stations.

The gangs claim also that they have resumed keeping vigil in some of the Nairobi residential areas. Here, they charge a protection fee from the residents.

"The Government had evicted us from all these areas where we used to earn a living as we provided security at bus the stages as well as in the estates.

This was against the wishes of the majority," the member said in an interview.

"We are back, and we have to tell the Government... that we have resumed our duties, but we are prepared to keep the peace as we do our jobs.

This can only be done by demonstrating our might, which we did. And as you saw, we were too many in number for the Government to ignore us."

A former national official said the group is so well organised that "not a banana was stollen" during the brief show. Most of them, he added, are school-leavers who cannot get jobs because the Government has failed to provide them.

"We must live without stealing from people. That is why we have devised our own way of earning a living," said the member who added that he joined the sect five years ago.

In reaction to the protest, Nairobi provincial commissioner James Waweru admitted that the Government security forces were caught off guard.

But he said the Government would not tolerate any outfit that threatens peace.

Said the sect member: "It is the people who need our services as police cannot protect every person, as has been proved in the past."

He explained that when they operated freely crime was almost non-existent in some city estates, especially in Eastlands.

"Look at a place like Mathare, for instance. We never had crime when we operated in the area freely.

But after we were evicted from the place, thugs have taken control of the area. Even electricity transformers and other important facilities are being vandalised."

The Mungiki are now said to be positioning themselves in all parts of Nairobi and other towns like Nakuru and Thika, where they had bases before the police crackdown.

They have also started reviving groups which manned matatu stations in Murang'a, Maragua, Karatina and Othaya.

There have been rumours that the Government and some wealthy people from Central province have been funded and training members of the illegal sect to protect Kikuyu interests countrywide.

But the Government has vehemently denied the accusation.