Kenyan militia strike back
By Josphat Makori
BBC News, Nairobi
11. Feb. 2008
First they sent leaflets saying they would avenge the killings of
their tribesmen when violence flared following Kenya's disputed
election. Then they told other tribes to leave certain areas.
People's fears had come true. The Mungiki were back.
Hundreds of men wielding machetes and clubs, attacked their
opponents beheading and dismembering them in characteristic style.
The violence has largely abated for now, as politicians negotiate
their way towards a political settlement, but the re-emergence of
this quasi-religious group could plague Kenya for years to come.
" We received leaflets warning us to leave or die "
- Amunga -
The Mungiki has been outlawed by the authorities, with whom it has
been engaged in a protracted battle spanning more than 20 years.
At first they styled themselves as the guardians of Kenya's
largest community, the Kikuyu, who include President Mwai Kibaki
among their number, saying they would re-establish ancient
Attracting large numbers of jobless teenagers, the group soon
became an underground youth wing for politicians, who used it to
unleash terror on their opponents.
Mungiki became a criminal gang terrorising urban slums and
demanding protection money from transport operators.
"We received leaflets warning us to leave or face death," Amunga,
a resident of a town in central Kenya, told the BBC.
"They said they would behead anyone who supported the opposition.
They gave us just seven days to leave."
Amunga says those threats prompted hundreds of people to flock to
police stations for refuge.
To counter the Mungiki, residents in the informal settlements
formed their own vigilante groups, saying the police had failed to
deal with the threat.
One notorious gang is the equally dreaded Taliban which draws
membership from the Luo community - who largely back the
Another militia known as the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) is
now harassing locals on the foot of Mount Elgon in western Kenya.
The SLDF is composed of members of the Sabaot, a sub-tribe of the
In the past it used to fight with rival clans over land.
Unlike the Mungiki and the Taliban, which are largely urban based,
the SLDF operates in rural areas and has even established a
parallel administration system in the Mount Elgon district.
For funding, the group imposed a tax on residents and raided
villages for supplies.
The SLDF is now reported to be attacking neighbouring communities.
Its members are normally armed with assault rifles and have been
accused of killing more than 400 people.
Before the elections, police vowed to eliminate the Mungiki once
and for all.
At one point human right organisations accused the police of
executing more than 500 members of the group.
Although the police denied the accusation, the recovery of
hundreds of bullet-ridden bodies on the outskirts of Nairobi made
some think the Mungiki had at last been wiped out.
But the post-election violence appears to have breathed new life
into this group.
Their re-emergence followed the killing of hundreds of Kikuyus in
opposition strongholds in western Kenya.
The Mungiki scented blood and wanted vengeance.
Soon Mungiki gangs were attacking members of other tribes and
hacking them to death.
It is not clear who finances the Mungiki, although it has been
suggested they are in the payroll of some politicians.
Recently the Mungiki have been confronting women wearing trousers,
forcing them to change into skirts or long dresses.
They say wearing trousers goes against the Kikuyu culture.
It is feared that if the electoral crisis persists, the gangs
could become even more dangerous.