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Kenya Rocked by Mungiki Surprise Attacks

The cities of Nairobi, Nakuru, Naivasha, Nyieri and Eldoret were all affected by yesterday’s Mungiki demonstrations. A day after President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga named the cabinet in a power-sharing deal, one would have expected Kenya to be celebrating. Instead, the capital city was paralyzed by road blocks set up by the Mungiki at key strategic points around town. Early in the morning they pulled up a section of the railway line in the Nairobi slum of Dandora, causing a train to derail. Running gun battles went on through the morning between Mungiki and police in Dandora, dubbed the Mungiki capital city.

The surprise attacks seem to be a Mungiki trademark, and police had little explanation for why they were caught so off guard. Many question the competence of the police, however, since last week, members of the press were already receiving information that the Mungiki were planning attacks on the State in retaliation for the crack down on sect members over the last few weeks. Then, at the weekend, the imprisoned sect leader, Maina Njenga’s wife was found murdered, beheaded, apparently with a saw. Security forces should have been on high alert, critics charge.

Last month several hundred Mungiki members descended on downtown Nairobi demanding the release of Njenga. For more than two months, gatherings of more than a few people in town were disbanded by police immediately, and yet, the country’s most feared gang members managed to invade the capital city en masse and unchecked. Some suggest there may be Mungiki sympathizers high up in the ranks of security, but there is no evidence to support this.

The Mungiki sect tends to be anti-Kibaki despite their common heritage. The Mungiki are strictly Kikuyu, and they expected Kibaki, also a Kikuyu, to allow them freedom to carry out their business when he took power in 2002. But in 2006 the president declared the sect illegal and began rooting them out in brutal campaigns where thousands are said to have disappeared or died. As a result, many Mungiki did not vote for Kibaki in the contentious December 2007 elections. The BBC recently reported, however, that evidence has surfaced of meetings between Mungiki and Kibaki in the run up to the election, supporting a commonly held theory that high ranking members of government sponsored the post-election violence that claimed some 1,500 lives.

Eyewitness accounts across the country from the rival Luo tribe gave identical accounts of unusual police behavior. They said they would often see police move into the slums first, and just behind them gangs of Mungiki would follow, armed with machetes. Some accounts even told of Mungiki being given police uniforms and guns. A GSU officer in Mathare North in January, who wished to remain anonymous, indicated the police station where Mungiki allegedly came to get their uniforms in the night.

After the power-sharing deal was signed in February, the State immediately embarked on a series of impressive raids of Mungiki strongholds, arresting, beating and harassing scores of suspected members. It appears that the recent Mungiki uprisings are in protest of these raids.

The Mungiki sect is a mixture of three groups: the religious movement, the political element, and the criminal arm. It is unknown how many Mungiki members exist in Kenya today, as their practices remain largely shrouded in secrecy, but estimates range from one to two million. The group first came into prominence in the 1980’s and sprang from the Mau Mau who fought for Independence from British rule. They pushed for a return to traditional values and refused western practices. The sect has since undergone a metamorphosis and turned into the most feared gang in Kenya, known for disrobing women in public who wear jeans, castrating uncircumcised males, and hacking opponents to pieces. They have accrued considerable wealth by extorting taxes from public minibus companies and slum residents, in exchange for security the official police forces should, but often do not provide. While the machete is the traditional weapon of choice for Mungiki, more recently, they have introduced guns within the highly trained criminal ranks of the sect, making the police even more reluctant to deal with them.

Far too often, street justice is the rule of law by which scores get settled in the abject slums of Kenya. The legal system is extremely corrupt and few have faith that court cases will punish malfeasance. The machete, unfortunately, replaces the gavel as police forces leave the destitute to handle their own matters. At no other time was this more obvious than during the two months of violence that unseated Kenya from its status as a stable democracy. The February 28 power-sharing agreement will likely return Kenya to normalcy, but analysts say the country will continue to suffer from periodic violent eruptions until the government sincerely addresses issues of poverty, unemployment and land rights. The Mungiki, in many regards, represent the scores of Kikuyus who were disenfranchised by their own tribesmen at independence, and today’s events are a clear sign that a power-sharing deal doesn’t erase their grievances.

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One Response to “Kenya Rocked by Mungiki Surprise Attacks”

  1. wiliamjamesh says:

    The urban areas of Nairobi, Nakuru, Naivasha, Nyieri and Eldoret were altogether influenced by yesterday’s Mungiki exhibits. A day after President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga named the bureau in a power-sharing arrangement, one would have anticipated that Kenya would be celebrating.

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