Mungiki runs deep and wide
Published on April 27, 2008, 12:00 am
By Sunday Standard writer
When a Mungiki adherent appeared on television two weeks ago and admitted that he would kill if his group asked him to, he was merely being faithful to the laws of the sect.
It is admissions like these that have forced even residents of areas hard hit by the Mungiki terror to question whether the guns-and-batons approach of the Government will eliminate the group.
Positions differ sharply, even within the police force, on the better way between dialogue and the gun, to deal with the terror group.
Some high-level security officers say Mungiki is a political tool, and agree with the sect’s assertions at times that there are politicians paying up periodically, with whom they have no problem.
“If you have never joined Mungiki, you need not worry. They know whom they want and the hunted know why,” said a senior policeman.
Police and intelligence officials believe a number of politicians from Central Kenya have had dealings with the sect, and some continue to do so.
Another retired intelligence officer says Mungiki has also incorporated prominent businessmen and some of those they target could owe them something.
“When Mungiki set out to burn vehicles, they don’t just pick any. They know the vehicles they are looking for. When they arrive, they don’t ask questions, they set it on fire and move, leaving other vehicles intact. That should tell you something,” the retired officer said.
After years of terror by the sect despite frequent police crackdown, those who live daily with the Mungiki threat think the authorities should try a new way. They think negotiation could work better than guns.
Scholarly studies done on this group appear to favour this line too, concluding that the sect runs deep and is much older than the authorities appear to understand.
Studies show that feeding on failures of the Government from around 1987 to date, Mungiki runs deep and wide, and its defiance is part of its code of rules.
Key among the rules Mungiki holds dear, according various researches, some academic, is that members never surrender to their enemies.
Mungiki rules also stipulate that a member never betrays his or her comrades, and never leaves a comrade in trouble. They had better die together.
Mungiki members have sworn never to fear death, “for it is natural” and every adherent is sworn to be “available at the time of need.”
In the sect, cultural beliefs have blended with religion, politics and thirst for money by members, creating a fearsome organisation some now believe cannot be brought down by the gun.
“This is a social problem that requires a social approach,” says Mr Esau Kioni, a former aide to President Mwai Kibaki and resident of Murang’a.
The former State House official, who unsuccessfully contested the Mathioya parliamentary seat last year, likens the sect to the thangari grass common in Central Province.
“You cut thangari at the top, and clear all the leaves, but the root continues to grow underground and the whole grass resurfaces far from where you first cut it,” Kioni says. “That is what we have been doing with Mungiki. We have been clearing the thangari at the top but the roots have continued to grow underground. It is not a solution.”
He adds: “We need a commission of social scientists to come up with solutions.”
Although police believe Mungiki is not as big as it has been portrayed, arguing that politicians have bolstered it, other researches tell a different story.
When the Nairobi City Council failed to collect garbage in the 1980s to around 2003, youths teamed up as garbage collectors, a task they still perform. Those garbage collectors were either Mungiki members or later became members.
The city council no longer collects garbage from households. That task has fallen on private hands, and the young man who knocks on your gate at the weekend may well be a Mungiki member, transacting a legitimate business.
The car washer at your chosen spot may also be a Mungiki member. Studies, some filed in library archives, show that Mungiki have heavily invested in hawking, car washing and neighbourhood or estate security teams.
Some of the businesses are legitimate and feed on the fears of residents and failures of the system.
One study shows Mungiki had a field day in Nairobi, Central Province and Rift Valley between 1988 and 1994, enabling it to spread to parts of Eastern, Coast and Nyanza provinces.
The Government attempted to crack down on the sect only around December 1994, arresting 63 suspected members in Laikipia.
And it was not until early 2003 that police destroyed the movement’s headquarters in Ng’arua, Laikipia, where it also has two shrines at Seria and Mwenje.
Within that time, says another study, the sect had established links with some Pentecostal churches in Laikipia and other parts of Central Province.
In January 1991, a Pentecostal bishop who remains one of its counsellors to date, hosted them in Murang’a.
Probably, it is because of this early support by a Murang’a church that explains the heavy Mungiki presence in that region.
In Maragua, for instance, the sect was said to have more than 200 platoons spread across 10 branches and 33 sub branches manned by more than 2,000 militiamen by early 2000.
Here, like everywhere else, says one study, Mungiki organised itself military style, in platoons.
A platoon comprises 10 militiamen, each with a personal registration number. That organisational structure is replicated elsewhere, but mostly in Central Province.
The ethnic clashes that broke out in 1991 stopped Mungiki’s spread in areas like Kuresoi, Eldama Ravine, Eldoret, Kericho, Kakamega and Kisii, where its members had already set up base.
When the land clashes of 1991 checked the sect’s march westwards to the Rift Valley and surrounding provinces, its members discreetly moved to Nairobi.
One study found them establishing base in Nairobi’s Kahawa West in early 1992, hosted by a woman in Kamae village.
From there, the sect began to spread its message door-to-door. They hoisted their first flags in Nairobi and Ng’arua on December 12, 1992.
Such activities, researchers say, show sophistication and dedication that contradicts the notion that the sect can be wiped out by terror.
Even within the security circles, the notion that Mungiki is everywhere and there is no way of identifying who is a member and who is not, has gained ground.