|He cuts an ordinary body frame and his eyes reveal an “innocent” man in jail. His brown complexion radiates in sunshine and when our eyes first meet, I doubt whether this is the man behind all we hear about the dreaded and banned Mungiki sect.
|Mungiki sect leader Maina Njenga. He looks healthy and smart even in jail. Photo/FILE
But mystery surrounds Maina Njenga, the man believed to be the force behind a sect that is known to extort, intimidate, and kill in cold blood.
When we seek to meet him at the Naivasha prison, we are, as expected, filled with curiosity.
The Nation team visited him in prison to get an interview with the man believed to be leading the movement that is believed to have a following of over two million members.
To Park aside
Having never visited a prison before, it was all challenging and reaching the gate, the warder asked what our mission was. And straight, we told him we were visiting a prisoner.
We were asked to park aside and give our details to be given a pass. The thought of saying who we were visiting scared us with the possibility we may even get arrested.
A small white gate pass was issued, which we presented to the officer at the next gate.
Luckily, there were some officers outside, and we were ushered in after waiting for about half an hour.
An elderly warder, identified only as Makau, showed us a small office and yes; here was Maina Njenga, the man I had read so much about.
He looked younger and more energetic than seen on TV.
He welcomed us and once again introduced himself.
Spoken on phone
Frankly speaking, we had spoken on phone earlier informing him that we were on the way.
Looking at him, you would think we were visiting a prisoner in a Hollywood movie. He looked healthy, and his face shone unlike other prisoners, a clear indication that he gets enough of sunlight.
His hair was well kept. He wore smart open shoes with clean socks, unlike the normal prison scenario whereby inmates are always in open shoes made from old car tyres, commonly known as akala.
We met at an office-like setting where the warder sat as the host, while we sat facing each other, unlike the case with many other prisoners. (I have heard you see them through a grille with limited time).
We were treated with utmost respect right from the gate, so to speak, and apart from the search at the gate using the metal detector, all was well with us.
The interview lasted for over one hour, but mostly Maina leaned on his history, saying that he attended Ortum Secondary School in West Pokot.
“I have lived with Pokots, Turkanas, Ugandans, Kalenjins, among other tribes. Many people look at me and think I am a tribalist. I appreciate cultures of the different communities I have lived with,” Maina said.
I had decided to keep my paper and pen safely in the pocket as we had posed as friends visiting an inmate. But I was shocked when Maina asked me to write and even make calls and not to fear anything. He was very strong and agile and stressed every point that he put through.
Analysing what he was talking about, he stressed on the importance of dialogue, and that there was hope, especially after the Prime Minister, Mr Raila Odinga, invited Mungiki sect members to dialogue after the naming of the grand coalition Cabinet.
The sect leader is known to claim that he had died and resurrected after four days.
In this respect, Maina seems to have become quite spiritual of late, quoting Bible verses every now and again, notably from 1 Corinthians 13:11.
The serve reads: ‘‘When I was a child, I understood as a child, I spoke as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things.’’
He stressed that from 1987 when he started the sect, he was worshipping as a child, but now he has grown up and that he was ready to change the dreaded sect members to good people.
He adds that God is his shield and they will no longer face Mt Kenya while praying.
Though at the beginning, the Mungiki were said to be fighting modernity, they are seen to have shifted goalposts to fight against poverty and other social injustices.
The sect members say they are the children of the Mau Mau, who were forgotten during the land allocation after independence.
Prisoners are known to languish in pain and misery while behind bars. However, former Vice-President Moody Awori is known to have reformed the institutions although he seems to have forgotten about the warders.
The latest warders go-slow revealed some of the issues that have not been dealt with for decades.
Maina was arrested on February 2, 2006 and was convicted in June of being in possession of 22 rolls of bhang worth Sh1,220 and an Italian Bandeli pistol, though he always claims they were fabricated.
The two offences were also bailable, but his efforts to be out on bond always proved futile.
Naivasha maximum security jail was built in late 1969, and has held some of Kenya’s well-known prisoners, including Delamere’s grandson Tom Cholmondeley and Naivasha businessman Fai Amario.