As police intensify the crackdown on illegal sects, victims recall the turf wars that led to murder and mayhem three years ago.
Watching the 9pm news three years ago, Lawrence Omondi sat transfixed as the small screen was filled with a trail of images of the day’s atrocities – murder, theft, carjack, rape, incest, kidnap and so on.
Suddenly, his daughter ran into the house and told him that the Mungiki were hacking people to death in the neighbourhood.
He brushed her off, thinking the claim was far-fetched. Little did he know that his family would be the next target. The Mungiki Massacres, as they would be named later, rocked several estates in Nakuru.
Omondi told his harrowing story last week, just six days after Internal Security minister John Michuki announced a fresh crackdown on the sect. He said police had been instructed to ensure that the outlaws were wiped out.
Just last Thursday, five suspected Mungiki members were lynched by angry villagers in Maragwa district after they attacked four matatus (commuter vehicles).
The gang of seven, brandishing pangas (machetes) and stones, had been terrorising passengers, drivers and conductors at 5am. Five of them were beaten to death and their bodies displayed at the local trading centre, where they were picked by police.
In Nakuru, Omondi recalls the night of horror three years ago. His daughter had been washing dishes outside their Kimathi estate house when she saw a group of armed men coming towards their house.
Moments later, Omondi heard his neighbour crying for help as shouts of “Mungiki, Mungiki” rent the air. He ran to the bedroom to pick a panga, but his wife restrained him.
“Were it not for her, I would be dead. She pushed me back to the house and told me they were Mungiki thugs,” he recalls.
“When they knocked on our door, they said they were good people hunting down Mungiki members and that they wanted to ensure we were secure.
“They struggled for five minutes to enter as my wife and I had barricaded the door. When they failed, they petrol-bombed the house,” recounts Omondi, 52.
“At one time, they asked my wife if there was any man in the house. But she said she was a single mother. I lay under the bed, fearing for my life.”
It was January 6, 2003. Residents of seven council estates in Nakuru still recall the ordeal. Their lives and dreams were shattered. Some of them lost their relatives (15 people died that night) while others still nurse the wounds.
It started as a feud between touts and sect members over collection of fees from each matatu in town. Some victims said the attacks were politically instigated; that the locals were being punished for voting for the National Rainbow Coalition in the 2002 General Election.
During election campaigns, suspected Mungiki adherents allied themselves to Kanu candidates in return for political favours. A number of them controlled extortion cartels in matatu business.
Come the polls, Kanu lost to Narc. Local youths declared an end to Mungiki cartels and undertook to flush them out. In revenge, sect members attacked council estates.
Today, residents recall a politician vowing to punish anybody who voted against Kanu. Yet another politician said he would evict all Mungiki youth controlling matatu termini, especially on Langa Langa and Kanu streets, where they charged Sh20 to Sh50 a day for each vehicle.
Later, angry touts joined police officers and invaded Langalanga and Mwariki estates where many sect members were suspected to be living. They set their houses on fire.
Two days before the massacre, local touts again hunted down Mungiki members. At least four people (two touts and two sect members) were hacked to death or gunned down by police as the crackdown intensified. Most of the touts lived in the sprawling estate of Flamingo.
Then the Mungiki hit back. Armed with pangas, axes, rungus and other crude weapons, the attackers headed to Flamingo, Kimathi, Lake View, Kisulisuli, Manyani, Kaloleni and Kivumbini estates shortly before 9pm. They moved in groups of 30 and had white ribbons fastened around their heads. They broke down doors and windows and attacked people indiscriminately.
“They hacked a neighbour to death after he crawled to my doorstep for help. We struggled with the attackers as they tried to force their way into my house,” says Omondi.
James Gitahi, 22, and his brother Michael Maina, 28, were attacked in their house in Flamingo estate. The raiders broke down the door and slashed them all over the body, leaving them for dead.
Witnesses said matatus ferried the attackers to Kimathi and Flamingo estates. They alighted at St Nicholas Children’s Home, which neighbours the two estates.
Sarah Nyokabi recalls how the gang struck into her house at Kimathi estate. “They smashed the windows and demanded that I open the door. Later, they raided my neighbour Joash Shabasinya and cut him up with axes and pangas, killing him instantly.”
His 22-year-old son, Boniface Arula, had been spending the night at Flamingo estate. He was hacked to death by a different group. He had just completed his secondary education at Thurgem Secondary School in Kisumu and was waiting for the KCSE examination results, says his sister, Fanice Isomanga.
She is a teacher at Eileen Ng?ochoch Primary School in Nakuru. Tears flow freely on her face as she recounts the death of her father and younger brother. “It has been difficult for the family to survive,” she says.
Nyokabi says her neighbour, a Mr Joseph, died in her hands after succumbing to deep wounds in the abdomen. The Mungiki gang pounced on him as he was having supper.
“He had a gaping wound and was bleeding profusely. I found him writhing in pain and I tried to administer first aid. But it was too late. He had lost a lot of blood,” she says.
She tied a kikoi round the wound but Joseph asked for a cup of water to drink. He then told her not to struggle to save his life as he was dying. “I tried to resuscitate him but he closed his eyes and died,” recalls the 55-year-old woman.
Also not spared was a matatu tout from Nairobi who had visited his parents for the Christmas and New Year festivities. The tout, whose father was a retired army officer, was hacked to death by a Mungiki gang.
Many villagers say police took their time responding to distress calls. They add that they told them earlier in the day of impending attacks on Flamingo estate.
When we visited Kimathi estate, the majority of survivors had fled the area. They bore the brunt of the attack as sect members seemingly lost direction to a nearby estate and ended up there.
What disturbs the survivors is the Government’s reluctance to help them offset their medical bills. Many of them were hospitalised for several months.
Nakuru Town MP Mirugi Kariuki pledged to organise a fundraising for the victims. It was to be presided over by then Internal Security minister Chris Murungaru, but this was not to be.
Christopher Ambani, who suffered panga cuts on the head and hands, was in the committee steering the funds drive. He says some victims did not seek treatment because of high charges at private hospitals.
A cook at St Mary’s Pastoral Centre in Nakuru, Ambani was among 12 people admitted to Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital and Nakuru Nursing Home in critical condition. The death toll eventually rose to 23.
Then Rift Valley provincial police chief Alex Rono said they would investigate allegations that a local matatu company ferried the attackers to the two estates.
A director of the matatu company was later held for three days but was released for lack of evidence.
A contingent of General Service Unit officers was dispatched to Nakuru as the war on Mungiki heightened.
Police countrywide were ordered to arrest and prosecute the sect’s followers. In Nakuru, seven adherents were killed – three were lynched by the public while four were shot dead by the police.
Eighty one suspects were initially arrested as investigations into the mayhem intensified, but they were eventually whittled down to 13. Police said they had crucial leads into the attacks.
But after 23 months in custody, all 13 (including former Nakuru Town MP David Manyara) were freed by Justice Daniel Musinga for lack of evidence. They had faced 15 counts of murder.
Manyara accused a powerful politician of being behind his arrest and detention. “Justice has finally been done. I am happy to join my family and friends as I got saved while in custody. I do not regret whatever happened because it was a way of granting me an opportunity to know God,” he said.
Survivors and the bereaved, many of whom testified in court, feel cheated. Not a single person was jailed for the brutal massacres.
“We lost our relatives and spouses as we watched. Why has justice not been done? We feel cheated by law enforcers,” says Omondi.
Three years later, some victims still undergo psychotherapy while others are disabled.