Reuters, Jan. 12, 2003
Nairobi – A banned sect accused of mass killings said on Sunday that Kenya’s new government would only end an upsurge in gang bloodshed by offering jobs and a decent life to poor people who might otherwise turn to violent crime.
Main Njenga, self-styled spiritual leader of the shadowy Mungiki organisation, added in an interview with Reuters that a police crackdown on his members was futile because they were too numerous and well entrenched in the country’s economy.
“You cannot fight Mungiki because you will be fighting Kenya,” he said by telephone. “How can you crush something that has been there for 17 years in a day or two? It is impossible.”
“The crackdown is unfair and is not the solution. Dialogue is far more important, so that our people can be given farms.”
Mungiki, “multitude” in the language of the Kikuyu, the largest tribe, groups thousands of male youths, many of them former street children or people mired at the bottom of society by an economy in its worst state since independence in 1963.
It started as a religious movement in 1987 when Njenga saw a vision in which, he says, God ordered him to lead his people out of bondage. It recruits mostly from the Kikuyu and is backed by the financial clout of its own network of minibus businesses.
Slum dwellers say it is instils fear and respect in a given community by promoting archaic Kikuyu spiritual rituals, like taking snuff, swearing tribal oaths and wearing dreadlocks, that capture the imagination of impoverished youths.
The group was banned in March 2002 after police blamed it for a spate of knife and spear killings. But it has remained active and police accused its members of hacking 21 people to death in Nakuru, a town north of Nairobi, on January 5.
The killings were some of the worst violence in the African country in months, presenting the new National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) government with its first security challenge.
There has been no suggestion that Njenga was personally involved in the killings but Internal Security Minister Chris Murungaru said all Mungiki members and leaders would be dealt with mercilessly if they did not surrender to the authorities.
Njenga said he was not in hiding but did not elaborate on his response to the government’s surrender call other than to say the crackdown was misguided and would in any case fail.
“I would like to tell them that it (crushing Mungiki) is not easy. It is a very difficult task. We are in every village.”
Murungaru said the Nakuru killings happened after residents tried to eject Mungiki members from bus stops, accusing them of running protection rackets and forcing them to pay higher fares.
Njenga said he had no personal knowledge of the incident but it had followed days of what he called violent provocations against Mungiki members including unspecified killings.
He said it was possible that some Mungiki members had taken part in the killings on January 5 after being paid money by politicians with an interest in destroying Mungiki.
“I am not for what happened in Nakuru. Whatever happened in Nakuru can be a problem in the whole country because as much as the youths become idle they can be misused by any politician.”
“I just want the government to address the issue of unemployment and job opportunities. As much as they are flushing out Mungiki people from stages (bus stops) they should address the question of giving those people work.”
“Mungiki members are working on buses because they have no other way of making money. They are ready to be moved out if only they can be shown where to go to get proper jobs.”