Time to Act on ‘Mungiki’

The East African (Kenya), Feb. 10, 2003 (Opinion

Just weeks after an historic election that ushered in a new optimism and national confidence, Kenyans are having to confront the spectre of mindless violence. Once again.

In the latest incident, at least two policemen were murdered last week by thugs of the illegal Mungiki sect, a shadowy and secretive organisation that espouses a return to outmoded “African values.”

In addition to killing of the policemen, the Mungiki thugs also unleashed mayhem in Dandora estate, one of Nairobi’s most densely populated suburbs, slashing people indiscriminately with machetes and torching public service vehicles.

In early January, Mungiki was implicated in similar mayhem in the Rift Valley town of Nakuru, where at least two dozen people were butchered as they slept.

Tragic in themselves, these acts of wanton violence, murder and destruction serve to remind Kenyans that they are not out of the woods yet. Coming in the wake of the country’s hugely peaceful elections, the acts display a depravity that one radio commentator rightly observed is “not Kenyan.”

The tragedy of it all is that the world, particularly the investing kind, may not take the time to find out that the real Kenya is beyond the two-second news items on television, that describes machete-wielding thugs running amok in Nairobi. Broadcast around the globe, the actions of a few hooligans subsequently serve to rob an entire country of significant amounts of tourist dollars, and probably a few factories as well.

In the circumstances, the only heartening thing to come from the Mungiki mayhem is the realisation by decent people that the thugs are on the losing side. Coming from the darkness and poverty of a repressive regime, Kenyans will not allow anybody to abort the democratic and economic gains which are expected to come with the Third Republic.

But because Mungiki and other gangster outfits are unlikely to take stock of such “mundane” considerations, however, it is up to the government to ensure that they do not continue to hold Kenyans at ransom.

Given the widespread destruction and murders it has committed, it is perhaps time that the government showed the rag-tag outfit, and any other minded individuals or groups, that it is the only institution constitutionally empowered to own the means of absolute violence.

In the long-run, however, there will be a need to address the socio-economic factors that breed and nurture such groups as the Mungiki.

Although this does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that there are any mitigating factors for such savagery as was shown by the group last week, it will be important to consider the roles that glaring poverty and social distabilisation, as witnessed during the ethnic clashes in the 1990s, have played in creating such groups.

Tragically, by becoming merchants of violence, Mungiki are perpetuating the circle of poverty that their members are already victims of.

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