Although the report says that the people of East African countries enjoy enormous religious freedom, it criticises Kenya for “frequently harassing and periodically arresting and detaining” members of Mungiki.
While the State Department may have every right to criticise any government that has no respect for the religious freedom of its people, its criticism of Kenya for allegedly harassing members of the outlawed sect is obviously misplaced.
That the report turns a blind eye to the many violent incidents members of the sect have been implicated in reeks of betrayal. Should the Government just watch as Mungiki kill and maim innocent Kenyans?
Since its activities came to light in the 1980s, the sect has been blamed for killing scores of people in Nairobi, Murang’a, Nyeri and Laikipia. In Nakuru, relatives of at least 20 people killed in Nakuru by the sect members are still struggling to come to terms with the loss. Is that what religion advocates?
The State Department’s assessment of religious freedom, especially with regard to its handling of Mungiki, may be weird but it has a precedent in Kenya itself.
Only four months after the Government banned the sect along with 17 other organisations in March last year (after Mungiki members were implicated in the massacre of 28 people in Nairobi’s Kariobangi Estate), the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), released a report which praised some of the Mungiki practices and beliefs as “progressive”.
Titled “Mungiki Movement in Kenya: Religion-Political Analyses”, the report hailed the sect for preaching self-reliance, hard work and independence.
It was very unfortunate that the NCCK, the largest and oldest umbrella body for Kenyan protestants, considered female genital mutilation and tobacco-sniffing as the sect’s only “retrogressive practices”.
Claims by the NCCK official during the launch of the report that Mungiki members had been dismissed and dealt with violently was a very unfortunate move by a religious leader.
But the fact that the US State Department regards Mungiki as one of the religious groups in Kenya is proof of the muddle that religion has turned into. While religion may have played a role in the formation of the sect, observers believe that it is no longer a key characteristic of the group.
It claimed to espouse a return to Kikuyu traditional religion and cultural practices, much like the Tent of the Living God of Ngonya wa Gakonya. But today, its members are free to join any religion.
With its national co-ordinator Ndura Waruinge’s conversion into Christianity a few weeks ago, it should dawn on most sect members that it is time for soul-searching. It appears there is an inner cry in most Mungiki sect members for a religious attachment. This was seen last year when they decided to woo Muslims to become their allies. It failed.
Had it stuck to its initial mission of being a religious group that does not espouse the Western culture without being violent, no one would have bothered the sect. This is because cults and sects are hardly a new idea in Kenya.
The Nomiya group founded by “messiah” Elisha Adet in the 1920s is probably the oldest. But the largest was Dini ya Musambwa of Elijah Masinde. Though Masinde was known for violent brushes with the law between the 1940s and the 1960s, his followers never engaged in the kind of atrocities associated with Mungiki.
The only ugly legacy Masinde, who died in 1987, left for his followers was a deadly religious concoction on which he himself lived.
In Kenya, which is said to have more than 600 registered denominations and several hundred more that are unregistered, cults and sects seem to be a permanent feature. But Mungiki, which is now a group of ruffians, should never be regarded as one of them.
Mr Ayieko is the editor of EndTime News, a monthly Christian newspaper.