Experts tell State to change tact in crime war

Sociologists have warned that the hunt for the Mungiki terror gang in the city’s slums might “explode” into a catastrophe.

They exhorted the Government to change tact in dealing with the outlawed sect, arguing that unleashing State terror on poverty-stricken people was likely to fuel the crisis.

“Research has shown that poverty serves a positive function in society in that it ensures that dirty jobs are done with ruthless precision,” said one sociologist who sought anonymity.

He warned that the slums were prime hunting grounds for those who want to mobilise gangs to engage in criminal and retaliatory attacks.

“Slum dwellers are like an army in waiting. If you take war to a poor, desperate and agitated population, they could easily explode,” said the sociologist, noting that the gunning down of 21 suspected Mungiki adherents in Mathare could sow dissent if innocent people were caught in the crossfire.


The Mungiki terror gang, explained the sociologists, had resorted to the brutal and murderous ways out of desperation and a feeling that they had nothing to lose since the Government had dismantled their extortionist rings.


Mungiki is an outlawed, quasi-political/religious cult in Kenya.

It is a criminal gang that has attacked women for wearing pants or mini-skirts, imposed female circumcision by force, murdered defectors, and raided police stations.

Mungiki attack matatu (public commuter vehicles) drivers by extorting money or taking over lucrative routes.


“They are waging a guerilla war out of frustration, desperation and a feeling that they have been cornered,” said Preston Chitere, an associate professor at the department of sociology in the University of Nairobi.

“We are talking about people who feel they have got nothing to lose but fight on. They are agitated that their source of livelihood has been taken away without an alternative,” he said with reference to the elimination of cartels at bus stops and the crackdown on hawking in the city.

The campaign to flush out the militants from the sprawling city slums could go awry because the residents who languish in poverty have an axe to grind with the system.

Do not treat mugiki in a casual manner

“The Government’s forceful approach is dangerous when executed in the slums because the slum dwellers feel the system is to blame for their poverty,” Chitere said as he explained that they would hit back at the society that they believe has victimised them.

The sociologists say slums are difficult to police because the identity of the dwellers is unclear.

This makes it difficult to flush out criminal elements and the situation is further complicated by the fact that the slum dwellers are generally hostile to outsiders.

It is also highly unlikely that police officers who move into such hostile environments — in the backdrop of the gruesome murder of their own — will hesitate to use excessive force at the slightest provocation, argue the sociologists.

But the experts agreed that Mungiki is a well-organised group that the authorities could not dismiss or treat in a casual manner.

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The Standard, Kenya
June 6, 2007
Alex Ndegwa

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This post was last updated: Wednesday, June 6, 2007 at 9:36 AM, Central European Time (CET)