Mungiki: A Mysterious Sect, a Thorn in the Flesh

They have the instinct of predators, preying over their victims with no remorse. Sanctity of life is not in their vocabulary, making their thirst for blood only comparable to that of so called vampires. That is the dreaded Mungiki sect, now sprouting in Kenya and assuming the characteristics of a blood-curdling monster. Authorities seem to be having difficulty in eradicating them. Joseph K’Amolo reports.African Church Information Service, Feb. 3, 2003
Joseph K’amolo

The formation of Mungiki sect remains a mystery to many Kenyans. There have been contradicting statements.

Some reports say the group possibly started in 1988 with the aim of toppling the government of immediate former president of Kenya, Daniel Torotich arap Moi.

Those who share this thinking believe the group was an offshoot of Mwakenya, an underground movement formed in 1979 to challenge the Kenya African National Union (KANU) regime.

Other reports indicate that Mungiki was founded in 1987 by some young schoolboys.

The activities of the sect, however, came into the limelight in late 1990s, when reports started flowing in of groups of suspicious looking youths, many donning dreadlocks, being seen taking unusual oaths, and engaging in strange prayers.

Confronted by authorities, their swift defence would be that theirs was a group of traditionalists interested only in re-introducing and promoting traditional way of life among the Kikuyu ethnic group. They posed as a traditional religious group, but an unusual one because taking snuff during worship was their trademark.

But their hardline stand against Western idiologies put them on a collision course with the police. They started stripping naked in public, ladies wearing miniskirts and long trousers, and violently promoted female cut.

They would engage police in fierce running battles, and on a number of occasions, violently raided police stations to ‘free arrested members’.

Their violent activities intensified. They systematically and forcefully began taking over management of commuter service vehicles, popularly known as Matatu.

In March last year, they clashed with a vigilante group in Nairobi, and later unleashed terror on residents of a slum area, killing 23 people and injuring several others. This prompted the government to outlaw their grouping. They however, continued to exist, and even more openly propagated their warlike activities.

Personalities associated with Mungiki are Maina Njenga as the sect leader, and Ndura Waruinge as its national co-ordinator. The hierarchy of the group includes provincial and district co-ordinators.

According to a source close to the sect, Maina, the leader, had a vision from God, commanding him to bring together all the people oppressed by Western ideologies. He chose the name Mungiki, which in Kikuyu language means ‘many people’.

Big names in political circles are said to have joined in to offer financial support. The sect quickly grew in membership to an estimated 1.5 to 2 million members today. Its membership is drawn possibly entirely from the Kikuyu community.

The source, who asked for anonymity, says Mungiki mission at its inception, was to propagate African culture and to frustrate Christianity, which to them, was a cultural manifestation of Western civilisation that perpetuated neo-colonialism.

It is no wonder that the sect at one time sought to have close ties with the Islamic faith to intensify fight against Christianity. This was ostensibly to win support of Muslims in their acts of destruction and orgies. Unfortunately the Muslims, through their superiors, disowned them.

If one was to follow the chronology of mayhem and trail of blood left by Mungiki, it would be hard not to link them with drugs, the same thing they claim to preach against.

The March incident in Nairobi was just one of the many innocent killings Mungiki has engaged in. Last month, 16 other lives were lost in Nakuru town, in Rift Valley Province in yet another Mungiki attack.

Within the same month, several other people were killed by the same group in Laikipia and Muranga districts in Rift Valley and Central provinces respectively.

These happened just as the current government (NARC) gave ultimatums to the sect members to surrender, or otherwise face the wrath of government machinery. Mungiki vowed not to give in, but to counter any attacks on them by the authorities.

Their adamant stance, observers say, could be a manifestation of the leniency with which the past government (KANU) handled their cruel behaviour.

This became evident last year in the run-up to the general elections, when members of the sect thronged the streets of Nairobi to express solidarity with Uhuru Kenyatta, former president Moi’s choice of successor.

The police stood by as the club, machete, and sword-wielding Mungiki members took charge of the city centre. People were baffled at how such a volatile and outlawed group could easily chant around the streets carrying crude weapons without police interference.

But there was an answer. The Mungiki were simply responding to a challenge by two former Members of Parliament and ardent KANU supporters, Mr. Kihika Kimani and Steven Ndichu, that they ‘parade up and defend KANU’. Silence from the then government gave the impression that it tacitly supported the idea.

Close observers thought Uhuru Kenyatta, then a presidential candidate, would come out and denounce the cult. This did not come immediately. A mockery of the highest degree, observers said, when he finally disassociated himself from the sect.

Mugambi Kiai, a lawyer by profession, deduces that KANU regime must have tried to use the carrot-and-stick trap to deal with Mungiki. A pseudo-Mungiki was created to infiltrate and neutralise the real Mungiki. This, however, did not seem to work.

It was a relief to many Kenyans when violence-free elections were finally conducted on December 27 last year. It had been feared that Mungiki, would strike to intimidate voters.

But as Kenyans craned their heads high in a show of pride for having set a good example to the rest of the continent, Mungiki suddenly struck with the Nakuru killings. The celebration dust had hardly settled.

Mungiki’s contention was that they had been barred from controlling a Matatu terminus in Nakuru Town, about 200 kilomtres from Nairobi.

The Matatu industry has been a target, says a Mungiki member who asked for anonymity, because it is vulnerable and run by young people who the sect is trying to convert. According to the source, they are succeeding in this.

But for whatever reason the sect was formed, the heinous act of killing with impunity has brought the members into a tricky warpath with the government and the public at large. Observers say their acts can potentially scare away foreign investors as they depict insecurity.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday February 1, 2003.
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