‘Mungiki’: Why the Laxity?

The East African (Kenya), May 5, 2003 (Editorial)

An outlawed quasi-religious group, Mungiki, resurfaced in Kenya last week, wreaking havoc in the Eastlands suburbs of the capital Nairobi. Five people were injured and several vehicles immobilised, paralysing transport in that section of the city.

At the heart of the skirmishes, victims said, were illegal rates collected by the group from public service vehicles (PSVs) plying between the densely populated estates and the city centre. The government, through the Transport Licensing Board, has also outlawed cartels that collect various charges at PSV terminuses.

This is the first time that Mungiki was in the limelight since its leaders went underground earlier in the year over suspicions of perpetrating the killing of 60 people in the Rift Valley provincial capital of Nakuru. The previous week, police had just bonded the sect’s leader Ndura Waruinge to keep the peace or face charges of inciting Mungiki members to violence.

If Mungiki’s atrocities were bizarre, their defence by the Minister for Internal Security and Provincial Administration Dr Chris Murungaru was perplexing. The minister argued that Mungiki was not a criminal gang but a semi-religious organisation.

He went further to explain that many criminal gangs operating in the Eastlands estates of the city were masquerading as Mungiki members to extort money from public transport vehicle operators. Quite a gem from the pharmacist, who recently just chuckled off claims associating him with Mungiki activities.

Dr Murungaru ought to know that the government he represents has vowed to fight insecurity and any threats to individual life and property. It does not matter whether that threat is posed by a “semi-religious” organisation or a criminal gang.

Mungiki is no ordinary sect out for revival of repugnant cultural practices. It boasts of over $12.5 million in funds, most of it obtained through seeking protection money from the transport sector. With its mass of about 500,000 unemployed youths across the country, it becomes a political phenomenon.

Politics being the survival game that it is, no politician or administration is wont to cross its path. The group’s search for political belonging was evident ahead of last December’s general election. Two of its leaders won nominations to vie for parliamentary seats on Kanu’s ticket but were shut out on moral grounds as the party’s presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta dissociated himself from the group.

The group turned against the party in Central and Rift Valley provinces, leaving Kanu to rue the loss of such a voting bloc. On the admission of some its leaders, Mungiki members turned hirelings for individual political leaders, some of them now in government.

One shudders at the thought that the political expediency that informed Mungiki’s existence, despite its evident murderous past, is compromising the National Rainbow Coalition’s war on all forms of insecurity in the country, a key reason why investors are giving the country a wide berth.

That Mungiki poses a serious security threat in Kenya is not in question. The issue is why the government is finding it so difficult to deal with Mungiki once and for all, as it has done with other outlawed groups.

More urgent is an explanation for the outfit’s defence by Dr Murungaru, itself a public relations disaster for the government. Despite the goodwill with which NARC came into office, the government’s retention of leaders who appear so compromised by some interest groups that they cannot run their dockets soberly, leave alone rein in their loose tongues, may be its undoing.

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