As we drove along the highway up and down the ridges of Central Kenya, discussion inevitably veered towards the Mungiki, the Kikuyu and Kenyan politics.
Those in our group and who were not Kikuyu wanted the police to wipe out the group from the surface of the earth. They accused human rights organizations of frustrating the government’s War on Mungiki.
Our Kikuyu driver however gave a fresh insight into Mungiki, a group that has rocked the Kikuyu heartland of Central Kenya and parts of the Rift Valley.
“What you are seeing is a social implosion among the Kikuyu,” explained the middle aged driver, “there are too many people trapped in poverty, violence and hopelessness, that is why the young people are joining Mungiki. There is no other way out …”
Few people seem to understand the Mungiki phenomenon. Even the government does not understand what it is up against. As far as the police are concerned, any poor Kikuyu aged 15 – 45 is a prime suspect, especially if working in the matatu industry. What exactly is the truth about Mungiki? Who are they? What do they represent and what are their plans for themselves and for Kenya at large?
What is Mungiki?
Mungiki began as a traditionalist African sect founded by one Maina Njenga around 1985. Interestingly, Mungiki did not begin in Central Province but actually began in the Rift Valley, specifically, the areas around Laikipia and Baringo before spreading to parts of Nyandarua. As a matter of fact, among Maina Njenga’s childhood neighbours were families from the Kalenjin ethnic group.
1990s: Ethnic clashes
In the 1990s, Kikuyus living in the Rift Valley came under heavy attack for opposing President Daniel arap Moi. Families were killed, homes burnt and farms looted. Mungiki mobilized groups of Kikuyu youth for self defence. The attempt won the group much admiration especially amongst the displaced Kikuyu. Many of the displaced moved into urban slums in Central Province and Nairobi. By the late 1990s, Mungiki had grown so much that former President Moi began warning against it.
1997 – 2003: Economic and social crisis
Kenya underwent a severe economic and social crisis in the late 1990s. The government was broke, civil servants were laid off and private sector companies were leaving the country. Economic liberalization meant that price controls were lifted on basic commodities. Globalization and the influx of foreign values put further strains on Kenyan society.
Jobs were impossible to get and professionals left the country in droves. Public schools were privatized and the children of the poor ended up on the streets. Public clinics were shut for lack of drugs and doctors. The police were affected by the economic downturn and crime went out of control. In the slums, the State ceased to exist.
Amidst this situation, Mungiki emerged to control crime, collect garbage and provide justice in domestic and other disputes. Mungiki provided informal jobs for its members in transport and retail business. In return, residents of the slums were obliged to pay Mungiki a fixed amount of money for each household, business and motor vehicle.
2002: Politicization of Mungiki
In 2002, Moi was grooming Uhuru Kenyatta to succeed him for the presidency. Uhuru had little chance of winning and in desperation, Moi convinced the Mungiki leadership to back his choice. Uhuru was defeated by Mwai Kibaki, his baptismal godfather.
2003 – 2009: Kibaki restores state authority
Once in power, Kibaki attempted to restore the authority of the State but Mungiki had gotten used to operating in a lawless environment. To Mungiki, the State was interfering with their livelihoods. In 2007, Kibaki’s administration launched the War on Mungiki. It is believed that thousands of Kikuyu youth have been secretly killed by government forces.
What is Mungiki’s agenda?
The goal of Mungiki is to overthrow the current political and economic elite and replace them with a system of government modelled along African values. Mungiki blames the government, the rich, the church and the politicians for misery in Kenya. Most Mungiki members live in absolute poverty. Many others have been victims of ethnic clashes where they lost everything they owned. To them, Mungiki offers a sense of security in numbers.
Does Mungiki want to kill other Kenyan tribes?
There have been few instances when Mungiki attacked other tribes. This was during the ethnic clashes of the 1990s and during the post election violence of 2008. Mungiki were responding to a perception that Kikuyu peasants had been abandoned by their leaders.
All Kenyan tribes are affected by poverty. What is special about the Kikuyu?
Since the 19th century, Central Province has seen extensive violence against its people. The British sent soldiers to push the Kikuyu out of fertile land to make way for coffee and tea plantations. The Mau Mau war of the 1950s is still a case study of colonial repression. Thousands of Kikuyu were detained and tortured. Their families were confined into fortified villages whose conditions resembled those of concentration camps. Since independence, the crime rate in Central Province has been noticeably higher compared to other parts of Kenya. The ethnic clashes of the 1990s created a generation of angry Kikuyu youths willing to use violence.
Because of historical reasons, a group like Mungiki was more likely to emerge among the Kikuyu than among other Kenyan tribes.
Is Mungiki owned by politicians?
Most Kikuyu politicians are from the upper and middle classes, whereas the membership of Mungiki is predominantly from the poor. The two classes see each other as a problem but their interests occasionally converge. A good example is the post election violence of 2008, where Kikuyu politicians sought help from Mungiki following the government’s failure to stop ethnic clashes.
Does the Nairobi Chronicle support Mungiki?
No, we do not support Mungiki. However, abducting and killing its members will not solve the Mungiki menace. Experience from Latin America shows that condoning government death squads is a mistake because they eventually start targetting anybody opposing the government. In certain countries, death squads turned against their former masters.
The roots of Mungiki are complex, and stretch back a hundred years. It has to do with colonialism, Mau Mau, poverty, oppression and globalization. Mungiki is the product of a failed state under the leadership of a cruel elite.
Filed under: Analysis, News Tagged: | kenya, mwai kibaki, nairobi, daniel arap moi, mungiki, kikuyu, kalenjin, ethnic clashes, Rift Valley, maina njenga, Uhuru Kenyatta, mau mau, kirinyaga, mathira, ndura waruinge