Mungiki sect presents new political headache

With the inception of a giant coalition cabinet last Sunday, it was expected that Kenya gets back the peace its famous for. The Mungiki sect, however, presents the first challenge for the giant coalition.

For the second day, the Mungiki disrupted businesses and highway transport in Nairobi, the Central province and parts of the Rift Valley. Riots were reported in various suburbs as bus operators kept off the road inspite of a police crackdown on the riots. A commuter bus of the Kenya Bus Services was set alight near Kibera after passengers were ordered out.

The Mungiki are protesting the murder of their jailed leader’s wife. Her beheaded and battered body was found alongside that of her driver in the Aberdare forest on Thursday – two days after they were carjacked in Nairobi. A preliminary autopsy indicated evidence of gang-rape. Other decayed bodies were found in the vicinity.

The Mungiki accuse Kenya police hit-squads of being behind the killings. In the past year, at least 500 bodies of suspected Mungiki members have been found in woodlands around Nairobi after abduction by people identifying themselves as police. Police have denied the claims, though, saying the deaths – including the recent ones – are a result of conflict within the illegal group.

Yesterday, in response to the rioting that seemingly caught the security services offguard, Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said the police would not be intimidated. He warned Mungiki youth from disrupting the transport network saying that, “anyone doing so will face severe consequences.”

The riots affected President Kibaki’s home district where villagers with axes cut down trees which they used to block the main highway to Nairobi. Coming in the wake of the giant coalition between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, political observers say the Mungiki riots could be a sign of disaffection among Kikuyu youth with President Kibaki. The Kikuyu believe that Mr Odinga used violent protests to muscle his way into the Prime Minister’s office.

Violent clashes between President Kibaki’s supporters and those of Mr Odinga erupted following disputed presidential elections in December 2007. Both Kibaki and Odinga were candidates. After Kibaki was declared the winner, ethnic conflict between his supporters – mostly the Kikuyu – and those of Mr Odinga left at least 1,500 dead and about 350,000 homeless. Mr Odinga’s supporters evicted the Kikuyu from their homes in the Rift Valley leading to revenge attacks against members of Odinga’s Luo ethnic group in Kikuyu dominated areas. The Kikuyu accuse Mr Odinga’s allies of “ethnic cleansing.” Mr Odinga denies it, saying the violence was a, “spontaneous reaction to electoral fraud.”

With an apparent revolt within his core ethnic backers, it remains to be seen if President Kibaki will continue a security crackdown that has killed hundreds in the past year or whether he will seek a negotiated settlement with the Mungiki.

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