The Mungiki phenomenon will continue to influence Kenya’s politics and social life if daily media headlines are any indicators.
Hardly a day goes by without some major news event concerning the Mungiki. This week, it has emerged that the Kenya Police have finally left a mansion in Kitengela built by the Mungiki. The police had converted the house into a “police station” after arresting Mungiki leader, Maina Njenga in the premises several years ago.
In Kenya, the police rarely confiscate property in such a manner. Indeed, the action was among the major grievances that drove the Mungiki into nationwide protests in April this year. By returning the ownership of the building to the Mungiki, the government may be signaling a softening in its stance towards the group. Television footage shows the building suffering from extreme vandalism. Apparently police officers lit cooking fires in the expansive living room.
In the past one week, political leaders from the Central Province have called for negotiations with Mungiki and the release of Mr Njenga. Mr Njenga is in jail for possession of firearms and marijuana. His followers say the charges are false.
On his appointment in April, Prime Minister Raila Odinga said he was willing to begin negotiations with Mungiki. However, Internal security minister, Prof George Saitoti, has said the government will not talk to Mungiki. This followed criticism of proposed Mungiki talks by politicians from Kalenjin dominated areas following the arrest of youths linked to ethnic clashes earlier this year. The Kalenjin politicians argue that were the government to talk with Mungiki, then Kalenjin militia should get amnesty from prosecution.
The military operation against the Sabaot Land Defense Force in Mt Elgon may be influenced by the manner in which the government handles the Mungiki issue. Critics of the military campaign are concerned over the apparent double standards in dealing with militia groups.
Mungiki say they have also borne the brunt of state security forces. Hundreds of bodies of suspected Mungiki members have been found in morgues and forests on the outskirts of Nairobi in the past year. Police deny they are involved in the killings. However, in parts of Central Province and in the slums of Nairobi, young men live in fear of the police.
There have been numerous feature articles in local and international press all attempting to analyze the Mungiki. The explanations of the Mungiki phenomenon are as varied as the number of articles about the group. However, all agree that the Mungiki is a product of a dysfunctional society and without a change in the way Kenya is governed, the Mungiki is likely to become a much bigger and potent force.