A government human rights body has implicated Kenyan police in the abduction, torture and execution of at least 500 young men. Scores of others arrested from their homes cannot be found.
In its report, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights says that top political leaders working with police commanders were aware of the death squads. Last year, Cabinet minister John Michuki, predicted that there would be “many funerals” of Mungiki members.
The report further accuses police officers of kidnapping, torture and extortion on the pretext of anti-Mungiki operations. For the unfortunate victims, payment of a ransom was no security against death. The commission has documented cases where individuals were hunted down and killed after paying ransom.
Mungiki, popular with disillusioned youth from the Kikuyu ethnic group, is calling for a return to traditional African spirituality. It despises Christianity as a colonial religion. In the teeming slums of Kenya’s cities and in rural squatter settlements, Mungiki has grown by providing casual jobs, protection, housing and other social services.
The Mungiki are calling for a generational change in Kenya to pave way for youthful leadership. According to Mungiki, Kenya’s current leaders are remnants of, “colonial home-guards.”
Since its beginnings in the 1980s, the group’s membership has grown to the lower millions. It has become a formidable political and quasi-militia force that has drawn the wrath of State security machinery. Kenya’s government declared war against the group in mid 2007.
The Kenya Police force, however, faces little condemnation for its actions. The ethnic affiliation of Mungiki has spawned fear of Kikuyu nationalism in the rest of Kenya’s tribes, especially after political and ethnic clashes earlier this year. Consequently, there has been no criticism of police tactics against Mungiki.
Mungiki’s leader and founder, Maina Njenga, is serving a five year jail term on weapons and drug possession charges. Mr Njenga says police falsified the charges against him. After his arrest, the state turned Mr Njenga’s mansion in Kitengela into a, “police station.” Kenyan police rarely confiscate property from criminal suspects.
Earlier this year, Njenga’s wife, Virginia Nyakio, was abducted, raped and beheaded by persons believed to be working for the state. Within a few days, two top officials of the Kenya National Youth Alliance – Mungiki’s party – were gunned down by unidentified people along the Nairobi – Naivasha highway. The two were on their way to see Mr Njenga in prison. One of the dead was a brother to Virginia Nyakio’s driver. According to eye-witnesses, the gunmen in the daylight shooting first identified themselves as police.
Mr Njenga has vowed not to allow the funeral of his murdered wife until the government drops all charges against him. Her body has been lying in a morgue ever since.
In April, Mungiki engaged riot police in national demonstrations to protest constant killings. Railway lines were uprooted and national highways blocked. The violence ended when Prime Minister Raila Odinga offered to negotiate with them. Police withdrew from Maina Njenga’s mansion in an apparent goodwill gesture from the government. Television footage showed the building suffering from extreme vandalism. Apparently police officers lit cooking fires on the living room floor.
The report by the Kenya National Human Rights Commission accused police of using unmarked vehicles to abduct Mungiki youth, most of whose bodies have been found in woodlands outside the capital city. 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 abduction.
Public opinion in Kenya is split between those calling for dialogue with Mungiki and those insisting on tough measures. Majority of Kenyans associate Mungiki with extortion, crime and murder.
Numerous scholars and journalists have attempted to analyze Mungiki. The explanations of the Mungiki phenomenon are as varied as the number of papers and press 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, Mungiki is likely to become a much bigger and dangerous phenomenon.
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