Mungiki: government promises more of the same

In its first cabinet meeting in more than a month, the Kenyan government vowed to crush the Mungiki sect especially in the sect’s strongholds in the Central Province and Rift Valley.

Paramilitary police from the Rapid Deployment Unit in an anti-Mungiki patrol in Nyeri. Picture by the Daily Nation.

Paramilitary police from the Rapid Deployment Unit in an anti-Mungiki patrol in Nyeri. Picture by the Daily Nation.

Following the cabinet decision, paramilitary police were deployed onto the streets of towns where Mungiki has a huge presence.

Analysts however say that the government is intensifying its war against Mungiki without a significant change in strategy. There will be greater use of such tactics as arresting suspected members and assassinating its leaders despite international criticism of illegal killings by the Kenyan Police.

There is very little talk about the political and social measures that will draw the mostly youthful membership of Mungiki into a constructive engagment with civilized society.

The government’s war on Mungiki has drawn more recruits into the secretive organization than before. Hardly a day goes by without police breaking up a Mungiki oathing ceremony. For every oathing ceremony detected by police, there could be many others that the police did not know about.

Though the Mungiki engages in criminal activity, its existence and continued persistence is a result of social and economic factors affecting the youth.

Economically, youth are the most disadvantaged in Kenya. They are the most affected by unemployment. They do not own property and therefore cannot invest in viable business. A recent study on small scale farms found that they are mostly owned by the over 50 age group. Young farmers are frustrated by co-operative societies dominated by men well past their prime.

Socially, the youth feel isolated from national political discourse. Young people feel ignored even within families, within the community set up and in the church. Contrary to what the country’s politicians believe, having young leaders will not quieten the Mungiki phenomenon. It is the introduction and implementation of new ideas that will drive the country forward and help create opportunities for the youth.

Feelings of disempowerment and isolation make groups like Mungiki very attractive. Gangs create a sense of purpose and belonging that every human being craves. Mungiki provides a basic social net for its members, who regard themselves as one big family. It provides social grounding to a dispossessed and angry youth and helps them to comprehend the difficult circumstances they find themselves in.

Instead of the government devising a creative, inclusive and long-term solution, it attacks the millions of poor and excluded youth with guns, jail terms and torture. By doing so, the government is confirming what the poor believe about it: that it is a tool of oppression used by the rich to suppress the poor.

The solution to the Mungiki menace should come with the admission that there are serious social, economic and political problems in Kenya. Mungiki is not a problem confined only to the Kikuyu. Other communities in Kenya have their own gangs created by the same circumstances that led to the growth of Mungiki. The difference between Mungiki and gangs from other communities is simply the scale of organization. Mungiki has been around for longer and this has given it a head start.

The Kisii have gangs like Abachuma and Sungu Sungu. The Kamba have localized gangs around the Machakos area that have made life a living hell for the affluent. At the Kenyan Coast, disaffected youth are joining movements whose ultimate objective is to secede from the rest of Kenya. In Northern Kenya, youth are joining cattle rustling gangs, while North Eastern Kenya is providing recruits for militant groups fighting in Somalia.

Assuming the government wins the war on Mungiki, will it apply the same methods against other communities in Kenya? And what will be the consequences?

5 Responses

  1. […] is striking me as I read a posting on the excellent Nairobi Chronicle blog are the similarities between the Mau Mau and the Mungiki “sect” which has been […]

  2. Excellent reporting. I just wonder whether Kenyans are making the comparison between the Mau Mau and the Mungiki. It would seem a logical step to take.

    The other comparison which follows on from that maybe just as important – comparing the colonial state with the government of Mwai Kibaki. At the least the colonial state was partially reconstructed during decolonization. I wonder what Kenyans think about how it should be reformed?

  3. Thank you for the kind comments!

    Unfortunately, few Kenyans see the similarities between the Mungiki and the Mau Mau. The Kenyan ruling elite and the government have succeeded in isolating the Mungiki as
    a) a Kikuyu militia and
    b) a criminal gang.

    This has created fear for the Mungiki across Kenya and majority of Kenyans support the government executions of top Mungiki leaders. This means that the potential for Mungiki to become a mass national movement has effectively been curtailed. Even among the Kikuyu, opinion about the Mungiki is sharply divided.

    Kenyans are now fully aware about the oppression of the state but there is no agreement over how reforms should be done. The ruling classes have hijacked the idea of reforms to suit their own agendas without really changing the lives of the people. For example, there is an emphasis on political reforms, such as judiciary, constitution and the police because all these determine how politicians exercise power. However, there is no debate on economic reforms or labour reforms except in populist terms such as free land or increase in wages. Most of these populist demands by politicians are unrealistic and therefore unimplementable.

  4. It’s a terrible shame. I just hope that Kenyans continue to fight for the attention to shift to economic and social reforms.

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