More killings feared as Kibaki vows new Mungiki war

President Mwai Kibaki has vowed to crack down on the Mungiki sect even as torture and disappearances undermine ongoing government efforts of eradicating the sect.

The President is enraged by the killings of at least 10 people in his parliamentary constituency. The dead are believed to have been executed by Mungiki adherents, who are known for demanding protection fees from retail business, land owners and transport operators across Central Kenya, Nairobi and parts of the Rift Valley.

Since June 2007, at least 600 youths have been killed for alleged involvement with Mungiki. Scores of others have simply vanished after they were arrested.

Survivors and civil society accuse the Kenya Police for the deaths and disappearances, a claim the police Commissioner has denied several times. However, former internal security minister, John Michuki, was quoted last year saying that funerals of Mungiki youth would become a common occurence.

Mungiki is an underground movement among the Kikuyu ethnic group, drawing its membership from youths in squatter settlements and urban slums. The group advocates a return to Kikuyu traditional customs saying that modernity has failed to ease human suffering.

Mungiki leader, Maina Njenga, is serving a jail sentence for drugs and weapons possession but the sect describes the charges as a fabrication meant to curtail its activities.

Njenga began Mungiki in the mid 1980s in the Rift Valley province. His movement grew in numbers in the 1990s following clashes inflicted on the Kikuyu by forces loyal to President Daniel arap Moi.

The 1990s were a period of rapid economic liberalization in Kenya coupled with globalization, resulting in massive unemployment coupled with the loss of societal values. Rising crime and crumbling state authority added to the difficulties.

Within the shanties of the Kikuyu homeland and the capital city Nairobi, Mungiki restored order and provided basic social services in exchange for protection fees by households and businesses. By the early 2000s, Mungiki membership was estimated at over 1 million.

Since then, the Kenyan government has worried over the motives of Mungiki and sees the sect as a threat. Sections of the government are convinced that Mungiki’s goal is to capture power through its political wing, the Kenya National Youth Alliance.

Mungiki is not a movement of angels either. Dozens of people have been killed by the sect for either exposing the group’s secrets or refusing to pay protection fees. Mungiki does not allow revocation of membership and recruitment procedures are rather nasty.

Whereas President Moi kept the group in check through negotiation, his successor President Mwai Kibaki has pursued a hardline stance. Ironically, Kibaki is also a Kikuyu whereas Moi was not.

Being a phenomenon of the underclass, Mungiki does not enjoy the complete loyalty of the Kikuyu. Majority of upper and middle class Kikuyu support Kibaki’s crackdown against Mungiki, leading many social commentators to draw similarities with the Mau Mau war of the 1950s. Like Mungiki, Mau Mau drew its membership from the poor whereas the educated Kikuyu working for the colonial government opposed it.

Incidentally, John Michuki, the man who predicted Mungiki funerals in 2007 worked as a colonial administrator in the 1950s where he was tough against Mau Mau. Its worth noting that Mungiki draws its inspiration from the Mau Mau rebellion.

The rest of Kenya’s ethnic groups fear Mungiki and support the government’s campaign despite the violations of human rights. With Mungiki’s membership being exclusively Kikuyu, the rest of Kenya’s tribes see the group as an ethnic militia championing Kikuyu interests.

Consequently, there has been little condemnation of the government from the rest of the population. However, this apathy may change as the Kenyan government spreads its tactics to other parts of Kenya.

Security operations in Mount Elgon and the Somali border have been marred by similar allegations of torture, death and disappearances. It may seem as though the Kenyan government is adopting tactics last seen in Latin America back in the 1970s.

Perhaps, Kenyan leaders and security chiefs should familiarize themselves with ongoing legal procedures in Latin America. More than 30 years after the era of leftist groups and right wing paramilitaries (usually backed by military governments), trials are currently underway for those responsible for the disappearances.

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Torture in Mt Elgon confirmed by newspaper photo

As the Kenya Army denies torturing civilians in Mt Elgon, a photo published in the Standard daily is one of the first documents proving that the allegations are true.

An army officer stands guard as a group of people swim in the mud in Mt Elgon. They do not appear like they are doing it willingly though. Picture by the Standard newspaper.

An army officer stands guard as a group of people swim in the mud in Mt Elgon. They do not appear like they are doing it willingly though. Picture by the Standard newspaper.

Mandera people flee Army torture

In an ironical tragedy, residents of the Kenyan border town of Mandera are seeking safety in war-ravaged Somalia as a military operation by Kenya’s government is marred by rape, torture and looting.

An army officer told the Mandera chief, “Your authority is now under my feet.”

Discontent is brewing in Mandera as hospitals over-flow with victims of torture. Matters became worse last week when the government arrested former Mandera Central Member of Parliament, Billow Kerrow, for criticizing the security operation. Mr Kerrow was released today as protests grew.

Government civil servants have not been spared in the operation, which the Army says is meant to mop up illegal firearms. Citizen Television reports that five chiefs are in hospital with severe injuries inflicted during interrogation.

One of the chiefs on television says that he was stripped of his uniform by a military officer who then stomped on it on the sand. According to the middle-aged chief, his tormentor laughed at him and said, “Sasa mamlaka ya chief iko chini ya miguu yangu,” which means, “Now, the authority of the chief is under my feet.” As a result, the Kenyan government risks weakening its own structures in a region notorious for lawlessness.

The latest conflict in Mandera began a few weeks ago when rival Somali clans began fighting over land and politics. The area is inhabited by the Somali ethnic group, most of whom have relatives in the Republic of Somalia just across the border.

As fighting worsened, militias from Somalia intervened on behalf of their kinsfolk. Concerns arose within Kenya’s security forces that some of those Somali militias have links to Islamist insurgents in Somalia, currently doing battle with Ethiopian troops. These worries pushed the military to launch an operation in Mandera but its highly possible that the Somali militias had long left the area, leaving civilians to bear the brunt of the operation.

The Mandera operation is the second time this year Kenya’s Army is facing claims of brutality. At the opposite side of the country, in Mount Elgon, the Army has been implicated in the disappearances of hundreds and the torture of thousands in a campaign against the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF). Some people were brutalized so badly that they will be maimed for life.

However, unlike Mandera, the residents of Mount Elgon have defended the military’s actions. For two years, the SLDF had inflicted terrible torture on its victims.

Because of the Mount Elgon operation, international and local human rights organizations asked the United Nations to bar Kenya’s military from peace keeping operations. At the time, the United Nations did not make a statement regarding the Kenya Army.

If the Mandera operation continues for much longer and with clear evidence of human rights violations, the United Nations may no longer continue turning a blind eye.

Report discredits Mount Elgon abuse claims

Kenya’s internal security minister released a report clearing law enforcement and military officials of abuse allegations in the country’s Mount Elgon District.

The results of the police investigation were made public by Internal Security minister Professor George Saitoti. “The government does not condone torture and, in any case, the joint forces were strictly directed to operate within the rule of law,” Prof Saitoti said.

The investigation threw out claims by human rights groups that police and military officials raped and tortured locals while on a mission to remove Sabaot Land Defense Forces from the Mount Elgon region.

Full story on United Press.

Mt Elgon MP got SLDF backing

A report on human rights abuses in Mt Elgon reveals that area Member of Parliament, Fred Kapondi, won the seat after rivals were threatened with death by the Sabaot Land Defence Force. However, Mr Kapondi’s electoral tactics were not unique. The report adds that in the past 15 years, all legislators from the constituency have used armed militias to get to parliament.

Mt Elgon. Its slopes have been witness to horrific torture and killings. Picture by BMS-Travellers

Mt Elgon. Its slopes have been witness to horrific torture and killings. Picture by BMS-Travellers

The report, released this week by Human Rights Watch graphically describes acts of torture committed by the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) and Kenya’s security forces. In a sense, the people of Mt Elgon are under attack from the two protagonists.

Virtually all males over the age of 10 have been targetted, either for recruitment by the SLDF or for interrogation by the Kenya Army and Police. “Mt. Elgon is a mountain of women, all the men have gone,” lamented a widow who found her husband’s body at the Webuye mortuary, two weeks after he was abducted by the army.

Here are excerpts of the report by Human Rights watch, with damning evidence against Mr Kapondi:

Wilberforce Kisiero, the MP for the former ruling party KANU between 1982 and 1997 was widely cited as one of the proponents of violence in the district. He was implicated in the state sponsored clashes of 1991-93, and named in the Akiwumi report, the parliamentary investigation into the political violence of the 1990s.

John Serut, the MP from 2002 to 2007, and Fred Kapondi, the current MP elected in 2007, were accused by local residents and human rights organizations of working to recruit, train, and finance militia who intimidated opponents in the 1997, 2002, and 2007 elections.

Having initially worked together (Kapondi was formerly KANU party chairman in the district), by the time of the 2007 General Elections, Serut and Kapondi had fallen out, according to residents. After that, the SLDF began to target supporters of Serut, including Serut himself. An area chief explained that because Serut supported the Chepyuk III settlement scheme against the wishes of most within the SLDF, Kapondi got a chance to run the boys, and this gave him the political powerbase he needed to win the election.

A neighbor of Kapondi told how he was repeatedly harassed by SLDF ‘boys’ who had a training camp on Kapondi’s land. Another chief described Kapondi leading a recruitment drive in his area for young men to join the SLDF in 2006. Kapondi was arrested in April 2007 and charged with robbery with violence in Webuye court, a non-bailable offense. He was nominated as the ODM candidate while in custody and acquitted on December 13, 2007, just days before the election.

Court officials told Human Rights Watch that the prosecution case collapsed when witnesses started disappearing and others changed their stories. Human rights activists described seeing the court packed with known SLDF militia during hearings.

Kapondi and others were also named in parliament by the then MP, John Serut, who accused them of fueling the clashes. But Serut himself, along with Kisiero and another former MP, Joseph Kimkung, were named by the government spokesman in a report seeking to identify the backers of the violence. Local residents say they have all been involved at various stages.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: It should be noted that former MP, John Serut, was implicated in a sexual harassment case at Parliament Buildings involving a female parliamentary staffer. This was just days after he was sworn into office early 2003.

More excerpts from Human Rights Watch:

Origins of the Mt Elgon land dispute:
Land disputes between two clans of the Sabaot tribe began in the 1920s. Colonial authorities forced these groups out of the Trans Nzoia area in order to pave way for white settlers. The Sabaot clans resettled in Mt Elgon forest at two locations: Chebyuk and Chepkitale.

In 1968, Chepkitale was declared a game reserve and its inhabitants forced out. Inhabitants evicted from Chepkitale complained, and in 1971 the government initiated a resettlement program for the displaced at the other location, Chepyuk. In effect, the government was trying to force the inhabitants of two villages into the area occupied by one. Moreover, the resettlement exercise was placed in the hands of area chiefs, local land officials, provincial administrators, councillors and members of parliament, many of whom were accused of corrupt practices in the allocation of land.

The Kenyan government evicted people originating from both areas from various locations that had been designated parts of the settlement scheme, and made a second attempt to allocate the land, known as Chepyuk II in 1989. This was equally controversial.

In 1993 the government of President Daniel arap Moi annulled the Chepyuk settlement scheme completely and ordered the creation of a third scheme, Chepyuk III. By now the population had increased even further. Because of controversy and complications, Phase three was never fully implemented and remained an apparently dormant issue throughout the 1990s.

After the 2005 referendum, the third phase was finally implemented but the exercise was marred by massive irregularities. This was a feature of the broader political conflict between the then sitting member of parliament for Mt. Elgon, John Serut, and his then protégé the future MP, Fred Kapondi.

What is the Sabaot Land Defence Force?

The SLDF is an armed group organized and funded by local politicians, although the actual politicians in control have changed over time. The SLDF is very similar in its activities to the majimboist groups that were armed by the state in 1991-92 and 1996-97 to drive out non-Kalenjin groups (mostly Luhya in Mt. Elgon) who were unlikely to vote for the ruling KANU party. This happened in Mt. Elgon, as well as across the Rift Valley and coastal provinces in the elections of 1992 and 1997.

The political objectives of the SLDF become clear when one looks at the pattern of attacks, the ethnicity and political affiliation of the victims, and the relationship between the timing of violence and the electoral cycle. Basically, the SLDF, as with many other armed groups in Kenya, has twin purposes, on the one hand land-related objectives, and on the other to further the political aims of certain local leaders.

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More of this report on the Human Rights Watch website.