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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Another national power blackout

Kenya was plunged into a power blackout Sunday morning barely six months after the previous national outage highlighted the derelict state of electricity supply.

The Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) blamed the national blackout on a breakdown at major transmission substation at Juja Road, east of the capital.

The Sunday outage caught many by surprise, as Christians were preparing to attend church services.

Frequent power blackouts are a hallmark of the state of Kenya’s power generation and distribution facilities, most of which were constructed in the 1970s and 80s. Increasing demand for power from a growing population has placed a strain on Kenya’s aging infrastructure.

Daily power outages are a common occurrence that have frustrated economic development in Kenya. A typical enterprise will experience at least two outages per day with high probability of blown computers and other equipment, resulting in heavy losses.

Inspite of the poor quality of supply, Kenyans are paying possibly the highest electricity tariffs in the world. In June this year, KPLC announced a price increase of 20% but consumers put the increase at more than 50% based on the bills they receive. KPLC says the higher-than-expected increase in electricity tariffs is due to high oil prices emanating from the use of oil-powered generators.

As a consequence of threats from manufacturers to relocate their operations from Kenya, Acting Finance Minister John Michuki last week announced a reduction in taxes for oil products. This, according to Michuki, should help reduce electricity costs and thereby save thousands of jobs.

Read about the May 2008 national blackout >>

Price controls will cause shortages

The Kenyan government’s threat to impose price controls on fuel could create shortages and make life worse for its people.

Faced with rising prices, declining agricultural production and a weakening currency, authorities in Kenya are eager to calm a restive population recently scarred by ethnic violence.

Analysts warn against price controls in an economy liberalized 14 years ago. “Market forces are the most efficient price determinant for goods and services,” says an economics lecturer at the University of Nairobi, “because governments often cannot act quickly enough to raise or lower prices depending on demand and supply.”

It is feared that spiraling inflation caused by rising commodity prices could undermine a fragile peace between supporters of President Mwai Kibaki and those of Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

This week, the coalition cabinet discussed the rising prices and their impact on the economy. During the weekend, the Prime Minister promised that the government would tackle high food prices but fell short of mentioning specific steps. Raila was addressing his constituents in the Kibera slum, Africa’s largest.

Meanwhile, acting Finance Minister John Michuki has promised to take tough measures against oil companies for not heeding a government ‘directive’ to lower fuel prices by Shs10 (US$0.133) a litre. Michuki accuses oil companies of greed, a charge widely repeated by Kenya’s media.

As international crude prices hit a high of US$147 by mid this year, petrol prices surpassed Kshs105 (US$1.4) a litre. Now, international crude prices have settled at below $100 a barrel but fuel prices locally have reduced marginally. Most stations are retailing petrol at about Kshs99 ($1.32) per litre.

Multinational oil companies say they are being condemned unheard. Intense competition in the sector has reduced profit margins to just a few cents for every litre of fuel. “Kenyans think that oil companies are making huge margins, which is not true,” explains the University of Nairobi lecturer.

Oil companies say they are yet to clear old stocks bought when international crude prices were still high. Besides, the weakening of the Kenya shilling is cancelling out any savings made from reductions in international oil prices. In the past month alone, the Kenyan currency has suffered 15% devaluation against the dollar.

Harsh taxation measures imposed by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) to curb oil smuggling have placed a heavy toll on prices. KRA demands payment of oil taxes before the product is released for sale, a measure that forces oil companies to borrow amidst a worldwide credit crunch.

Meanwhile, taxes take up almost half the retail price of fuel in Kenya. The state has been urged to cut down expenditure in order to ease the burden on the Kenyan consumer. However, with a giant cabinet of 42, there are no prospects of tax cuts any time soon.

High fuel prices have had a domino effect on electricity tariffs, which have risen over 100% since June 2008. Manufacturers have threatened to relocate their plants lamenting that Kenya’s energy costs are among the highest in the world in spite of erratic power supplies. Businesses must operate fuel-powered standby generators which further drives up the energy bill. Already, hundreds if not thousands of jobs have been lost as industries cut production to a bare minimum.

If the government imposes price controls on fuel and other essential commodities, suppliers will not be willing to sell at a loss and severe shortages will arise – Zimbabwe style. A black market will emerge with the phrase ‘consumer-exploitation’ assuming a sinister meaning altogether.

Black markets are not subjected to quality standards and are controlled by criminal gangs. Shops and supermarkets will be empty as the Mungiki, Taliban and others have a field day smuggling essential commodities through the back streets. Kenyans will waste many hours queuing for items that should normally be readily available.

Such is the harsh reality should the government re-introduce price controls.

Co-op Bank plans IPO despite objections

In spite of consumer inflation driven by rising oil and food prices, the Co-operative Bank will go ahead with its initial public offering (IPO) at the Nairobi Stock Exchange.

There are fears that the IPO will be undersubscribed. Investor disappointment caused by the near-fiasco of the Safaricom IPO earlier this year is still fresh, and could dampen demand for Co-op Bank shares.

The IPO’s lead sponsoring broker has warned against the venture at a time of worldwide economic uncertainty and inflation. Mr James Wanguyu of Standard Investment Bank was quoted last week as calling for the IPO to be postponed till next year. However, Mr Wanguyu has since changed his mind to support the IPO.

Acting Minister for Finance, John Michuki, has also dismissed calls for a postponement of the Co-op Bank IPO.

The Co-operative Bank of Kenya, Kenya’s fourth largest, hopes to raise Kshs10 billion (US$136,900,000). According to a press statement, the money will finance the bank’s mortgage products, information and communication technology infrastructure and expansion of the branch network.

Back in 2006 the KenGen IPO made history by attracting the largest number of individual investors ever seen in the history of the Nairobi Stock Exchange. Economic fundamentals were different back then, with 6% economic growth, a stable political environment, a boom in consumer spending and billions of shillings in remittances from the diaspora.

Today, consumers are hit by inflation rates of close to 30% due to rising prices for fuel, electricity and food. Post election violence after the December 2007 polls has greatly reduced confidence in the economy whose growth rate this year is expected to fall below 4% at best.

Hundreds of thousands of families, which had invested in previous IPOs, were rendered destitute in the violence as farms and property were looted. Political infighting within the ruling elite hasn’t done much to restore investor confidence in the Kenyan economy.

Gloomy economic forecasts have resulted in job cuts among Kenyan industries. Companies are complaining of reduced consumer demand coupled with higher energy prices. Cuts in electricity and water supplies have added to a worsening of the country’s economic situation.

Economic uncertainties, mostly in the United States, have greatly affected the flow of remittances by Kenyans living overseas. Quite a number of them have already lost their jobs. Unlike previous share offerings, Co-op Bank’s IPO is unlikely to attract much interest from the diaspora.

The fiasco that was the Safaricom IPO tarnished the reputation of the Nairobi Stock Exchange. Apparently, planners at the stock exchange, Capital Markets Authority and the Central Depository had greatly under-estimated the logistics of having so many shares introduced at once. Safaricom shares, by themselves, currently constitute almost a third of all shares at the Nairobi Stock Exchange.

To start with, few people got the actual shares they had applied for. Many ended up with so little that their allocations became meaningless as far as investment is concerned. Cash refunds took too long to process; in some cases individual investors waited months to get back their money. There were allegations that brokers were trading with the cash, hence delays with the refund cheques. It was further claimed that the Central Bank of Kenya issued instructions that refund money be released slowly in order to prevent a crash of the Kenyan currency.

And because of the huge number of Safaricom shares, the share price did not shoot up as expected. Indeed, Safaricom shares are currently trading more or less around the IPO price of Kshs5 (US$0.068) a share. The result has been tangible disillusionment among the mass of retail investors.

Co-op bank hopes that its improved performance after a loss-making streak will attract ordinary Kenyans. Furthermore, Co-op is placing huge bets on an enthusiastic response from the co-operative society sector, which is the bank’s core business. Co-op says it has put in place an automated IPO processing infrastructure that will enable it make refunds within a short time.

Co-operative Bank made a profit of Kshs1.7 billion (US$23 million) for the last financial year ending 30th June 2008 and has a target of Shs3.3 billion ($45 million) for the current year.

Police death squads exposed in Mungiki war

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.

Michuki rules did not work

An upsurge in road accidents in Kenya has led to calls for the return of John Michuki to the Ministry of Transport. Motoring analysts however say that the Michuki rules did not work because they merely focused on punishing bus and matatu operators.

Public service vehicles on a Kenyan highway

Public service vehicles on a Kenyan highway

Scores of people have died on Kenyan roads in recent weeks. Most of the accidents involve minibus taxis, popularly referred to as matatus. Other accidents involve long distance buses and trucks plying the roads between the port city of Mombasa and the interior.

Deaths from road accidents may surpass the 3,000 fatalities a year mark that was the norm before the Michuki rules of 2004. The rules were introduced by Kangema legislator, John Michuki, who was the Transport Minister at the time. The Michuki rules forced all commercial vehicle owners to install speed governors set at 80 kilometres per hour. On city roads, the speed limit was enforced at 50 kilometres per hour.

Carrying of standing passengers in city buses was banned. Meanwhile, the passenger capacity of matatus was reduced from 18 passengers to 13. In addition, crews of buses and matatus had to be vetted by police and receive a Certificate of Good Conduct before getting employment. Ex-convicts and school dropouts were immediately locked out of public transport business.

Michuki made it mandatory for bus and matatu crews to be in uniform and to have their pictures posted in the vehicle. So tough were the rules that matatu conductors could be jailed for rudeness!

After the rules were introduced in February 2004, there was an immediate reduction in road accidents and Kenyans felt that a new era of road safety had set in. However, the shortlived success of the Michuki rules came at a price.

Fares rose by at least 50% as bus and matatu operators raised money for speed governors, seatbelts and uniforms. Public transport operators were subjected stringent inspections and this, inevitably, added to operating expenses. At the same time, the reduction in carrying capacity meant lower income per trip, amidst rising costs occasioned by a tattered road network. In certain routes, fares almost doubled.

At least a third of public transport vehicles went out of business as owners could not afford the rapid implementation sought by the Michuki rules. Others decided to venture into school transport and car-hire business whose operations were not subjected to police harassment.

“In effect, what the Michuki rules did was to reduce the number of vehicles on the road while reducing the number of passengers in each vehicle,” explains a motoring analyst. “The immediate increase in fares forced people to cut down on travelling, meaning that each passenger was exposed to a lower risk.”

“Lets say, for example, that 5% of vehicles will be involved in an accident. What happened after February 2004 was that you had fewer vehicles, each vehicle carrying fewer passengers, and each passenger travelling less often. Therefore, even if the percentage rate of accidents was the same as before, the actual figures would be lower. That is to say, 5% of 30,000 vehicles will produce a lower figure than 5% of 40,000 vehicles.”

“This is what happened with the Michuki rules and Kenyans believed that the accident rate had gone down, which was not the case.”

By 2005, the high fares in the public transport industry had attracted massive private-sector investment. There was a sharp increase in the numbers of new public transport vehicles. Intense competition forced operators to reduce prices. By 2006, public transport fares were down to pre-2004 levels. Passengers began travelling more often.

With more vehicles on the road, and each passenger travelling more frequently, the actual road accident figures began rising.

Motoring analysts say that road accidents in Kenya are caused by a poor driving culture, badly designed and neglected roads and poor enforcement of existing traffic laws. Kenyan police are notorious for demanding bribes from motorists.

As matatu operators often say, why bother maintaining your vehicle when its cheaper to bribe the cops?

Constitution reforms not a priority

A new survey reveals that 89% of Kenyans don’t care about reforming the constitution, but want the government to address poverty, insecurity and healthcare.

With rising food and energy prices, majority of Kenyans are more concerned with inflation than with a constitutional process seen as the preserve of politicians. Security emerged as a major concern for a country traumatized by political and ethnic clashes that left over 1,000 dead and half a million homeless. Land reforms featured consistently among poll responses.

The findings were released by Gallup International, a respected polling organization.

According to Gallup, only 9% of respondents feel that constitutional reforms are a priority. Apart from concerns about the economy, health care and security, Kenyans are anxious about the state of infrastructure in the country. Road rehabilitation has been slow as water and electricity shortages bite harder.

The findings were a big disappointment to civil rights activists and politicians, who have been lobbying for constitutional reforms since the early 1990s. Non-governmental organizations, politicians, lawyers and religious leaders – all backed by foreign diplomats – have persistently driven the view that a new constitution is the only path towards a wealthy society. The findings of the Gallup poll will question the legitimacy of these groups.

This is not the first survey showing Kenyans’ disregard for constitutional issues. Last December, just before the elections, another survey revealed that Kenyans want jobs, medicines in public hospitals, clean water and safe roads.

In spite of the rhetoric by politicians that Kenyans “want” constitutional reforms, the ordinary man and woman on the street is not fooled. Kenyans know that this obsession with changing the constitution has more to do with the trappings of power than it has to do with making a better country. A good example is the so-called Bomas Draft that some political parties want to implement.

If the Bomas Draft becomes a reality, every politician in Kenya will have a job thanks to multiple layers of government. There will be government at village level, locational level, the district, province and right to the national level. There will be mini-parliaments for the provinces and districts. Each layer of government will levy its own taxes. According to the Bomas Draft, retired politicians will be accommodated in some form of national council of elders.

There is little mention in the Bomas Draft of expanding economic production in order to provide jobs, food and housing to the growing population.

Political meddling in Kenya’s constitution has resulted in numerous amendments since independence. Most of these were designed to deal with a prevailing political threat. For instance, in 1966, President Jomo Kenyatta’s administration introduced an amendment that forced Members of Parliament who dissented with their political parties to face fresh elections. This amendment was targeted at Kenyatta’s critics, such as opposition leader Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

In 1992, Kenya’s second president, Daniel arap Moi, amended the constitution to make his Kenya African National Union (KANU) the only legal political party. The amendment was removed in 1991 after international pressure.

Throughout the 1990s, President Moi’s opponents wanted the constitution changed in order to give themselves a better chance of winning. After the 1997 elections, the opposition began lobbying for the creation of a Prime Minister’s position after realizing that removing Moi from the presidency was impossible. Moi resisted their calls for a new constitution saying that the opposition was not sincere.

In 2002, Moi agreed to have a National Constitution Conference at the Bomas of Kenya. However, he made the conference so big that failure was a guarantee. The Bomas conference had over 600 delegates with all 222 Members of Parliament included. It was the largest constitutional conference in the history of the world.

Just before the conference completed its work, Moi dissolved parliament in readiness for the 2002 General Election. With most of the delegates being politicians, the Bomas conference was postponed in order to give them time to campaign. Mwai Kibaki won the elections and was sworn into office on December 30th, 2002 promising the enactment of the Bomas constitution within 6 months. That was not to happen.

Kibaki had made a political alliance with Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and others based on the enactment of a new constitution. Raila was promised the position of executive prime minister. In the first few months of 2003, Raila and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) continually reminded Kibaki of his pledge to change the constitution and make Raila a prime minister.

John Michuki, a Kibaki ally, dropped the bombshell. Michuki announced that the purpose of constitutional reforms had all along been to remove Moi and KANU from power. Since these objectives had been achieved, it was no longer necessary to reform the constitution.  Raila and LDP were outraged, and his alliance with President Kibaki came to an end.

In 2005, Kibaki wrote another draft giving the prime minister much less powers. Raila and LDP campaigned hard against Kibaki’s draft constitution and it was defeated in a national referendum held in November 2005. Since then, no further progress has been made in enacting a new constitution.

Gallup’s recent poll demonstrates that ordinary Kenyans clearly understand the intention behind constitutional review. With Kenyans being the most educated Africans, most realize that it takes much more than a constitution to create a better society. Constitutions do not build roads, power lines, hospitals and schools. All these are day-to-day responsibilities of a government.

The orgy of self-destruction seen this year was not driven by the current constitution. If anything, our present constitution criminalizes murder, rape, arson, looting and incitement. The present constitution, which has guided the country for 45 years, gives every Kenyan citizen the right to work, live and own property anywhere within our borders. The current constitution recognizes the rights of all racial groups in Kenya, that is, Africans, Caucasians, Hindus and Arabs.

As it was noted after the post elections violence, Kenyans need to re-examine the way they conduct politics. If people can kill and steal under the current constitution, why should they obey a new constitution?

Kenyans are suffering from a political class that is nurturing the values of impunity, racism, ethnic hatred, sexism and hereditary politics. It is unthinkable in the 21st century that politicians want a constitution that violates the rights of specific racial and ethnic groups. If such a constitution were enacted, life in Kenya will not get better. It will only get worse.