State authority collapsed during poll chaos

A report by Kenya’s official human rights body highlights the extent to which state authority collapsed as ethnic clashes raged following disputed elections last December.

A group of armed policemen were seen looting a shopping centre under the command of a police inspector.

Chiefs on government payroll led gangs of youth in an orgy of killing. Well-known politicians attended meetings to lay strategies for death and destruction. Business people availed free use of matatus, trucks, land and machinery for training and logistical operations. Funds drives were held to import weapons from Somalia and Ethiopia.

While police in the towns of Kisumu and Nairobi used desperate tactics to assert government authority, commanders in the rural areas abandoned their stations and took sides with their ethnic groups. A senior police officer in one of the worst hit areas told victims of clashes to take care of themselves.

The revelations are contained in a report released last month by the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights. Due to the ongoing Waki Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence, the press has been barred from mentioning the names of those linked to ethnic clashes. The Nairobi Chronicle has obtained a copy of the explosive report, which is freely circulating on the Internet. However, we are unable to publish names for fear of legal and other consequences.

Since release of the report, several politicians implicated in the violence have cited their innocence. Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Agriculture Minister William Ruto, Tourism Minister Najib Balala, Higher Education Minister Sally Kosgei and Heritage Minister William ole Ntimama have denied organizing and funding the clashes.

In an interesting twist of events, three of the top politicians named in the report have since died. One was murdered by a policeman while the other two died in an accident. Its not clear whether the unnatural circumstances of their deaths have anything to do with the political and ethnic clashes.

By March this year, close to 1,000 people were dead and half a million rendered homeless. International mediation efforts resulted in a coalition government that has presided over a tense peace. Many of the displaced are still in camps due to continued threats. A few thousand have settled in Uganda.

The KNCHR report unveils a financial angle to the violence. Youth were paid between Shs400 to Shs500 (US$5.8 – $7.3) a day for their “services.” The monetary inducement is obviously appealing due to widespread poverty and high rates of unemployment in Kenya. There was a monetary scale of payment depending on the ethnicity of the victim: even in death, certain tribes attracted greater wrath than others.

Eyewitness accounts reveal that there existed a logistical and financial chain between politicians in Nairobi and youth on the ground. Mobile phones were used to issue orders and to confirm implementation.

Entire ethnic groups rose up against their perceived rivals and politicians played a key role in mobilization. Its possible that majority of ordinary people were not initially inclined to violence. However, there were threats of death for those refusing to participate. Indeed, many who resisted the call to arms had their property destroyed. This happened in all sides to the conflict.

Serving and retired security officers trained militia groups at the behest of politicians. In several instances, the use of firearms by civilian combatants was recorded. Its not clear how these militias obtained guns. Bridges were destroyed using explosive material. The KNCHR report has confirmed claims that top politicians plotted on importing heavy weapons from Ethiopia and Somalia.

There has been a lot of debate over whether the post election violence was planned. It may well be true that the early violence was a spontaneous reaction to a botched election. However, once the violence began, it assumed a life of its own and became a monster.

People felt that the Kenyan government had stopped existing. The security structure, the civil service, all of it collapsed. There was no government to protect the people.

Trade, transport and agriculture stopped functioning. Vast swathes of land were cut-off from the outside world. Chaos reigned as food and fuel supplies ran out. Nobody knew what was happening in the next district, let alone the rest of the country. Every man had to do whatever was necessary to defend families and property. That explains why ordinary citizens went to extraordinary lengths to donate their time, energy, money and other resources.

Amidst all these, the politicians were comfortably placed in Nairobi, issuing orders from the comfort of their plush residences. When asked to stop, they adamantly refused. By the end of January, newly elected Members of Parliament started earning hundreds of thousands in salaries as the countryside lay in ruin. It may just be possible that some of that cash was channeled into financing more chaos.

Has Kenya learnt anything from events of the past nine months? Only time will tell.


Police killings continue in Mungiki war

As Kenya’s police maintain a policy of targeted assassinations in its war against Mungiki, the mutilated bodies of abducted victims continue to be uncovered in forests and morgues around Nairobi.

According to the Daily Nation, a bus driver whose arrest was filmed by the paper’s staff has been found dead. Mr Peter Maina Wachira was found strangled alongside his tout Peter Mwangi less than 24 hours after they were arrested at the Muthurwa bus terminus in Nairobi.

Records at Nairobi’s City Mortuary show the two bodies were delivered in a police vehicle and booked as those of, “unknown persons.” Further investigations by the Daily Nation led reporters to a settlement near Ngong town. Apparently, the bodies were found by children as they walked to school one morning.

The police admit arresting the two men but deny involvement in their deaths. Polices spokesman, Eric Kiraithe, said relatives of the men could institute an inquest by making a formal request to the police.

According to human rights organizations, close to 1,000 young men have been tortured, killed and dumped in bushes by the Kenya Police for alleged involvement with the Mungiki sect. Police say the use of force is justified because they are fighting an illegal, criminal organization.

The Mungiki, popular with disillusioned young people from the Kikuyu ethnic group, calls for a return to traditional African culture. It despises Christianity as a colonial religion. In the slums of Kenya’s cities and in rural squatter settlements, Mungiki has grown by providing casual jobs, protection, housing and other social services. Since it began in the mid 1980s, the group’s membership is now estimated at the lower millions. It has become a formidable political and quasi-militia force that has drawn the wrath of the State security machinery.

Kenya’s government declared war against the group in mid 2007. Since then, dozens of police and government administrators have been killed by suspected Mungiki. On its part, the Kenyan police have been accused of abducting and killing thousands of youths. Many other young people have simply been made to disappear.

The Kenya Police force, however, faces little condemnation for its actions. Because Mungiki is largely drawn from the Kikuyu ethnic group, inter-ethnic rivalry in Kenya means that the rest of Kenya has no sympathy for the suffering of Kikuyu youth.

Mungiki’s leader, Maina Njenga, is serving a five year jail term on weapons and drugs charges. Mr Maina says the police falsified the charges against him. Earlier this year, his wife, Virginia Nyakio, was abducted, raped and beheaded by persons believed to be working for the security services. Mr Njenga has vowed not to allow the funeral of his murdered wife until the government drops all charges against him.

Mungiki decry killings, rally banned

The Mungiki have decried the continued killings of their members as a Saturday prayer rally in Nairobi was banned by Kenya’s police.

The outlawed sect claims that at least a dozen of its people abducted by police in Eldoret within the past month were later found dead at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. In Nairobi, Mungiki has accused police of using unmarked vehicles to abduct its youth, most of whose bodies were collected from woodlands outside the capital city.

In Eldoret, which has a predominantly Kalenjin ethnic composition, the abductions and killings of Mungiki members has assumed an ethnic dimension. Mungiki draws its membership from the Kikuyu ethnic group.

The killings of Mungiki have drawn national churches into a peace initiative aimed at bringing the Mungiki  and Kenya’s government to the negotiating table. The Mungiki peace initiative is organized by leaders from the Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and other churches, concerned at the government’s “War on Mungiki.”

As part of the initiative, a prayer meeting was called at Uhuru Park on Saturday, 7th June. Police yesterday announced that Mungiki could not be allowed to hold a public rally in the city since it is a criminal organization.

The Kenyan Police continually deny allegations of involvement in the horrific killings of Mungiki members. The Police attribute the deaths to internecine conflict between rival factions within Mungiki. Kenya’s Police Commissioner, Major-General Mohammed Hussein Ali, recently said that his force, “does not participate in criminal activities.”

However, Major-Gen Ali has vowed to continue the “War on Mungiki” because a 2002 ban on the movement is still in force.

Kibaki, Raila clash on amnesty

Kenya’s President and Prime Minister clashed in public yesterday over whether to prosecute perpetrators of ethnic clashes that left 1,500 dead and 350,000 homeless.

Youths armed with crude weapons during political and ethnic clashes in Kenya. Picture by AFP.

Youths armed with crude weapons during political and ethnic clashes in Kenya. Picture by AFP.

During a speech marking the 45th anniversary of self government, President Mwai Kibaki said that individuals arrested for engaging or facilitating the clashes will have to face justice. “Those found guilty of rape, arson and murder will go to jail,” said President Kibaki, “only a mad person can allow such people to go free.”

On his part, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, said that the formation of a coalition government indicates that Kenyans should accommodate and forgive each other. “Let us forget what happened during the violence. The government will find a solution for the young men charged with crimes during the clashes,” says the Prime Minister. Last week, Prime Minister Odinga said the youth should be released. “How can you arrest someone for fighting for what they believe is right?” the Prime Minister had asked during a luncheon with the Law Society of Kenya.

The Kenya Police say they have about 5,000 individual cases related to the violence that rocked Kenya early this year. A disputed general election in December 2007 unleashed inter-ethnic rivalries and resentments that were fueled by high unemployment and endemic corruption within Kenya’s ruling class.

At the national level, the violence pitted ethnic groups supporting President Mwai Kibaki with those supporting Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Both of them were presidential contenders in the December polls.

President Kibaki of the PNU party was seeking a second term in office. He got most votes from his Kikuyu ethnic group and from the Meru, Embu, Kamba, Kisii and Bukusu.

Raila Odinga of the ODM party, got votes from his Luo tribe, the Kalenjin, Luhya and coastal groups. The Kalenjin and coastal communities resent the Kikuyu for dominating commercial activities in Kenya. The Kikuyu constitute close to 22% of Kenya’s population, making them the single largest ethnic group.

Prior to elections, ethnically provocative campaigns had raised tension in the country. The ODM said that Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe had an unfair advantage over access to government jobs and other resources. Tension boiled over during the elections with ODM youths mounting roadblocks to flush out Kikuyu from vehicles within Western Kenya. In the three months after the December 27 elections, least 1,000 Kikuyu, Kisii and Kamba settlers were killed in ODM strongholds in the western part of the country. Hundreds of thousands of others were evicted from their homes and forced into squalid camps. ODM supporters confiscated farms and buildings, renaming them in several cases.

The Kikuyu also launched their own reprisal killings within the Kikuyu ethnic strongholds around Mt Kenya, Naivasha and Nakuru. At least 100 Luo, Kalenjin and Luhya were killed, leading to fears of a Rwanda-like genocide in Kenya.

International peace efforts led by Koffi Annan resulted in a coalition government in April, with Kibaki remaining as president and Raila getting the premiership. Raila’s supporters view those arrested over the violence as heroes of democracy. “If it wasn’t for our youths, we would not be having this coalition government,” says William Ruto, an ODM minister, “we should be grateful to them for fighting against a rigged election.”

Kibaki’s supporters say the violence was ethnic cleansing in disguise and that its perpetrators should be charged with murder, arson, rape and assault. “If we release the youth charged with violence, I may as well open up Kenya’s jails and release every one who’s committed a crime,” says Justice Minister, Martha Karua.

Outlawed Sect in fresh threats

An outlawed political and religious sect engaged in nationwide riots across Kenya today, creating tension in the country in the midst of popular discontent with the country’s leadership.

Members of the Mungiki sect were protesting the gory murder of the wife to their jailed chairman. The riots in Nairobi, Naivasha, Nakuru, Eldoret and parts of the Central Province began as early as 5am, catching commuters by surprise. The main highway linking Nairobi to Western Kenya and Uganda was blocked at Naivasha. Parts of a railway line at Dandora, east of Nairobi, were vandalized by irate mobs. By mid-morning, police had shot dead at least 15 youths in various towns for participating in the riots. Several others were placed under arrest.

Mrs Virginia Maina’s decapitated body was found dumped in the Aberdare forest on the 10th of April along that of her driver. Mrs Maina was wife to Mungiki national chairman, Maina Njenga who is serving a jail term for activities related to the group. Mrs Maina and her driver were carjacked in Nairobi two days earlier. Most observers believe the killings were executed by persons allied to state security forces. The East African Standard reports of evidence that Mrs Maina had been gang-raped in circumstances surrounding her murder.

In the past year, the Kenya Police is accused of having abducted and secretly killed at least 500 people it claims were members of Mungiki. The bodies are usually found dumped in forests, hands tied and with obvious signs of torture. Police have denied involvement in the murders, saying the killings were a result of conflict within the Mungiki.

The Mungiki is a quasi religious-political and cultural organization drawing its membership from disaffected youth mostly from the Kikuyu ethnic group. It advocates a return to traditional African values to combat what it calls the moral decadence of Westernization. Sociologists say that groups like Mungiki become very appealing to youths faced with rapid globalization, massive inequalities, unemployment, poverty and state oppression, all of which are present in Kenya in various degrees. Groups like the Mafia of Italy have similar roots with the Mungiki of Kenya.

With a membership estimated in the lower millions, the Kenya government’s tactics of targeted assassination against the Mungiki will probably fail to crush the group. The riots of today indicate that without dealing with poverty, inequality and state brutality, groups like Mungiki can only gain more recruits and further weaken the credibility of the state in an already fragile nation.