Monday, February 4, 2008

Mungiki: the evil among us

Hello folks! I'm getting a lot of HATE COMMENTS on here. Like I said, if you don't like what I'm writing, please move on to the next blog. And for the "genius" who left a rabid response on the Lucy Kibaki "rumour", I hope you listened to Classic 105 at 1pm today: Imanyara was on air complaining about the beating he received from Lucy and has threatened legal action. I'll leave you with the words of this famous sage, who I'm sure will never return here again: "You should be ashamed of yourself for expressing such stupidity of hearsay at this time of national crisis." S/he must be laughing from the other side of their face. And now, to today's post...

As Kenya splits along ethnic lines and the body count spirals, desperate residents say they are turning to once-hated gangs for protection. And some say politicians are using gang members as militias.

One gang recruiter in Nairobi said she receives about 30 calls daily from people seeking membership, and politicians — including a government minister — are offering money for weapons to fuel the furore over the presidential election. At a camp for displaced families in Mathare, she led the crowd in a Kikuyu song before asking those whose homes were burned or looted whether they would consider joining the Mungiki gang. Much of the post-election violence has pitted the Kikuyu against other ethnic groups. "If we are many, we can go and chase those people," she explained, the ragged crowd staring at her designer sunglasses and gold high heels delicately poised above the mud. "This is the time to join us." Hands shot up around the circle.

The Mungiki began as a quasi-religious group dedicated to promoting Kikuyu culture in the 1980s and flourished during Uhuru Kenyatta's failed presidential bid in 2002. Other ethnic militias like the Taliban, the Sungu-Sungu and the Chinkororo, emerged in response, members say. The state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights says strong "circumstantial evidence" links the police to more than 450 execution-style murders of young men last year during a crackdown on the Mungiki. The police deny it. The crackdown ended two months before the December 27 election. The violence that followed has claimed over 850 lives.

"Why are we seeing Mungiki still harassing people here?" Raila Odinga said on Wednesday in Kibera. "Mungiki is the unofficial arm of the government. They are the ones who are being brought here because the government wants it to appear as if it was a civilian thing. So the police provide the cover." But police chief Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali says he is not aware of any gang mobilization within Nairobi. Slum residents accuse police of firing at random, killing innocent civilians, or simply refusing to come into the slums when the gangs prowl the alleyways at night. "The head officer said, 'Let them fight each other. We will come in the morning to pick up the bodies'," said a resident. He said he called police to report the murder of a Luo friend in the Mathare slum by a group of Kikuyus. "When they didn't come, we had to go out to protect ourselves," he said. The gang took to the streets armed with machetes, he said.

Several members of different gangs said rich businessmen were offering gangs about 1,000/= a day to protect their property. Politicians — mostly at the local or regional level — also offered cash to buy guns, the gang members said. "They (the politicians) are coming to search for us so we can fight," said a Mungiki member. Fake Mungiki gangs were being set up, he complained, to get the politicians' money. That echoed allegations from human rights and other groups that politicians were organizing the postelection violence, citing the long history of orchestrated political violence in Kenya.

Michael Peel, author of a report on gang-plagued Nigeria for British think tank Chatham House, said any alliance between gangs and politicians could spiral out of control. In Nigeria's oil-rich Delta region, gangs have evolved in a few years from stoned young men with flip flops and old rifles to masked militants with body armor and new rocket-propelled grenades. The money they got from politicians has bought them weapons and influence, human rights groups that follow Nigeria say. In Kenya, many previously law-abiding citizens say they have turned to the gangs because of the breakdown of law and order. Muthoni Mwaura, a Kikuyu woman in her 50s with arthritis so bad she can barely get out of bed, says the violence means Luo tenants in her six slum shacks refuse to pay rent. She cannot buy medicine or food for three orphans she cares for, she said. "They are not paying and I am hungry," she said. "Police demand money to protect you, but Mungiki just want you to join."

Gang membership comes with a price. As part of the initiation, the Mungiki demand that female members undergo ritual genital mutilation. A Mungiki woman in charge of the ritual in part of Mathare slum said she was cutting around five girls a week since the violence started; the whole of last year she cut fewer than 50. Sometimes girls had second thoughts, so she locked them in her house to prevent them from escaping, she said. Once initiated, it is difficult for men and women to leave the gang alive. Mungiki recruiters say they will kill anyone who tries to leave for fear they will betray gang secrets. There are no reliable estimates on the number of gang members.

Many Mungiki say they are not yet willing to fight for the government, because the gang is still nursing a grudge over last year's police crackdown. But they say they are loath to turn away new members and money for guns. Some say they have received word the gang will really begin its "work" in February. The Mungiki recruiter said the gang is stockpiling supplies, including food and weapons, for the coming battle.

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