Kenya, a country in the East African region has recently been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The post-election violence of 2007-2008 that pitted supporters of the two leading political parties against each other almost brought the country to its knees and it saw the emergence of vigilante groups all around the country. However, Mungiki, the largest of these vigilante groups which also happens to be the most revered has been in existence for over 20 years. The word Mungiki means ‘a multitude’ in the Kikuyu language- a local dialect spoken by members of one of the tribes in the country. Initially, the group was founded as a resistance movement to protect the Kikuyu speakers from attacks by another local tribe; the Maasai. The group was modeled on the Mau Mau fighters who fought the British rule for the country’s independence in the 1940s-1960s (Wanderi 2008). Later, the group gradually moved into the capital city, Nairobi, and exerted dominance in the public service transport sector. Over the years the movement has mutated into a political-religious organization associated with ritual killings alongside inter-ethnic violence. As a result members of the group have been banned in the country. This paper seeks to illustrate why military intervention is necessary to help disband this movement. Failure to employ military intervention may see Kenya experiencing rebel terror similar to what is happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Somalia.
Kenya’s cultures and norms
Kenya is a cosmopolitan nation comprising 42 indigenous tribes each traditionally occupying a particular region of the country. For instance, the Kikuyu, the largest tribe inhabit the central part of the country while the Luhya and Luo, the second and third largest tribes respectively occupy the western region. Over the years, members of each tribe have strived to maintain autonomy by marrying within the tribe. However, with modernity and urbanization, many inter-marriages have been witnessed. The country’s constitution also accords everybody the right to buy and settle on land anywhere within the country irrespective of the language that they speak. It is this movement of people to inhabit areas outside their ancestral lands that hhavesparked animosity among tribes with some individuals seeing it as an encroachment onto their birth-right. This conflict has resulted in the rise of vigilante groups, like the Mungiki, which are formed ostensibly to protect the land from ‘outsiders’ and later turn against the very people they had set out to defend.
Mungiki’s leadership and political influence
When the Mungiki, spread its influence from the central province of Kenya into the capital city, Nairobi, it attracted an immediate following from the unemployed youth of the Kikuyu-speaking population. Induction into the sect comes with an oath whereby individuals swear to categorically respect the leaders of the group. With a following of up to five hundred thousand countrywide by the late 1990s (Gettleman, 2007), politicians saw the Mungiki as an easy way of getting votes since all they had to do was get on good terms with the top leaders of the group. Consequently, the group received a lot of funding from the political class, a factor that has led to a rise in the numbers of Mungiki adherents to the current five million members. Most recently,
the sect’s chairman converted to Christianity and claimed to break the group. However, even without a clear le,ader the Mungiki has continued racketeering and extortion activities especially in the public transport industry(Childress, 2008). In parts of the central province where the group originated, the members have resorted to demanding a daily ‘tax’ from residents on any business venture.
Goals and objectives of the persons involved
As a move,ment the ideals of the Mungiki appeal to a very large population because they provide individuals with easy ways of earning a living notwithstanding the illegality of these ways. As a result, the group’s following continues to grow on a daily basis. The ability to take care of their daily expenses and the wish to acquire power have been the prime motivators of the sect’s members, factors that can be seen to drive any outlawed movement including the Russian Mafia and the Italian Cosa Nostra.
The politicians who fund the Mungiki have one clear agenda; political domination and acquisition of wealth. The country’s third president, Mwai Kibaki, who comes from the Kikuyu-speaking tribe, first won the presidency in 2002 with the support of most Kenyans who had grown tired of the dictatorial rule of his predecessor, Daniel Moi. He however ran for the second term under unfavorable conditions receiving support primarily from members of his tribe. The majority of the other large tribes amalgamated together with an aim of ousting him out of power. In order to avoid the embarrassment that would have come with losing an election while in office, the president’s cronies succumbed to funding the Mungiki to instill fear on the electorate in major urban areas. This method was also used by other politicians allied to Kibaki’s Party of Nation Unity (PNU) whose parliamentary seats were under threat.
Friction and convergence
Maina Njenga, the founder of the Mungiki, has claimed that when he started the group, he had noble intentions in mind. The quasi-religious movement was started to protect the land of the Kikuyus as well as to protect the traditional African religious practice from extinction. He was very successful judging from the number of followers he had by the time he was in his mid-twenties. Having created an intricate leadership network within the group, Maina failed to come up with a framework that would determine what activities members of his group could take part in and methods for punishing errant members. Even when the sect members were gradually turning into crime, he failed to offer leadership by deterring them from illegal activities, presumably because he was receiving over 10,000 dollars monthly as upkeep money contributed by nationwidewide membership. As a result, when Maina decided to convert to Christianity and disband the group, he achieved little or no success because by then the members had formed deep-rooted dominance, especially in the crime world. Therefore even without a clear leader, it will take a lot of effort from the country to get rid of the movement.
The political class that supported the Mungiki in a bid to retain leadership of the country made the mistake of not coming up with a strategy to get rid of the ill effects of the group once they got into office. The Mungiki supported the politicians and did their dirty jobs in the hope that the politicians would get them jobs and better livelihoods. The politicians however, once in office were expected to work towards the broader good of the country. Therefore, if any jobs were to be created, they had to be allocated fairly to all members of the country irrespective of how they voted. As a result, the Mungiki felt betrayed and became even more vicious in their extortion. At the moment, the organization has an unprecedented control over the public transport industry, collecting upwards of 30% of the profits from the industry on a daily basis. The group has also been accused of unleashing terror to farmers in rural areas who cannot sell any of their produce without parting with a decent share of their earnings. The politicians therefore succeeded in increasing the influence of the illegal group thereby earning them political offices but failed miserably in ensuring that the illegal domineering of the sect was curtailed after the elections.
Most of the Movement’s members joined the group in a bid to have better livelihoods for them and their families (Wanderi 2008). They initially thought that they were coming into a faction that would push for the government to consider the agenda of the poor. However, when they realized that the politicians were not going to listen to them after the elections, they resorted to pass their message to the government through criminal activities including random acts of murder and coercion. The ideals on which the movement was initially founded were ignored and the adherents turned against their own kin; sometimes killing and maiming them. All this time, the politicians just chose to ignore the group which some of them had helped sustain and only made rhetoric statements from the comfort of their offices once innocent people had lost lives. In the end the movement’s members forgot the major reason for the formation of the group and it has now been converted into a safe haven for individuals who wish to take part in criminal activities.
It has been established that the Mungiki sect is a national threat to the security of Kenya. If allowed to continue with its activities, it may encourage other vigilante groups to form around the country. The political class contributed heavily to the proliferation of the movement in the country but has so far done little or nothing to deal with the criminal activities that the gang has come to be known for. The leader of the sect having come in the open and declared the movement disbanded has not done much either to ensure that his followers agree to break away from the group. Consequently, it is only military intervention that can appropriately help in properly breaking this criminal gang. The customary international law which proposes the raison de etre should be used when deploying military forces to the Mungiki strongholds. The military intelligence will study the major reasons for the growth of the movement and then peacefully disarm the group. Areas of dominance by the group’s members such as the public transport sector should be manned by military personnel who will address the issue of getting the gangs out of the bus termini using little if any force. The military intervention should then be maintained for as long as possible to ensure that this movement does not re-establish and that its members have found something else to do.
Childress, S. (2008). Kenyan gang revives amidst political disarray. Wall Street Journal. p. A12.
Gettleman. J. (2007). Might drink your blood but otherwise not bad guys. New York times. Web.
Wanderi, C. (2008) Mungiki: Legitimate or Criminal? The African executive. Web.