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Sungu sungu vigilante group unleashes terror against its targets with ruthlessness and impunity

By | Updated Mon, November 22nd 2010 at 00:00 GMT +3

By ROBERT NYASATO

Doris Morara and her husband George Morara did not have reason to panic when two men knocked on their door and identified themselves as policemen recently.

But she sensed danger when, moments later, they broke into her house, brandishing machetes and flashlights.

They dragged her husband from bed at their home in Mosocho, Kisii County, and tied his hands to the back with ropes. The couple could tell the men were accompanied by scores of others since they consulted in hushed tones outside.

Residents of Suneka protest against the gang. [PHOTOS: ROBERT NYASATO/STANDARD]

"My husband demanded to know what they were up to, but they became hostile and slapped me as I pleaded with them to spare him," Doris recounts. The attackers took away her cell phone, and ordered her to remain quiet or face their wrath.

The gang, estimated to be about 100, drove away with Morara in two vehicles and motorbikes.

But before that, they unleashed a thorough beating to family members who responded to the commotion including Morara’s mother, Josephine Moraa and father, Cosmas Motuka, a retired policeman.

grisly scene

"We reported the matter at nearby Mosocho AP camp but they said they had called for reinforcement from Kisii since they did not have a vehicle," says Doris.

As they searched overnight for him in vain, nothing had prepared them for the grisly scene that awaited them the following morning.

The severely mutilated body of Doris’s husband and that of another man identified as Michael Ochwangi were found dumped by the roadside. The family was later to learn that the two were victims of the Sungu sungu, a self-styled vigilante group that unleashes terror upon residents.

"My son is a businessman. Even if he did any wrong, he should have been taken to a police station or court," says Morara’s mother.

Morara’s death is not an isolated incident. Sungu sungu, a criminal gang that sprung up about a decade ago, is synonymous with grisly murders, extortion and blackmail.

They operate like an underground government, charging illegal levies and taxes. They are a law stronger than the police whom residents have now lost faith in.

When the gang began its operations, it enjoyed the goodwill of the people as it filled a void left by police. They roamed the villages at night, providing security and deterring thieves.

But soon, with lack of police action in the way they dealt with criminals, they widened their activities to include killing of suspects.

Soon, locals were turning to them to collect debts on their behalf, guard farms and homes. But they would do this at a fee.

Residents feel many people targeted by the gangs are not criminals. If someone wants another eliminated over personal matters, all they do is allege criminality, and one’s enemy is killed within days.

When they hit at night, they never give reason for taking away suspects. Many a time, the bodies of the suspects are found the next day.

Residents say the gang often ties its victims’ hands to the back with ropes before chopping off their heads. Their victims’ dismembered bodies are usually found naked.

Relatives of lynched suspects are not allowed to mourn them loudly and are advised to bury their remains at the public cemetery in Kisii town. Lucky escapees who witnessed such killings say the gang members give suspects time to say their last prayers and force them to confess their involvement in crime before lynching them in cold blood.

On the same night they attacked Morara’s home, the gang raided the home of Lawrence Atota and dragged away one of his sons, Ochwangi.

They entered the compound at about 10pm armed with machetes.

When they took away Ochwangi, a boda boda taxi operator, they did not give a reason or accuse him of anything. "I think they are vigilantes operating in the area, but we could not identify them," says Atota.

dragged away

In its reign of terror, the gang’s threat appears to be growing. Convicted criminals who leave jail after serving their sentences are often grabbed from their homes as soon as they complete their sentences, and executed.

People believed to be accomplices in crime are killed after facing trial in kangaroo courts run by the gang. They are first forced to make confessions. As a result, scores of young men now on the gang’s wanted list have fled their homes.

Mr Zethras Nyamache says it is a matter of time before the gang goes for him. Although he escaped with his life, his experience at the hands of the gang was blood-curdling. Nyamache, a brick maker, says they dragged him from his house in the dead of night as his wife, Dorcas Kwamboka, watched helplessly.

"They demanded that I surrender a gun I allegedly kept in the house. They searched all over but found nothing," says Nyamache.

They took him away in a vehicle the same night Morara and Ochwangi were killed. To his horror, the two were murdered as he listened from a distance, where two gang members kept him under guard.

Nyamache says he later learnt from them that they had been hired to kill him over an unresolved family land row.

They set him free, but after locking him up in a secluded house in Suneka Town for a day. Several hours were also spent at Kisii Police Station, where he says his crime was not booked in the Occurrence Book.

I don’t bother to report to the police because that is where they took me. I don’t think I will get any help," he says.

While some residents say the gang has checked insecurity, others accuse it of being an execution squad.

Sungusungu in focus

• Founded in early 2002 by the local administration, political leaders and a few locals from Kisii

• Its members are mainly young men drawn from the Kisii community

• Founders of the gang accused the Government of failing to provide security

• The gang has been linked to a series of bloody executions in Suneka, Bonchari and the suburbs of Kisii town

• Crime suspects are attacked and killed at will, especially at night

• They have spread to almost all parts of Gusiiland

• They work in the name of community policing and their operations are only at night

• They also run courts at night to resolve cases involving domestic violence