Deadly gang that enjoys Government protection

They are untouchables and police deny their existence even though a day hardly passes without gang members committing chilling crimes. The gang has spilled blood enough to form a river with impunity and much more will be spilled as police watch, writes JOHN OYWA

They struck at dawn, just as the suspects were preparing for yet another day at a sleepy village in Nyamira County. It was a bloody attack. Moving from one home to another, they killed their victims in gangland style before setting their houses a blaze. Some were beheaded, others bludgeoned to death with metal bars.

Members of the public gather to view bodies of four men found beheaded at Nyasore along the Kisii-Kisumu road by Sungu Sungu gang. Below: The family of Siko Ogamba, one of the four victims, with his picture at their Bumburia home in Marani District, [PHOTOS/ THE UNDERWORLD TEAM/STANDARD]

By 11 am that fateful morning three years ago, 15 villagers, six of them elderly women, had been butchered in a spine-chilling orgy of violence. It was the deadliest attack in a long time by members of a shadowy, Sungu Sungu vigilante that has spilt blood, enough to form a river with impunity.

Just within a span of ten years, they have killed hundreds of people in Nyamira and Kisii counties and sent others into exile far away from home.

Their victims are often accused of crimes ranging from robberies, witchcraft and harbouring criminals and their names are normally submitted by a string of informers.

More than five years after the Government proscribed, it alongside other organised gangs and vigilantes, Sungu Sungu continues to break the law with impunity. They are untouchable and the police deny its presence even though a day hardly passes without its members committing a heinous crime.

While other outlawed terror groups such as Mungiki and Sabaot Lands Defence Force appear to be losing steam, Sungu Sungu is going full throttle.

It started as a community-policing group in 2002 but has now mutated into a terror outfit.

But who has given this illegal outfit the license to kill? Why are they still roaming the villages when vigilantes remain officially banned across the country? Who is funding and protecting this terror outfit?

The Underworld team infiltrated the group’s inner circle last and uncovered chilling details about its operations.

Two group members who spoke to The Underworld on condition that they are not named revealed for the first time the dark secrets of Kenya’s most dangerous vigilante.

One of them had been introduced by a civil society operative who had assured him that this writer was harmless.

Ruthless killers

"Yes, we are ruthless but we only kill criminals. We act to protect members of the public and we are proud of what we have done," said the stocky young man as we sat inside a food kiosk at the Kisii Municipal bus park.

"The Government is fully aware about our operations. Sometimes I laugh loudly when I hear security officials disowning us. We are not criminals and we have greatly helped restore law and order. We have succeeded where the police had failed," he said, his husky voice rising in anger.

He added: "Nyinyi watu wa gazeti, si muulize serikali kwa nini hawajatushika kama sisi ni majambazi? (Why haven’t you asked the government why they have not arrested us if we are criminals?)

He said the vigilante was so deeply rooted in the two counties that uprooting it would be a headache.

"We are devolved to the sub locations. We have a wide network of informers. But why should the Government try to interfere with a group that has helped it fight crime. Are they aware that many criminals have fled Kisii because of our operations?" he asked.

But our interview suddenly comes to an end after I asked him about their relationships with the police and politicians. Tuwachie tu hapo (Lets leave it there)," he says curtly.

However, in a conversation conducted at a dingy bar room in Kisii town, a senior Sungu Sungu member confirmed that theirs is a well-organised group that operates in the full knowledge of the Government.

Division of labour

He said the group is divided into departments with distinctive roles. "We have informers spread in all the villages. We also have investigators who ensure that those accused of crime are actually guilty. Then there are the executioners whose job is to kill the suspects," he explained.

The executioners are carefully selected and are headed by a butcher who has used a trademark giant panga to kill many people. However, the lead executioner was killed by colleagues after he allegedly defected to a rebel group. "We used his panga to finish him," said our source.

He adds: "We work closely with the provincial administration. If a suspicious person comes to stay in a neighbourhood, we monitor their movements and nab them if they are criminals," he says.

He says murder is the last resort for criminals who fail to heed several warnings.

"We don’t harm innocent people as our members conduct thorough investigations," he adds.

Suspects willing to reform are given conditions including giving confessions in chiefs’ barazas.

"There is nothing we do that police do not know. Police give us authority and they know if we have an operation. If a mission is risky where it involves an armed thug, two or three policemen accompany us for security. In most cases, they only come to collect bodies after we have finished our work," he adds.

Such missions, he explains, are done after careful planning and gathering of intelligence. Groups of up to 60 men are dispatched to nab hardcore criminals in the dead of the night.

He confirmed claims that many of the group members were being used in debt collection and to settle political scores.

Gang for hire

"It is true some small and medium financial institutions hire our members to help them recover loans. The trick is that when a Sungu Sungu member knocks at your door and asks you to repay your loan, you obviously know the consequences," he says.

Even the local civic authorities use the services of the illegal group to enforce some of its by-laws such as demolishing of illegal structures.

Politicians from the two Counties have kept a distance from the issue. "Our leaders are in a dilemma. They can’t publicly support the gang because they know it has been outlawed. They also can’t disown it in public because it is popular among some villagers and has helped them to execute certain political duties, including scaring off opponents.

An MP who spoke on condition of anonymity described the vigilante issue as ‘very delicate’ and asked the media to handle it with care. He did not elaborate.