By BEATRICE WAMUYU
Mungiki which started in the 1990s as a religion has evolved into a horrifying outfit responsible for cold blooded executions across the nation.
With its brutal manner of operation, Mungiki has come to symbolise gang violence in Kenya. Since it first appeared as a religious sect advocating for the rights of the poor in the 1990s, it has evolved into one of the most feared underground outfits in the country.
Killings started in the late 1990s and reached a crescendo at the turn of the century. The cold blooded execution of 20 people in Nakuru on January 6, 2003, which followed the killing of another 27 in Kariobangi, Nairobi, marked a turning point in how Kenyans viewed the sect. Its true nature was unfolding.
Although some other gangs had existed before, Mungiki’s cold blooded killings, which included sawing of people’s heads, captured the attention of the nation.
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On that night in Nakuru, Mungiki members descended on residents of Kimathi and Flamingo estates. Creeping in the shadows, they broke into homes and started attacking people indiscriminately. By the time the violent orgy was over, 15 people lay dead, cut with axes, pangas and other crude weapons. Another 20 had critical injuries. Police later confirmed five more deaths.
It was claimed Mungiki members were avenging the death of a colleague. In the ensuing animosity, several other people died as Mungiki members and matatu gangs fought over control of the business.
Days later, the arrest of three suspects who confessed to the killings offered the first glimpse into how the gang operated. Before being hauled to court, they explained the motive of the murders at a press conference.
Local OCPD Joel Lang’at said police had recovered a homemade gun, rungus, knives, horns, clothes and records of the Mungiki sect and their platoons. The names of the platoons were Exodus, Bee, Lion, Mwirogo, Egypt, Nyamarutu, Cheetah, Elephant and Clock. Each platoon had 10 members.
“By producing the suspects to give their side of the story we are showing we are doing our work in a transparent manner. We have managed to apprehend the suspects due to support from members of the public who are entitled to know what we are doing,” Mr Lang’at said. It was clearly a publicity coup for the police, long accused of carrying out shoddy investigations or simply standing aside as criminals terrorised people.
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“It was resolved that we travel to Nakuru where we were to join other members mobilised from Njoro, Nyahururu and Bahati for a meeting, before attacking the two estates, where residents helped the touts to kill our colleagues”, one suspect with a blood-stained shirt said. He belonged to the “Elephant” group. About 50 sect members had attended the meeting in which they were told to prepare themselves and proceed to Nakuru Town for further instructions.
“Upon arrival in the town we met our other colleagues from Njoro and Langa Langa estates, and divided ourselves into groups of ten and then walked to the estates”, he said. They were instructed to kill all the men in the houses and spare women and children. Some were assigned to keep watch while others broke doors and slaughtered the residents.
“I was in a group assigned to hack people to death. I slashed one man in the nape forcing him to fall down before my colleague finished him off,” the suspect said. He added that he was arrested by the police who rushed to the scene as he and his colleagues were fleeing towards Free Area.
The limping suspect was 18-years-old. He claimed he joined the sect after completing primary school. He was introduced to the gang by one Mr Kimani. What followed was initiation in form of an oath . It involved stripping naked, smearing his body with oil and circling a fire several times. Kenyans recoiled in horror.
“After the ceremony I was mandated to spread the sect’s message and propagate its ideals to other people. But I’m yet to undergo all the required rituals,” he said. The suspect was arrested at Sita Centre, in Free Area.
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An exercise book containing the budgetary allocation was recovered. The group had drawn up a budget to purchase a generator worth Sh60, 000. They also intended to purchase 200 sheep and 10 cows.
However, arrests and killings of young men suspected to be members have failed to stop the sect.
Two weeks after the murders, Police Spokesman Mwangi King’ori said that at least 1,000 suspected members of Mungiki had been questioned. A total of 350 were already in custody. The arrests angered sect leaders.
Maina Njenga, the self-confessed leader who now claims to have seen the light, protested the arrests. He claimed police were covering up their inefficiency. “Mungiki does not advocate violence and criminals should be dealt with according to the law. The people who caused chaos in Nakuru are members of the Flamingo Boys, a gang loyal to local politicians,” he claimed.
Mungiki had long been accused of working for politicians.
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“What could be Mungiki be fighting for? We wanted a good government and we have one,” he said, referring to the election of President Kibaki in the 2002 polls. Like other Kenyans, we are hopeful that it will deliver on its promises,” he said.
Ten years and several massacres later, Mungiki is still in operation.