Militarisation of politics in Mount Kenya and the Mungiki question

Some of the 297 youths arrested over alleged links to the outlawed Mungiki sect. They were each released on a Sh10,000 bail. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

The heightened political activities in Mt. Kenya have put the region in an electioneering mood, leading to the militarization of politics and the emergence of groups of militant youth.

This development has fuelled speculation and confusion about whether the dreaded outlawed Mungiki sect has been resurrected.

During the New Year’s Eve at the Jesus Christ Compassion Ministries in Ruiru, a group of rowdy youth booed former MPs Jude Njomo (Kiambu Town), Peter Mwathi (Limuru), and Jubilee party Deputy Secretary-General in charge of Operations Pauline Njoroge, who represented their party leader Uhuru Kenyatta.

In what seemed like a well-choreographed strategy to deny those with dissenting voices a platform, the youth placed themselves in the church, waiting to obstruct the former legislators from addressing the congregants.

The former President had addressed the church days earlier after donating Sh1 million and had promised to join them in a church service. During the fateful day, there was word on the street that he would join them in the celebration of New Year’s Eve.

“It is the height of cowardice to use youth to boo people with different opinions; it shows the level of intolerance in the Kenya Kwanza government,” Mwathi said.

On the Mungiki question, questions have emerged about the government’s claims on the resurgence of the illegal sect, with political and security pundits reading a different script from the government.

Government officials seem to disagree on whether or not the illegal sect is back, while Opposition leaders from the Mt. Kenya region claim it is a strategy aimed at profiling the youth and inciting other communities against the Agikuyu community.

On December 2, during the funeral of Maigo Waweru, the father of Nyandarua Senator John Methu, Kenya Kwanza leaders differed on the existence of the illegal sect in front of President William Ruto and his Deputy Rigathi Gachagua.

Ndaragwa MP George Gachagua said there was no resurgence of the sect in the region, registering concerns that the profiling would harm the youth.

“Your Excellencies, there is no resurgence of the illegal sect at all, but jobless youth who need money in their pockets,” he said.

But other leaders led by Laikipia Senator John Kinyua refuted MP Gachagua’s assertions, saying the sect was in existence and called on the security agencies to initiate a crackdown.

Senator John Kinyua. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

On his part, the Deputy President vowed to put his political career on the line in his fight against the revival of the group.

“If there is any political price to pay to protect women and our young girls, if I will lose votes as a result of the fight against the illegal sect, let it happen. I urge our youth to desist from being used to extort money from our public service vehicles and to take them to an individual,” Gachagua said at the burial.

On Thursday, Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua dismissed the claims and asked the government to stop profiling Mt. Kenya youths as members of the outlawed gang.

“The President and his Deputy have called our youth a Mungiki gang. I want to remind him that these are the same youth who voted for him, and he used to call them hustlers,” she said.

The absence of security agencies in the fight against the revival of a deadly sect that maimed and wreaked havoc among women and entrepreneurs in the Mt. Kenya region, and their silence on the matter, has raised concerns among security strategists and governance experts.

According to Prof Peter Kagwanja, who has authored in-depth articles on Mungiki like “Facing Mt Kenya” or “Facing Mecca,” “Power to Uhuru,” among others, dismisses the talk on the resurgence of the outlawed sect.

He instead describes the political activities in Mt. Kenya as a clash of leadership on the kingship succession game plan.

While Kagwanja opines that the Mungiki factor has been there in past election game plans, he says the issue is not a factor in the electioneering period. What is going on is the intolerance of disgruntled jobless youth who feel cheated by the Kenya Kwanza administration, he says.

“What is happening is the mobilisation of support from the youth by different camps for the purpose of seeking legitimacy to be the kingpin. Those in the Opposition are disgruntled, while those in the government are using state power to advance their narrative,” Kagwanja said.

He added that the Mt. Kenya region is witnessing a repeat of what happened in 1978 after the death of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, a move that led to the division of Mt. Kenya leaders and gave birth to the Kiambu Mafia narrative.

“Kenyatta’s sudden death did not anticipate the succession game plan, and this saw the rise of camps such as Mwai Kibaki, Charles Njonjo, and Kihika Kimani Peter Njenga factions. But this time, the war is even bigger because Uhuru, who is retired, did not hand over the community leadership mantle stick (muthigi),” he added.

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. [File, Standard]

He warned that the political dealings of the matter and the claims that there was a resurgence of the group would give blanket condemnation to the youth.

“The criminalisation of the youth will work against the region and will leave our community in bad light in the eyes of other communities,” he added.

On his part, political expert Prof. Gitile Naituli said there has never been a media report on the members of the community crying foul on the resurgence of the illegal sect, raising doubts about the speculations by the government.

This comes as 297 suspected Mungiki sect members, arrested over the weekend, were arraigned before a Nyeri court.

The accused persons, charged with being members of an illegal sect, pleaded not guilty and were each released on a bond of Sh10,000.

Their lawyer, Ndegwa Njiru, told the courts that the accused were victims of a political witch-hunt orchestrated by a senior political leader in the Mount Kenya region.

The Mungiki question comes at a time when former Mungiki leader Maina Njenga launched the Kikuyu Men Conference (KMC) two months ago, which he said would bring all the Kikuyu leaders together, including Uhuru and Gachagua.