Why Mungiki resurgence claims should be taken with a pinch of salt

Former Mungiki leader Maina Njenga outside Nakuru law courts on November 21, 2023. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Claims of Mungiki sect resurgence by some politicians are chilling. Such allegations hide more than they help to expose nefarious schemes of whatever groups alluded to. Couched in pro-people terms, the claim might sound benign.

Criminality in plotting ethno-militancy should be reported to the police for investigations before being discussed at press conferences. With its history of murder, slitting people’s throats, and extra-judicial executions, Mungiki remains a mystery and a factor of community polarisation in Central. It raises emotions, but unfortunately, this is precisely what politicians yearn for, and often want to ride on.

Much as nobody would support outlaws fashioned as a quasi-government of sorts, which coerces people to mutilate women’s genitals and pay tax, such statements are insensitive, and somewhat careless. They indicate covert political contestation, politicians’ fear of loss of advantage and anxiety over the unknown at a time of impending change.

Last week’s press conference by some leaders from Central might betray a hurried effort to brand one side criminal, and the other victim. In the process, the vocal politicians identify the source of security threat, define the insecurity and subsequent police operations are beholden to them. In the pretext of fighting ‘criminals’, they target their own political rivals. Security becomes a weapon for those in power to suppress rivals for self-preservation, in which case the State is no longer a reliable arbitrator.

This reduces the real meaning of insecurity, and the significance of the underlying inequities, and injustices in peace and security discourses. Yet the inequalities, in the first place, gave rise to grounds for Mungiki and other forms of pseudo-social protests to thrive. It is these conditions, such as the long-talked-about unfair land access and distribution, joblessness, marginalisation and displacement of families, that comprised the agenda of electing those MPs.

Archival records show that in 1958, Louis Leakey and Njenga Maina, on the instigation of the colonial government intelligence service created MOSKO, a group of State-backed outlaws to run parallel to the Mau Mau. The colonial government denied the socio-economic roots of the rising discontentment and had MOSKO operate as agent-provocateurs to cause discord within the Mau Mau in a bid to narrow down its cause to intra-ethnic strife as well as discredit it, and ultimately strangle the freedom struggle altogether. Mungiki is essentially a MOSKO mutation prompted by Kanu in the 1990s at the height of the agitation for multiparty politics to cause mayhem in the Opposition.

At the end of the day, Kenyans should be conscious of how politicians steal public attention from wider socio-economic difficulties and focus people’s gazes on the politico-religious constructs for self-preservation in power. The youth, previously described in flowery terms as ‘future leaders’, become political fodder. After mobilisation of youth into a formidable force to intimidate rivals in Mau Mau, in the 1990s multiparty crusade, and 2007/8 political violence over disputed elections, they returned home empty-handed. The snuff-sniffing youth, spotting deadlocks in the villages were branded criminals and gunned down by the police. 

If the women politicians from Central love their people as they claim, why are they not summoning their powers to prevail upon those behind it to stop testing the patience of the security agencies? Whose interest do they represent when they identify, and brand their own children Mungiki? Are they not aware of the broader socio-economic inequities that have since 1963 been intolerable, leading to intractable land disputes and killings now consuming families in Central? Does the solution to this grinding poverty, drug addiction and crime in Central lie in persecuting adherents of any particular sect? To what extent is Mungiki resurgence real or a political camouflage to eliminate political rivalry? 

Regardless of what politicians say, social protest is real, the reason hard questions must be asked: To what extent are elected leaders up to the task of rising to the occasion to be discerning enough and judiciously serve as reliable guardrails of social change and order in Central? Are they able to persuasively argue and shape our country into a secure environment by proposing relevant laws and policies for more equitable society rather than self-preservation?

Mr Irimu is a veteran journalist. [email protected]

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