Archive | April, 2013

Bosco Ntaganda: A New Twist to an Old Story

16 Apr

Bosco Ntaganda 2013

New York Times Pool photo by Peter Dejong, March, 2013

On the third Tuesday of March, 2013 former Congolese general Bosco Ntaganda 39, calmly introduced himself to the military personal guarding the gates of the American Embassy located in the capital city of Kigali, Rwanda then asked to be escorted to the office of the highest ranking U. S. official on duty that day where he surrendered himself over to the United States government to face the charges that had been leveled against him by the lead prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although neither the United States of America nor the country of Rwanda are participating members in the ICC, both countries assumed responsibility for his safety then arranged to have him flown to The Hague, Netherlands where he was immediately transferred over to a special security detail sent by the ICC as soon as he landed.

The question of the hour is why? Why would Bosco Ntaganda freely relinquish his freedom after years of flagrantly ignoring the indictments that had been leveled against him by the ICC during 2006 and again in 2012? The ICC had charged Ntaganda with crimes against humanity during his tenure as a commander in different Tutsi militias, specifically for his actions during the Second War in the Congo ( 2002-2003). The 2012 indictment charged him with murder, rape, pillaging, sexual slavery, and the conscription of child soldiers. Although to be fair, Ntaganda was not the first Congolese rebel leader to use children as soldiers.  Laurent Desire Kabila, father of the current president of the DR Congo, Joseph Kabila was the first to conscript child soldiers to fight in his revolution to overthrow the Congolese dictator Mobuto  and his “kadogos” played a crucial role in the battles that brought Kabila to Kinsasha finally placing him in the Presidential palace. These child troops led by the dynamic young leader, Anselme Masau helped make it possible for Kabila to declare himself President of the newly named  Democratic Republic of the Congo which had been previously called Zaire.

Ntaganda first distinguished himself as a master of terror while in the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo (FPLC) and again while in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) where as Chief of Military Operations he became famous for his methods used to recruit and keep child soldiers in these militias. He demonstrated a real talent for terrorizing villagers and making non-combatants submissive. His use of force in the form of rape, torture, and murder of innocent civilians was legendary during the Second War in the Congo and he was not above stealing their meager possessions in order to personally profit from their suffering. Ntaganda’s fellow militia commander Thomas Lubanga had already been found guilty by the ICC during his summer 2012 trial of conscripting child soldiers into his rebel army ( 2002-2003) and is currently serving an eight year prison sentence for this crime.

Rumors and speculation abound, some more plausible than others. Ntaganda had openly lived in Goma, a large Congolese city near the border between the DR Congo and Rwanda or on his farm in Maisisi, North Kivu since the Second War in the Congo had ended. There he enjoyed a life of leisure while cultivating an image as a warlord and demonstrated time and again that he was exceptionally good at making money. He owned shares in several illegal mining operations throughout  Ituri District and made vast sums of money  engaging in various, sorted extortion and illegal taxation schemes which eventually made him a very wealthy man- some say a millionaire in his own right. So why wouldn’t he have fled to cosmopolitan Johannesburg, South Africa where money can  purchase a great deal of anonymity or to Dubai where total exclusivity can be had for the right price? He seemed to have squirreled away enough money to ensure himself a life of luxury as an expatriate, so why didn’t he take the far easier route and run?

Well some say that the United States had placed a huge international bounty on his head making his chances of survival slim to none, thus giving him no choice but to turn himself in. Others say that the United States had put tremendous pressure on Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda and great friend to the United States Government, to cut all ties with Ntaganda even though he unofficially remained a soldier in the Rwandan army and never stopped carrying out Kagame’s orders. Others state that Joseph Kabila, President of the DR Congo after sheltering Ntaganda for years possibly because he did not want to alienate Rwanda announced in April of 2012 that he was considering arresting Ntaganda on the ICC’s charges but had considered trying him in the DR Congo instead of the Netherlands. And then there is M23, a Rwandan- supported rebel group operating in the Congo, who some say ousted Ntaganda from their ranks and swore to kill him if he returned with any of the 700 men still loyal to him.

This rebel movement composed of Congolese soldiers of the Tutsi ethnic group deserted their posts in April of 2012 and began fighting against the current president, Joseph Kabila and his government.  They have managed take over a good portion of Maisisi region from Goma to Sake from the Congolese Army and claim that their mission is to improve conditions for the citizens of the DR Congo by forcing Kabila to give into their demands but they seem to be doing this mainly for the people of the northeast region of the country namely the Tutsi who continue to face discrimination in North and South Kivu.

But this is an old story with basically the same cast of characters and some say that the present rebellion is no more than a continuation of the Second War in the Congo when the neighboring countries of Uganda and Rwanda entered the DR Congo illegally and refused to leave. There is irrefutable evidence that neither government ever departed the northeastern region of the Congo and that both continue to profit from illegally operated mines and the sale of conflict minerals. But for Rwanda, there is a much greater objective and that is the annihilation of the Hutu “Interahamwe”. Many claim that Laurent Kabila gave many of these Hutu extremists asylum in northeastern Congo after an estimated two million of them fled to surrounding countries once the Tutsi freedom fighters (RFP) had taken back the government of Rwanda in 1994. Rumors also attested to the fact that Kabila owed these Hutu militias for helping him oust Mobutu and assume the Presidency of the DR Congo. Rwanda who had also helped Kabila secure his position as president requested permission to enter the DR Congo to hunt down the Hutu rebels but although Rwandan soldiers did so for a time, they were subsequently denied permission to “cleanse the area of all “Interahamwe”. The descendants of these “Interahamwe” still exist in North and South Kivu and Paul Kagame will not rest until every last one of them has been killed. And so M23’s agenda is also the Rwandan agenda and even the United Nations has irrefutable evidence that Rwanda with Uganda’s help has been supporting the M23 Movement.

One only has to reread the history of Laurent Nkunda to understand how Rwanda has had and still has only two goals: it will not leave the Congo alone until the “Interahamwe” are destroyed for good and until the Tutsi have been properly accepted into Congolese society.

Nkunda began his career as a soldier by joining the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) helping to overthrown the Hutu government responsible for the Rwandan Genocide. Then he returned to the Congo and joined Laurent Kabila during the First War in the Congo (1996-1998)  helping him become President of the DR Congo.

By the Second War (200-2003) Nkunda had been promoted to major in the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) a Tutsi militia supported by Rwanda. By 2004 once the wars had ended, Nkunda had risen to the rank of general in the Congolese Army but soon resented his treatment and those of his fellow Tutsi serving in the ranks so he and his men deserted their posts in North Kivu District and fled into the rural areas of Masisi. This became known as the Kivu Conflict and Nkunda claimed that he had no choice but to defend the Tutsi residing in the region who were being murdered by the Hutu rebels living there as well

By August 2007, Nkunda controlled most of the territory in Masisi and Rutshuru and had formed his own Tutsi militia he called the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). Word on the street was that his militia was being financed by Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda.

By 2008, Nkunda advanced on Goma, a large city near the Rwandan- Congo border where he led his fighters against the Congolese army and United Nations troops. The recent fighting displaced around 200,000 civilians, bringing the total number of civilians uprooted by the Kivu Conflict to around 2 million diseased and starving residents of the northeast region of the Congo. Nkunda swore that he would not stop until President, Joseph Kabila accepted his commands.

Although Nkunda had been accused of crimes against humanity especially in his recruitment of child soldiers he firmly denied this allegation stating that he did not advocate the use of child soldiers and had sent them home when he had been given the opportunity to do so. And them something happened – it Joseph Kabila did not reach an agreement with Nkunda but had been negotiating with Paul Kagame instead. Kabila’s demand: If Nkunda was removed from the leadership of the CNDP then Rwandan soldiers would be allowed into the DRC to destroy the Hutu “Interahamwe”  once again”. Now a lot of people believed that Nkunda had only been following Kagame’s directives in the first place and after M23’s similar demands this seems very likely.

And then who took over the leadership of the CNDP but Bosco Ntaganda! Some accounts maintain that he usurped leadership of the militia but that was totally untrue.  The CNDP was a Rwandan militia through and though -supported and operated by the country of Rwanda. Both Nkunda and Ntaganda remained soldiers in the Rwandan Army and did only what Kagame  ordered.

Laurent Nkunda was arrested four years ago by the Rwandan Army in 2009 after he had crossed into Rwanda but he has yet to be charged with any crime by a Rwandan military court. He had been under secret house arrest since that day but many feel that he is free man in Rwanda and even acts as a military advisor to the President of Rwanda concerning DR Congo affairs. The Rwandan government has continually refused to hand over Nkunda to the Congolese courts even though the DR Congo had issued an international warrant for his arrest. The Rwandan government had substantiated the fact that Nkunda remained a Rwandan soldier by ruling in 2010 that Nkunda could only be tried by a military court. They gave the reason that this was because the military had been responsible for his apprehension but that claim would only be accepted by the court if he was considered to be a legitimate soldier in the Rwandan army in the first place.

But the plot continues to thicken. Who was it who also fought alongside Laurent Nkunda and Bosco Ntaganda during the North Kivu Conflict? Why it was Colonel Sultani Makenga also accused of having committed crimes against humanity by massacring 67civilians in Kiwandja, North Kivu during the Kivu Conflict. This is the same Colonel Sultani Makenga who  now leads of the M23 troops. And predictably he professes the  same concerns as Nkunda for the safety of the Tutsi in the Congo and is waging the same war against the  Hutu “Interahamwe” as Nkunda did. Now from where did he receive his marching orders and his money?

One thing is certain, at some point Ntaganda became an unavoidable embarrassment to Paul Kagame but has Rwanda deserted him for good? This remains to be seen but based on Rwanda’s treatment of Nkunda- maybe not? Is M23 against Ntaganda or is this all just an act in order to distance themselves from his despicable reputation- maybe so? Ntaganda entered the courtroom a humble man on the first day of his trial, the decorated officer now wore the reserved, black suit of a European gentleman- far from the boisterous warlord and brutal militia commander responsible for carrying out the heinous charges that had been leveled against him.

He was not asked to enter a plea on the first day of his trial but stated for the record anyways, “I was informed of the crimes but I am not guilty.”

When Judge Trendafileva asked him to state his profession, he answered, “I was a soldier in the Congo.” Maybe had he replied, “I was a Rwandan soldier operating under orders in the DR Congo .”- he might have come somewhat closer to the truth of the matter.

Kat Nickerson                       Kingston         R.I.                  USA


Mungiki Emerges: Part Two

8 Apr


Fifth, There was Mungiki, the international terrorists.  By 2007, Mungiki began to be labeled as an international terrorist group by members of the international and local press. Political reporters and bloggers began intimating that Mungiki was now being supported by Muslim extremists around East and Central Africa especially al Qaeda’s Somali terrorist connection- al-Shabaab. Word on the street was that the members of Mungiki had begun to embrace Islamic ideology and were slowly aligning themselves with al Qaeda and al-Shabaab cells currently operating within Nairobi. But although some members of Mungiki did begin to consider the ideology, the main group never converted to Islam and although some of its members flirted with the idea of becoming international terrorists the largest part of the group remained loyal to their Kikuyu roots. It was rumored that Mungiki had divided into two separate groups: those who wanted to align themselves with international terrorists and those who preferred to stay with Mania Njenga and remain a Kikuyu rights organization. Hundreds of Mungiki members were found dead in empty fields and ditches in the early morning hours around Nairobi. Mungiki leaders claimed that the Kenyan police were responsible for these murders and the police countered by blaming it on the infighting caused by the split in the organization.

From the spring of 2007 until well after the general election at the end of December 2007, Narobi was a virtual tinderbox ready to erupt into violence at the smallest provocation. By the summer of 2007 Mungiki and the Nairobi police had been engaged in constant, open warfare against one another for about two years within the slums of Nairobi and on the residential streets of the city itself. The use of automatic weapons on both sides placed Kenyan citizens in danger as innocent bystanders were caught in the crossfire and killed by the deluge of bullets spewed forth by both sides.

One thing was abundantly clear; someone had been supplying the Mungiki guerillas with: information about the police department’s movements, reliable, new, automatic weapons, and an endless supply of ammunition. How could a group of unemployed young men forced to live in the slums of Nairobi because of their lack of money continue to battle the well- equipped Nairobi police? How had Mungiki amassed the funds it took to fight the police on a regular basis and continue to supply their underground fighters? As most newspaper editorials and nightly television news reports declared at the time- someone or a group of “someones” had either been supplying Mungiki with the money or transporting the weapons and materials to them in order for them to continue waging these numerous violent, retaliatory strikes.

At the same time some known Mungiki members began to change their style of dress and modle their actions on young male, Ethiopian Rastafarians who were also prevalent in Nairobi at this time. Many of these young men had been born in the country of Ethiopia, the home of the Rastafari Movement and could be easily identified on the street by their rastas talk, dreadlocks, puffy knit caps in which they collected and held their long dreads, loose colorful shirts, reggae music, devotion to Bob Marley and his songs, and the use of weed Ganja.

For some reason members of Mungiki in 2007 began wearing dreads similar to members in the Rastrfari movement, talked “ Rasta”, stopped bathing or brushing their teeth daily, and snorted “snuff” rather than the traditional Ganga. Members who would talk about the reason for this new image brought up the fact that they had been made to keep themselves clean as an expectation of the British government back when Kenya was a British colony and that this had not been their natural state when they had existed as a Kikuyu nation. Their lack of acceptable hygiene caused both Kikuyu and non-Kikuyus alike to swear that they could “smell the secret sect members long before seeing them” but these practices did remain part of Mungiki culture for almost a full decade.

Now extorting money from the people of Kenya is an old practice because in some form or other all local and international businesses in Nairobi pay money to the Kenyan Police. The police in Kenya are brutal organization who were formally reprimanded by their own government for their use of excessive force and violence against the citizens of Kenya during and after the 2007 elections. Tourists from other countries who have who have turned to the police for assistance or directions usually get shaken down in return. Policemen are sent out by their station commanders to extort money from everyone, and I do mean everyone, especially during the night-time hours. The police are infamous for their inspection road blocks lined with spiked barriers that funnel all moving vehicles on the main roads of Kenya into their greedy, open arms. Many a night we were stopped by the Nairobi police on our drive to the airport to pick up volunteers for the orphanage who had were flying in from Europe and the United States only to be stopped by Nairobi policemen who discretely placed their rifles in our open car windows and would not let us pass until we slipped them about ten dollars US money in Kenyan shillings. It happened so frequently it became an expected, additional expense when traveling throughout Kenya.

But by 2006-2007 the Matatu and Taxi Cab drivers began complaining to the Nairobi police to whom they were paying exorbitant sums of protection money about the demands of Mungiki. A couple of the braver Matatu drivers went as far as to inform members of Mungiki that they refused to pay them protection money. Several of these men were immediately pulled from their buses and killed by Mungiki. Their bodies were hacked to pieces using pangas ( machetes) and their dismembered body parts strewn throughout village transportation centers around central Kenya. Mungiki did this to send a clear message to the other Matatu and Taxi cab drivers in and around the city letting them know that the police could not help them and if they did not pay up they would be murdered in a similar fashion.

The Kenyan police are as cruel a group of killers as Mungiki, only they have the law on their side. Under Kenyan law, police are not required to read anyone his/her rights and have been known to shoot Kenyan citizens in the back on the streets especially in slums like Mathare and Kibera if they even suspect them of committing a crime. I witnessed them do this during the summer of 2007 on several occasions. Then the body of the corpse is quickly heaved into the back of a police truck and off they go. Kenya’s law enforcement agencies and prisons are brutal places from which few survive.

Mungiki’s open defiance caused certain police authorities to become enraged at their actions and demand retribution. And because Mungiki had begun to interfere in their illegal extortion practices in and around the city, the Nairobi police began shooting anyone on sight who they suspected of extorting money from Taxi Cab or Matatu drivers on the main routes leading in and out of Nairobi. Every day during the summer daily newspapers ran headlines attesting to this violence and the retaliation from Mungiki- with the citizens of Kenya caught in the middle.

But Mungiki’s operations suddenly took a dramatic change as the general election drew near during the fall and winter of 2007. Now It seemed Mungiki were being protected by the Kenyan police as they lead  retaliatory attacks in Naivasha and Nakuru and Rift Valley and it has been alleged by former Prosecutor of the ICC, Luis Moreno Ocampo that Mungiki leaders had been brought to the president’s official residence in Nairobi, in order to plan these attacks. The presidential election held on December 2007 sparked another series of violent protests, demonstrations, and vigilante murders by pitting one tribe against the other. Many people were murdered, injured, or lost their homes in the fighting that continued on for months. The Nairobi police used brutal tactics in quelling these protests and many were publically censored and even reassigned to positions outside of Nairobi for their inhumane actions.  Many Kikuyu families in the Rift Valley are still living in displacement camps as of 2013. The incumbent president Mwai Kibaki won the election but the opposition candidate, Raila Odinga accused the government of fraud and rejected the election results. Finally after lengthy negotiations, a position was created for Odinga and he was declared the Prime Minister of Kenya.

By 2008 young men from the Kalenjin tribe from Rift Valley had openly engaged in conflict against the Kikuyu, especially in violent altercations with members of Mungiki living in and around the Rift and Central Provinces. Uhuru Kenyatta, Kikuyu politician and candidate for president during the 2002 elections has been charged by the International Criminal Court ( ICC) for organizing and funding Mungiki during the 2006 presidential and general elections to make retaliatory attacks upon the Kalenjin tribe. There are substantiated claims that Uhuru Kenyatta met with Mungiki leaders on several occasions during 2007-2008 to provide the group with the money and resources it needed to continue the riots and bloody violence throughout Naivasha and Nukuru and that he supported this violence well into the spring of 2008.

William Ruto a well-known Kalenjin politician has been also formally charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) with inciting the killings of Kikuyu farmers in central Kenya during the 2006- 2007 general and presidential elections. According to the noted American essayist, Charles Dudley Warner, “Politics makes strange bedfellows,”  and in this case no stranger than this new political alliance. Both Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruot ran on the same ticket during the recent March 2013 elections and won. These past enemies are now the current President and Vice President of the country of Kenya.

In 2010, then Prosecutor of the ICC Luis Moreno- Ocampo officially summoned six people: Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta Industrialization Minister, Henry Kosegey, Education Minister William Ruto, Cabinet Secretary Francis Muthaura, radio executive Joshua Arap Sang and former police commissioner Mohammed Hussein Ali.  Charges were eventually dismissed against Ali and Kosegey. The men were indicted by the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber II on 8 March 2011 and summoned to appear before the Court in the Hague, Netherlands. Some of the witnesses against Uhuru Kenyatta in this trial are former Mungiki members. Moreno- Ocampo, an Argentinean lawyer has since resigned from his post as Prosecutor for the ICC to assume a new position in the FIFA, World Soccer Organization making a lot of people around the world wonder just how important these indictments were to him in the first place.  

In court submissions made by ICC counsel Desiree Lurf, and based on a report compiled by a UN official, all of the Mungiki leaders who were placed in charge of the retaliatory attacks in Nakuru and Naivasha have been killed by the Kenyan secret police, to prevent them from implicating certain  government officials. The court was also informed that the weapons used by Mungiki in Nakuru and Naivasha had been shipped from Somalia but had been first transported to the presidential offices in Nairobi. It went on to mention that Mungiki had received additional shipments of guns as well as machetes in January of 2009 as the violence in Nairobi continued to escalate.

The prosecution claimed that the money was supplied by none other than Uhuru Kenyatta, Minister of Finance at the time and that Cabinet Secretary, Francis Muthaura ordered the Kenyan police not to interfere with “ Mungiki’s movements” in Naivasha and in Nakuru. Local Kikuyu MPs in the Central Provinces began recruiting young Kikuyu boys and men then transporting them to the sites of the attacks, paying  them to take part in the violence. Money was also paid to Mungiki leaders to ensure their cooperation in the assaults. Lurf also claimed that the National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) had provided specific information to Muthaura about the attacks well in advance but that he refused to act on this information.

Sixth, There is Mungiki, the Pentecostal Church

In 2009, while still in Naivasha prison for possession of drugs and a gun Mungiki leader Maina Njenga dissolved the Mungiki sect after converting to Christianity and was miraculously acquitted of those charges in April of the same year.  Then he was immediately rearrested for the murders of 29 people in the central Kenyan town of Karatina and began serving time in Kamiti maximum security prison. Incredibly these charges were dismissed against him too because the public prosecutor claimed there was not enough evidence to support the charge of murder.  So in October of 2009, Maina Njenga avoided punishment a second time causing the citizens of Kenya to wonder just how he had helped the Kenyan government to deserve such a handsome reward. But Maina was facing problems of his own after Mungiki spokesman David Gitau Njuguna had been shot dead in Nairobi and the Chairman and Treasurer of his Kenya National Youth Alliance were gunned down on the Nairobi – Naivasha highway. While in prison he had been befriended by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, but it was an uneasy relationship from the start even though Njenga publically supported Odinga for president in the March 2013 elections

 Once he had been released from prison he formed his own Pentecostal church called Hope International Ministries and established The Kenya National Youth Alliance (KNYA). He claimed that he was not longer a leader of the Mungiki organization only no one believed him. Njenga had always been popular with the young people of Central Kenya and his popularity continued to grow now that he was “out on the streets.” He had once stated that, “ he had millions of Kenyan youth with him- he just had to call them to him”. In was within this period that a second split in Mungiki seemed to occur with some of the original members joining Njenga in his new-found Christianity and the rest remaining loyal to the former Kikuyu sect.

Seventh , There is Mungiki, the Political Party

In June 2012, Maina Njenga took over the leadership of the Mkenya Solidarity Party which shows just how many of his followers were already in the organization causing the party’s founder, Gigi Kariuki to join Uhuru Kenyatta’s party, The National Alliance instead.

Mkenya Solidarity then began supporting the CORD alliance (Coalition of Reform and Democracy) led by Prime Minister Raila Odinga after Maina Njenga announced that he intended to run for president of Kenya in the 2013 elections but could not raise the campaign money he needed and changed his mind. He then decided to run for the position of senator representing Nairobi.

Interestingly enough, in the fall of 2012 Njenga claimed that he could assure Odinga over five million votes in the looming presidential election but that did not happen. He was not able to bring the former Prime Minister the crowds he had promised nor did he win his seat as senator representing Nairobi in the general elections. That could pose a serious problem in his next bid for a seat in the Kenyan government but he has done quite well for himself for a man who has just entered the political arena. He has a very strong base in potential young Kikuyu voters. The Kikuyu tribe makes up 22 % of Kenya’s voting population making them an influential political constituency and Central Kenya is one of the most unpredictable regions during election time. However, it remains to be seen whether or not the current Mungiki leadership can influence just how their supporters will vote.

Eighth, There is Mungiki, the International Criminals

 Mungiki Leader Maina Njenga has just been included in the list of Kenyan suspects indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Maina may not get off from this charge as easily as he evaded the others.

His name is listed in Criminal Charges against Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former Head of Public Service ambassador Francis Muthaura. The prosecutor also included the names of the other members of Mungiki who allegedlyworked with Uhuru and Muthaura in the planned attacks in Naivasha and Nakuru. Maina Njenga has been specifically identified as one of the top Mungiki leaders who was contacted and subsequently secured Mungiki’s services for the Party of National Unity (PNU) coalition. Mania Njenga was a recognized Mungiki leader during the 2007-08 post election violence where over 1000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes and villages. The ICC trial of Uhuru and Muthaura will begin at the Hague on April 10th, 2013.

Kat Nickerson                         Kingston, RI                            USA


The Mystery that is Mungiki: Part One

1 Apr

Mungiki Arrested by Police Photo: 2006, News de Francais, Kenya

Much speculation has occurred lately in newspaper articles and television news programs throughout Kenya beginning in the fall of 2012 up to late February,2013 especially in the capital city of Nairobi about the dreaded “Mungiki” and whether it would return to wreck havoc in the March 4th 2013 presidential and general elections.  Would this secret Kikuyu society disorganize the elections of 2013 the way members had in the December, 2007 elections by organizing violent riots, murdering members of opposing tribes, and openly defying the Nairobi police?

Thankfully this was not the case on March 4th of this year but no one truly understands why. Opinions rule the day but no one has come forward yet to provide a viable explanation concerning their extremely noticeable absence. Was it because their favorite son, Uhuru Kenyatta remained one of the frontrunners during the entire presidential pre-election campaign polls so there was no need to show their disdain or was it because the men responsible for the violence in 2007 are no longer alive? Or maybe it all came down to a far more practical reason such as they were no longer paid by wealthy men to incite these riots, intimidate voters, or murder police officers? Whatever the case, the men and women connected to the illusive Mungiki society stood on the sidelines watching quietly as the current campaign ran its course. There is no evidence that they were responsible for disrupting voter registration by inciting violence as well as leading and murdering voters at any time during the 2013 election process – but if not, then why not?

Before tackling that question it is imperative that the reader understand just who and what Mungiki has come to signify in Kenya? The ideals espoused by the members of the Mungiki sect seem to have expanded since its inception in 1980’s but maybe not?  Maybe it’s merely the fact that the rest of the world has never quite understood the need to create something like Mungiki in the first place.  So it’s imperative that we begin by exploring each one of the stages in the development of what  is considered Mungiki in order to answer this question.

First there was Mungiki, the religion. In the late 1980’s the term Mungiki was first introduced as religious doctrine created by two teenage boys, Maina Njenga and Ndura Waruinge after they heard the God of their ancestors speaking to both of them. He told the boys to bring the members of the Kikuyu tribe back to their former way of worship. The Kikuyu were farmers who lived on the southern and western sides of Mount Kenya. This mountain located in Central Kenya had always been a holy place to them as well as  the other tribes living around the mountain. The Kikuyu believed that their God (Ngai ) lived on Mount Kenya when he visited Earth. There he met with Gĩkũyũ, the father of the Kikuyu tribe who climbed to the top of this mountain to visit with Ngai.  Mount Kenya was an integral part of Kikuyu life and a Kikyu farmer would be sure to construct the entrance to his home facing the mountain so that it would be the first thing he viewed as he offered up his morning prayer to Ngai. And so the boys began to retell the old tales about the gods especially Ngai and refashioned a new religion from the ancient oral traditions.  It did not take long before many members of the Kikuyu tribe living in the area joined them and began observing the old waysonce more. This revival of Kikuyu traditions eventually spread into the Nairobi especially into the slums of Mathare, Dagoretti, and Kangema brought there by Kikuyu families who had left their tribal lands in central Kenya and the Rift Valleyto seek out paying jobs in the city of Nairobi.

Second, there was Mungiki the tribal operative responsible for standing up for the rights of Kikuyu tribesmen by creating and arming a local militia in order to protect Kikuyu farmers from having their lands illegally confiscated. This was being done by members of the Maasia tribe living around Mount Kenya area who were supported by corrupt government officials in the administration of then president, Daniel arap Moi. The militia fought for justice for the local Kikuyu farmers and violent land wars began where Maaasi marked by the Kikuyu as “greedy land-grabbers” suddenly went missing from their homes. The appearance of these vigilante fighters using guerilla tactics around Central Kenya and the Rift Valley caused the Maasia and the dirty government officials to become far more wary in their illegal dealings with Kikuyu farmers.  

By the late 1980’s, the young people of Kenya had two choices: remain with their tribe and farm small plots of land or migrate to cities and towns and find employment for which they would be paid in money or comparable goods. Many young Kikuyu men of the most current generation had no desire to engage in subsistence farming like their parents before them, so left their tribal lands in order to find work especially in the city of Nairobi. The Kikuyu prospered in the market places of Nairobi quickly demonstrating that they were astute business men very adept at the art of “The Deal.” They earned reputations as shrewd barterers but men who were not always so honest in their negotiations with others.  But despite this they carved out highly successful careers for themselves in “town” -as Nairobi was and still is called. In time word filtered back to the tribe describing the “good life” many Kikuyu families had made for themselves in Nairobi and hundreds of young Kikuyu males followed suit – all seeking the “good life.”

Kenya had continuously suffered from a severe shortage of jobs causing  a very high unemployment rate. This rate measures the number of people actively seeking a job as a percentage of the labor force. From 1999 until 2011, Kenya’s Unemployment Rate averaged 22.4%. It reached an all- time high in December of 2011 of 40% and a record low in December of 2006 of 12.7%.  At the same time as thousands of young Kikuyu males were flocking into the city, Kenya’s unemployment rate continued to rise because improvements in water quality and medical care had caused rapid population growth. Thousands of young Kikuyu males and their families found themselves trapped in the slums of Mathare, Kangama, Kibera, and Dagoretti with no place to work and nothing meaningful to do.

Third, there was Mungiki, the secret criminal society. By the 1990’s this organization had been introduced into the slums of Nairobi. The society borrowed much of its ideology and structure from Bolshvik literature prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917. The group used a “cell” structure based on the communist cells at the beginning of the twentieth century. Each contained 50 members who then were divided into “platoons” composed of ten individuals. It based its protection and collection methods on scenes from the film, “The Godfather” using the same extortion tactics employed by Italian immigrants arriving in New York City in the early 1900’s who eventually founded “The American Mafia”. Hundreds of estranged, unemployable Kikuyu youth living within the slums of Nairobi pledged their lives in ritualistic initiation ceremonies in order to become part of Mungiki because membership in this organization ensured power on the streets, a cultural as well as a political identity, and the money they required  to live their lives as they chose.

So around the early 1990s, their leaders devised a grand plan to extort money from local businesses throughout the city. They initiated their racketeering endeavors by demanding monthly protection payments from the matatu drivers then the “Taxi –Cab drivers working in Nairobi . Matatus are privately- owned, government –licensed vehicles  similar to Volkswagen buses that carry small groups of about twenty people back and forth on the main roads from town to town all over Kenya but the largest number of Matatus transport workers to and from the city of Nairobi. Most begin at sunrise and operate well into the late evening hours. Cities and towns are also filled with privately-owned taxi cabs that convey passengers, day or night but at a cost far greater than a Matatu ride.

It was well known out on the streets that Mungiki’s extortion schemes had been blessed by the President at that time, one –Daniel arap Moi because Mungiki began handing out monthly pay-offs to him and his corrupt ministers. The society continued to grow and local newspaper articles at that time claimed that the membership in this criminal faction had increased to half a million members. That estimate was vehemently denied by the government but the group’s use of brutal violence and torture made it a highly feared organization on the streets of Nairobi. In time, it widened its extortion  ring demanding payments from other businesses located in the city such as trash collection, construction, and even charged their neighbors in the slums of Mathare individual fees to use the electricity, public toilets and water services there.

Fourth, there was Mungiki the political “fixers”. By 2002 Mungiki had begun a new criminal venture aligning themselves with local politicians who wanted to win their election race by means of intimidating their opponents into removing their names from the ballot. And Mungiki was willing to terrorize even severely beat these rivals for a price. They agreed to injure competitors so severely that they would be sent to the hospital but demanded money and political favors in return. Kenyan newspapers reported stories of politicians running for election in local campaigns for MP (Minister of Parliament) who along with their families had been threatened with death if they did not withdraw from their campaigns immediately. Those who resisted incurred injuries or broken bones that often prevented them from continuing on with their campaigns. Entire slums like Kangema were intimidated and threatened with dire consequences if the people did not vote for the candidate of Mungiki’s choice. It was whispered that Mungiki’s influence had increased considerably with some government officials and word on the street was that they were closely connected to officials serving in the Kenya African National Union ( KANU) the first political party formed in Kenya and those who had served  in President Moi’s administration. But the newly- elected president, Mwai Kibaki had not used Mungiki’s services during  his campaign for president of Kenya and vowed to end their criminal activities once and for all- as soon as his presidency commenced.

So Kibaki ordered his police commissioner, Major General Hussien Ali to find and arrest these Kikuyu criminals and the Nairobi police began a monumental crack-down on Mungiki by raiding Mathare, which had been confirmed as a Mungiki stronghold in the city. They arrested anyone they suspected of being a member of or working for Mungiki. They used paid informants to help them identify these men but these “rats” were criminals themselves and began fingering innocent people just to provide the police with names in order to earn their cash rewards. The Nairobi police didn’t care about the truth and grabbed anyone who had been identified as Mungiki making countless mass arrests. They threw piles of young males into the back their trucks and drove off with them to jail. The police force tolerated no opposition and shot anyone who they even thought was resisting arrest, many times in front of their wives and children. Hundreds of Kikuyu men died before they could stand trial.

By the time the police had moved their raids into the slums of Kangema and Dagoretti both Njenga and Waruinge had been arrested on other charges and were already serving time in a Nairobi prison. Why they had not been murdered by police as they served out their time testifies to the influence they both exerted within the slums of Nairobi. The government was very wary of the possibility of the riots that might ensue if either one of these Mungiki’s leaders were assassinated in prison so kept them alive when so many other young Kikuyu men had been  mercilessly gunned down.  Word on the street was that these men continued to dominate every operation in which Mungiki was involved but the two publically swore to the Kenyan press and anyone else who would listen, that they were only ever involved in Mungiki, the religious sect. They continued to explain that they had no connection whatsoever to Mungiki, the secret society or Mungiki, the political ruffians and about a year later even confessed that they had stopped practicing the old religion entirely and had become Christians again. But no one believed them- especially not the police.

Fifth, There was Mungiki, the terrorists, prior to 2006 Mungiki had gone farther “underground” than ever before in order to elude the police. They continued to keep a low profile and lay off the matatu and taxi cab drivers for a time although they continued to receive pay-offs from their other extortion activities. But by January 2006 a significant change occurred in Mungiki and it came back with a vengeance and doing something no criminal organization in Nairobi had ever done as a group before- they began shooting back and killing the Nairobi police.

Three police officers were gunned down by armed men that sped by in a matatu at the Globe Cinema Roundabout as the officers tried to disperse a riot composed of angry matatu drivers and touts. The Police Commissioner later identified the assassins as members of Mungiki and went on to threaten all members of this society.He firmly announced that  “every last one of them” would be hunted down “once and for all” including the sect’s sympathizers and financiers. This was the first time that a public official openly admitted that the government was aware that people with power and money had been supporting the illegal activities of the Mungiki Brotherhood. The Minister of Security, John Michuki pledged on local news stations that the government would “never relent in its war to eliminate Mungiki” stating that he would personally  “increase security details for Members of Parliament who been recently threatened by the criminal society.”

“Word on the street was that this drive-by shooting has been carried out by Mungiki in retaliation for the hangings of five men along Thika road in Kagunduini the previous week because the police had “suspected” them of belonging to Mungiki. And this was the prelude to the violence that would soon escalate into dramatic proportions during the summer of 2007. But all that and more will be included in my next posting. Kenyatta & Mungiki: Kenyan Elections, Part Two

Kat Nickerson                  Kingston, Rhode Island            USA