Tuesday, April 28, 2009



April 27 2009

AS THE THIRD SESSION OF the 10th Parliament was formally inaugurated last week, the Kenyan leadership received a rude reminder of the challenges this country faces. Yet the murderous rampage in which nearly 30 people in one village were slain in one night was merely a distraction as our leaders focused on what, to them, are clearly more urgent things.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Internal Security minister George Saitoti parachuted into the area for a quick photo-op before rushing back for the fisticuffs over the control of Parliament. President Kibaki made some perfunctory comment but otherwise seemed distracted by more important issues. Ministers and MPs, particularly from the affected areas, largely retained an extremely loud silence.

Perhaps what our leadership, and we as a nation, do not want to confront is that brutal cycle of killing and revenge killings reveals the deep social and economic schisms in society that the Kenyan leadership has neglected to address, since independence. The massacre in Gathaithi village in revenge attacks following a fortnight of murderous attacks by vigilante squads upped the ante considerably in what has been an ongoing battle in the wider central Kenya and diaspora.

While Mungiki is the most dramatic exemplification of the rise of criminal gangs in Kenya, there are many other parts of the country where lawlessness has taken root, and citizens have resorted to ‘‘mob justice’’ in the face of an impotent law and order system.

Mungiki, however, is not just about a criminal quasi-religious cult that has entrenched itself deeply in all the major urban and peri-urban areas of central Kenya. It is also about hopelessly disaffected youth abandoned by society, the gap between the haves and the have-nots, and a leadership elite that cares little about addressing the issues of poverty and unemployment.

It is also about cynical leaders who will exploit jobless youths as foot-soldiers in their political wars, but abandon them once they are no longer useful. Mungiki, in particular, has always had very strong links to the country’s political dynamic.

During the violence that nearly destroyed the country in the wake of the disputed 2007 elections, key politicians recruited and armed Mungiki groups in central Kenya, Nairobi and parts of the Rift Valley diaspora to execute “self-defence” efforts and revenge attacks against rival communities.

THAT WAS NOT THE FIRST TIME THE Mungiki and assorted youth brigades – the so-called Kalenjin warriors in the Rift Valley, the Taliban in the Nairobi slums and the Baghdad Boys in Kisumu – have been used by leaders in society, some in the heart of government, as political shock troops.

From the time of President Moi to the present, Mungiki has adeptly wormed its way into the body-politic, putting itself at the service of whatever political cause it needed to support at any one time. Hence, the sense of betrayal that the same leaders who call the shots in the present government prefer not just to turn their backs on a movement they helped nurture, but are seen as driving the brutal police assaults on the movements that have taken the character of a deliberate policy of extrajudicial executions and disappearances.

But even as human rights groups cry foul and the UN Special Rapporteur threatens to indict Attorney-General Amos Wako and Police Commissioner Hussein Ali, the phenomenon has arisen in affected areas where citizens are themselves up in arms against Mungiki. The vigilante gangs seem to be encouraged by the police and the provincial administration, happy to suggest that security agencies cannot act directly lest they be accused of extrajudicial killings.

Another phenomenon is that almost every criminal activity is now attributed to Mungiki, yet there is little evidence of a single organized gang operating under a centralized command. In the region - the richest in the country but where poverty is also endemic - tens of thousand of jobless youths, many with modest education and aspiration to a better life, mill around aimlessly, watching the flashy cars of the rich politicians shower them with dust.

They are hungry, angry, resentful, alienated and cut-off from society and so-called leaders who only use them and dump them. They turn to crime and terrorize society until society fights back. Eventually what exposes itself is not just the blood and mayhem, but the lack of government.