Tuesday, May 19, 2009



May 19,2009

By Standard Reporters

Mungiki gangs are known for extortion, but investigations indicate they have set up a formidable motorcycle taxi enterprise whose proceeds are used to bankroll its illicit activities. Interviews with police officers, businesspeople and taxi operators in parts of Central Province show the taxis are fetching hundreds of thousands of shillings a day.

This, combined with extortion rings operated by Mungiki, has turned the underground gang into a well-moneyed outfit whose kitty runs into millions of shillings. Residents believe the enterprise is also used to camouflage the gang’s illegal activities.

However, the taxi business which has taken root in towns and rural villages, has been associated with violent crime and is a big headache to law enforcers.

In parts of Kandara in Murang’a South, taxis owned by Mungiki have replaced matatus.

"Even if you buy your own motorbike, they take over its management and give you their own rider," said a resident who asked not to be named for his safety.

In President Kibaki’s Othaya, The Standard was told that Mungiki has bought motorcycle taxis and given them to young men by force. These are people the gangs have recruited against their wish.

The enterprise is a double-edged sword, which creates employment among desperate youth but also fuels lawlessness.

Mungiki formed entrepreneurial groups that assist members buy motorcycles. They in turn contribute to a central kitty that bankrolls the gang’s activities.

Political Support

"Although some of us were forced into this business, it has proved very helpful as we are able to fend for our families," said a 26-year father of two who operates a taxi.

Wealthy politicians and shrewd businesspeople in the province have been financing the buying of the motorbikes and expect political support and protection in return.

A taxi operator said a former civic leader in Nyeri town has helped the youths in acquiring the motorbikes. "By doing so, they have boosted their influence. Some of those buying the motorbikes are businesspeople who need protection," he said. According to one of the youths, a beneficiary of the scheme, the motorbikes are brought at Sh70,000 each and handed to those interested. Beneficiaries are required to repay in 24 monthly installments and contribute a further Sh20 daily to a central kitty.

On a good day, the motorbike can make Sh300. The operator said those who are not willing to take the loan are employed by the gang members who own ‘large business empires.’ "There is one of us who has 10 "There is one of us who has 10 motorbikes and has employed youths who are not able to buy theirs," he said. "One of us has 10 motorbikes and has employed youths who are not able to buy theirs," he said. However, the Mungiki gangs have also been receiving money from the local business people as ‘protection fee.’

Police, aware of the Mungiki link and the influence to crime, have launched a crackdown targeting the taxi operators.

Recently, police sent to the area after the Mathira massacre that left 29 people dead arrested about 50 of the operators who are accused of being members of the outlawed sect.

Supporting the crackdown, Nyeri South DC David Kosgey said the Government would not allow criminals in towns.

"We are not targeting people with genuine businesses; the Government is after those who idle in towns and trading centres," said Mr Kosgey. Mr Francis Wachira, a vigilante group member, said his policing squad in neighbouring Kirinyaga had started tracing suspected Mungiki members, who were also motorcycle taxi operators.

"We have identified that many of them do motor cycle taxi businesses, and one of the people who was lynched recently confided that his was bought by Mungiki leaders," said Wachira.

Last month police in Kerugoya, while on a crackdown against Mungiki arrested 14 taxi operators and impounded their motorcycles.

In Nanyuki, where suspected members are believed to have spilled over after a security operation in Nyeri and Kirinyaga districts, police have banned late night motor cycle operations, citing increased crime. Local OCPD Mr James Kithuka said the taxis were being used to ferry robbers and burglars.

"We can’t allow them to continue operating at night, since their activities are leading to an upsurge in crime," said Kithuka.

And in a clear testimony that their businesses might not be genuine, the motorbike owners have been associated with violence and crime.

Early this year, three suspected Mungiki members and motor cycle taxi operators in Othaya were executed in Mukurweini.

Their headless bodies were found along the banks of Gura River. And in March, another motorbike operator, Ephantus Wahome, was murdered and his motorcycle stolen. The motorcycle was later recovered, and a suspect has been charged with murder.

His body was discovered at Thuti River near Iria-ini tea factory in Othaya area.