Saturday, October 1, 2011




Faced with the challenge of a new, multi-ethnic political coalition, President
Daniel arap Moi shifted the axis of the 2002 electoral contest from
ethnicity to the politics of generational conflict. The strategy backfired,
ripping his party wide open and resulting in its humiliating defeat in the
December 2002 general elections. Nevertheless, the discourse of a generational
change of guard as a blueprint for a more accountable system of
governance won the support of some youth movements like Mungiki.
This article examines how the movement’s leadership exploited the generational
discourse in an effort to capture power. Examining the manipulation
of generational and ethnic identities in patrimonial politics, the article
argues that the instrumentalization of ethnicity in African politics has its
corollary in the concomitant instrumentalization of other identities —
race, class, gender, clan, age and religion.

AS THE HISTORIC 27 DECEMBER 2002 ELECTIONS got under way, it became
evident that Kenya was poised for ‘one of the most significant political
changes since independence’.1 The electoral victory of the ethnically based
parties coalesced around the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) ended
Daniel arap Moi’s 24-year patrimonial rule, which many Kenyans blamed
for their economic miseries and for the erosion of accountability of state
power and of respect for citizenship rights and the ideals of nationhood,
reduced by corruption, greed and the cynical manipulation of ethnicity.
NARC’s victory signified the triumph of ethnic pluralism and national
rejuvenation. However, Kenya’s return to the multi-ethnic foundations of
its nationhood in late 2002 occurred in the shadow of widening inter-generational
discord and tension.

Dr. Peter Mwangi Kagwanja is the Director, International Crisis Group (Southern Africa)
and Research Associate, Center for International Political Studies, University of Pretoria,
South Africa.

In fact, youth rebellion and violence, as I have argued elsewhere,3 became an
indelible feature of the Huntingtonian ‘third wave’ of democracy that washed
over Africa from the late 1980s. Indeed, the road to Kenya’s December 2002
elections was marked by widespread fear of the spectre of youth rebellion that
had wreaked havoc in such African countries as Sierra Leone and Liberia.4
In the run-up to the December 2002 elections, President Moi capitulated
to public pressure to step down and oversee a generational change of
guard which would ensure transfer of power to a youthful leader.

Moi unilaterally endorsed Uhuru Kenyatta,5 the son of his predecessor, Jomo
Kenyatta, as his de facto successor as part of a grand scheme to perpetuate
his patrimonial rule by proxy. ‘Project Uhuru’ was no more than a ‘buy
one, get three’ gimmick aimed at packaging young Kenyatta with the éminences
grises of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) — Nicholas
Biwott, President Moi himself and his favourite son, Gideon.

The strategy of instrumentalizing generational identity backfired, triggering a fierce
intra-KANU conflict, defections and, eventually, the party’s electoral
defeat, but it appealed to many followers of the youth group Mungiki.
Criminal elements in Mungiki grasped the chance to deepen their patron–
client relations with the KANU elite and, indeed, exploited the crisis of
public security to entrench their interests in the informal sector and in
Kenya’s burgeoning criminal underworld. But some followers saw in generational
politics a genuine opportunity to capture state power by putting a
youthful leader at the helm.

Mungiki’s plunge into Kenya’s electoral politics signified the upsurge of
generational politics as an idiom of accountability of state power. In contemporary
Africa, this is inextricably connected with what Paul Richards,
in his study of the role of youth in the Sierra Leonean civil war, has
described as ‘the crisis of [African] youth’. As the nineties decade
unfolded, Africa was awash with youth rebellions.8 Scholars went as far as
suggesting that ‘the youth factor . . .may take over from ethnicity’ as the
new axis about which African politics rotates.

But, like ethnicity, generational identities have been manipulated and instrumentalized by Africa’s patrimonial elite. Africa’s young people, as Cruise O’Brien rightly
observes, ‘are very poorly equipped to make their opposition effective: with
their limited resources they are easily manipulated by their elders’.

Mungiki’s is a tragic story of the powerlessness of Africa’s young people in
the face of economic globalization, which has transformed them into
pawns in the elite struggle for state power.

In the context of the discernible drift away from Western modernity towards
the re-traditionalization of society which anthropologists and social analysts
have identified in contemporary Africa, youths have adopted diverse aspects of
traditional cultures including initiation rites and religious beliefs and practices as
ideological foundations of their resistance.

In Kenya’s rural areas the Mungiki movement, which Grace Wamue unveiled as a paragon of the re-traditionalization of society, used traditional forms of mobilization and belief as instruments
for restoring moral order and empowering the dispossessed. But as David
Anderson has cogently argued, when the movement stepped outside its rural
base and ventured into the milieu of Kenya’s urban estates, shanties and slums,
it absorbed some criminal elements and was transformed into a largely violent
gang that was gradually co-opted by sections of the ruling elite to serve its patrimonial

Analyses of the Hutu interahamwe militias in the Rwandan
genocide in 1994 revealed the double manipulation of generational and ethnic
identities within the wider canvas of a re-traditionalization of the polity.

Going beyond the manipulation of ethnicity by those in power, John
Lonsdale has powerfully argued that it is possible to imagine ethnicity
becoming the foundational myth of the modern nation-state in Africa and
the corner-stone of more accountable systems of governance.15 Lonsdale
draws a line between ‘political tribalism’ and ‘moral ethnicity’, identifying
political tribalism as flowing ‘from high-political intrigue; it constitutes
communities through external competition. In contrast, moral ethnicity
creates communities from within through domestic controversy over civic
virtue’. He concluded that moral ethnicity ‘is the only language of accountability
that most Africans have; it is the most intimate critic of the state’s
ideology of order’.

Far from being a centrifugal force that tears society
apart, ethnic identity in the context of moral ethnicity potentially forms the
basis of a moral contract which could begin to force accountability on state
power and, as Dickson Eyoh argues, to expand the space of civic
citizenship and social justice.In an earlier article, I traced Mungiki’s
emergence as a social movement that rose among youth in response to
Moi’s kleptocracy.

This article carries the study of Mungiki forward by studying how the movement’s leadership internalized and re-traditionalized the generational discourse as part of its effort to refashion and capture power, within the context of the deep patrimonial politics of the Moi succession
in 2002. The article shows how Mungiki’s co-optation into a patron–client relation transformed it from a social movement into a criminal gang, leading to its fragmentation and eventual disintegration.

From fighting generation to lost generation

The idea of youth revolution is not new in Kenyan politics. Although youth
rebellion was a feature of the Mau Mau war against British colonialism in
the 1950s, with the disintegration of the multi-ethnic nationalist coalitions
immediately after independence, youth identity, like ethnicity, was instrumentalized
and transformed by patrimonial19 politics into a weapon in the
hands of elders.20 Prior to the elections that ushered Kenya to independence
in 1963, the two main nationalist parties, KANU and the Kenya African
Democratic Union (KADU), both mobilized youths in the fierce struggle
for state power. After independence, the government, at the behest of
former Mau Mau veterans like Josiah Mwangi Kariuki of Mau Mau
Detainee fame and General ‘China’ (Waruhiu Itote), created a National
Youth Service to inculcate discipline and impart skills to demobilized
KANU youths.

Nevertheless, the manipulation of youth continued, especially
during the ‘Little Election’22 in 1966, when a revitalized KANU
youth wing joined forces with the provincial administration to weaken its
left-leaning rival party, the Kenya People’s Union (KPU), led by former
Vice-President Oginga Odinga.

At the height of the Nyayo era (1982–1990), President Daniel arap Moi
revitalized the KANU youth wing as a powerful instrument for monitoring and
punishing public dissent and asserting his authority. Terror and extortion
were perpetrated by party youth on commuter buses, taxis and kiosk businesses
abetted by a patron–client relation in a classic demonstration of the
criminalization of the state eliciting counter-violence by touts, shoeshine
and parking boys, vendors and hawkers. Founded in 1987 by youths,
Mungiki is a true child of the age of resistance to Moi’s patrimonial rule
and a sign of the increasing use of generational politics as an idiom for the
accountability of state power.

The Huntingtonian ‘third wave’ of democracy in the 1990s brought the
instrumental use of generational identities to frightful levels.26 The prodemocracy
movement, earlier spearheaded by mainstream churches and
reformist lawyers,27 was boosted when two former cabinet ministers,
Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia, publicly called on Moi to repeal
section 2A of the 1982 Act that made Kenya a de jure one-party state, to
dissolve parliament and hold a public referendum to chart the country’s
future. The boldness of the two, including their application for a permit to
address a public rally in Nairobi’s Kamukunji Grounds on 7 July 1990,
struck a chord with Kenya’s urban crowd and rural poor. The denial of
permission to the two to hold the rally, leading to their arrest and detention
on 4 July 1990 under the Preservation of Public Security Act, hardened
youth politics, especially in Kenya’s urban areas.

On 7 July 1990, which came to be called Saba Saba, the ruling elite mobilized
KANU youth wingers to reinforce riot police in dispersing a defiant
crowd that attempted to gather at Kamukunji Grounds. More than 20 people
were killed, 1,000 arrested and between a few dozens and several hundreds
injured in riots that rocked Nairobi and spread to the Kikuyu-inhabited towns
of Nakuru, Naivasha, Nyeri, Murang’a and Thika, where the arrest and
detention of Matiba and Rubia deepened hostility to Moi’s regime.
Simultaneous with Kenya’s return to multi-party democracy in
December 1991, KANU instituted a reign of state-sponsored vigilante terror
in urban areas using militias called majeshi ya wazee (‘armies of the
elders’), with the aim of derailing democracy.

In a classic form of retraditionalization, the KANU elite also embarked on ‘playing the communal
card’ by underwriting ‘tribal militias’ to wreak havoc on rival ethnic groups. The ‘re traditionalization’ of youth violence was an element in a dirty war on citizens suspected of supporting the opposition, part of a strategy to keep democracy in cold storage.

Through the sponsorship of ‘tribal militias’, naked and painted with red ochre or clad in traditional shukas (cotton sheets), which assaulted their victims with spears, arrows or
swords, the Moi government succeeded in hiding behind images of the
‘communal’ and the ‘primordial’ attached to ‘tribal warriors’ to conceal its
role in grossly violating the human rights of its citizens. Between 1991 and
1998, violence linked to ‘tribal militias’, such as the Maasai Morans,
Kalenjin Warrits, Chinkororo (Kisii), Sungu Sungu (Kuria) and Kaya
Mbombo (Digo of the Kenya coast), claimed an estimated 3,000 lives and
displaced nearly half a million Kenyans.

Grace Wamue and David Anderson have traced Mungiki’s progress
from this state-sponsored cataclysm. Emerging during the high noon of
Moi’s repressive patrimonial system as an expression of youth resistance
and a voice of moral ethnicity, Mungiki was co-opted and transformed into
a deadly instrument of political tribalism and terror.
‘Project Uhuru’: nation, tribe and generation politics

Ahead of the December 2002 national elections, President Daniel arap
Moi, who had for long thrived on the politics of ethnic manipulation,
launched what came to be known disparagingly as ‘Project Uhuru’. In its
widest sense, Project Uhuru denoted President Moi’s strategy of whipping
up generational sentiments and giving a new youthful shade to Kenya’s
body politic by elevating the ‘uhuru generation’ to the higher echelons of
his party and government to upstage challengers both within his party and
among the opposition. In its narrowest meaning, it referred to his obdurate
support of Uhuru Kenyatta as his anointed successor and KANU’s
standard-bearer in the 2002 presidential contest.

Moi, the self-proclaimed ‘professor of politics’, aroused generational
sensibilities partly to exorcise the ghost of his flawed mandate in the 1992
and 1997 elections but more importantly, to deal with an emerging
trans-ethnic opposition alliance. In early 2002, three opposition leaders —
Mwai Kibaki, Wamalwa Kijana and Charity Ngilu — took to heart the
hard lesson of the 1992 and 1997 elections that fragmentation along ethnic
lines was the main reason for their failure to dislodge KANU from power.
They forged an inter-ethnic political alliance, the National Alliance for
Change (NAC), later renamed and registered as the National Alliance
Party of Kenya (NAK).

As an alliance of three largely ethnic-based parties-Kibaki’s Democratic Party (DPK), Wamalwa’s Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-Kenya (FORD-Kenya) and Ngilu’s National Party of Kenya (NPK) — NAK brought together Kenya’s largest ethnic group, the
Kikuyu (and their Embu and Meru cousins), the Kamba and the Luhya,
which, together, represent more than half of Kenya’s 31 million people.36
Further, NAK was engaged in intense negotiations with the largely Kisiibased
FORD-people led by Moi’s nemesis, Simeon Nyachae.

From early 2002 Moi embarked on playing the generational card to
outmanoeuvre veteran politicians like Kibaki and Nyachae. He struck a
familiar nationalist chord by appointing to his cabinet Uhuru Kenyatta and
Raila Amolo Odinga, sons of Kenya’s foremost nationalist heroes, Jomo
Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, respectively, together with a
popular young Nandi parliamentarian, Kipruto Kirwa.

For balance, Moi also appointed to the cabinet Cyrus Jirongo, Julius Sunkuli and William
Ruto, former leaders of Youth for KANU-1992 (YK 92) which had gathered
money, bought votes and intimidated voters and candidates, thus
partly ensuring KANU’s victory in that year. KANU’s constitution was
revised prior to the party’s delegates’ conference, allowing Moi to have
four deputies and enhancing his powers as party chairman.

During the delegates’ conference on 18 March 2002, Moi raised generational sentiments
to a high pitch by parading KANU’s Young Turks like Uhuru Kenyatta,
Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka and Raila Odinga, promising that
he would pass on power to the uhuru generation. The delegates elected
Uhuru, Mudavadi, Katana and Kalonzo as party vice-chairmen and Raila
as secretary-general, but retained Moi as chairman in a move widely
viewed as a ploy of extending his patrimony beyond his presidency.39

The conference also saw the merger of KANU and the Luo-based
National Development Party of Raila Amolo Odinga, a youthful politician
who scored 10.9% in the 1997 presidential election. Although the KANU–
NDP merger delivered 20 parliamentary seats from Luo-Nyanza to the
ruling party and infused young blood into the ‘new KANU’, it also introduced
divisions within the party. Four factions have been identified: ‘the
old-guards led by then Vice-President George Saitoti and Ministers William
Ntimama and Joseph Kamotho; reformist new-guard parliamentarians,
mostly elected in 1992 and 1997 . . . ; a soft middle ground of KANU moderates,
including one-time presidential fore-runner, Musalia Mudavadi;
and Raila Odinga’s former NDP cohort’.

Things began falling apart on 30 July 2002, when Moi unilaterally
endorsed Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor and KANU’s standard bearer in
the presidential race. Moi’s unilateral endorsement of young Kenyatta
split KANU wide open.

A revolt led by Vice-President George Saitoti,
Moi’s long-standing Maasai ally, William Ntimama, staunch Kikuyu ally
Kamotho, and ambitious Young Turks like Kalonzo and Raila led to the
formation of the Rainbow Alliance, a caucus within ‘new KANU’ implacably
opposed to ‘Project Uhuru’. Finally, in October, the Rainbow Alliance
group abandoned the KANU ship and joined a little-known opposition
party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), accusing Moi of insisting on
the queue-voting system rather than allowing secret ballot elections of
party delegates at branch levels and of packing the party conference with
pro-Uhuru delegates to ensure his victory during the second KANU delegates’
conference in mid-October 2002.

On 14 October, when KANU officially declared Uhuru as its presidential
candidate, LDP embarked on negotiations with NAK, which had
already nominated Kibaki as its presidential candidate, to form a ‘superalliance’
against KANU.

This led to the formation of the NARC on 21 October, an eclectic assemblage of the main opposition parties, except Nyachae’s FORD-people. NARC endorsed the 70-year-old Kibaki as the coalition’s presidential candidate. Raila became the icon of the ‘youth
rebellion’ as the tactician behind the revolt against Moi and KANU.

Analysts of the 2002 political environment discerned a non-ethnic
situation where ‘Kenya’s tradition of political competition along ethnic
lines is being replaced by a more complex political dynamic in which
KANU and NARC, each an increasingly broad-based, ethnically heterogeneous
coalition, now compete fiercely for support across a broad range of

The formation of NARC eclipsed the ethnic base of Kenya’s electoral politics, depriving Moi of another opportunity to position ‘the Luo against the Kikuyu in his perennial moves for survival’. The fact that the two main presidential contenders, Kibaki and Uhuru, were from
one ethnic group — Kikuyu — contributed to the elimination of ethnic
sensibilities and tensions from the presidential contest and linked it to the
more pertinent issues of experience, suitability and development.

Unable to play the ethnic card, KANU turned to generational politics,
positioning young Uhuru against elderly Kibaki and tightening its patron–
client relations with the predominantly Kikuyu Mungiki movement. The
NARC’s Young Turks retorted by the clarion call Kibaki tosha (‘Kibaki is
enough for Kenya’).

Mungiki plunged into the electoral fray, throwing its support behind Moi’s ‘Project Uhuru’. Like the urban youth gangs and vigilantes in Nigeria which draw on pre-colonial idioms of organization based on hierarchical age systems,45 Mungiki leaders re-traditionalized the
demand for a generational transfer of power by reinventing the Kikuyu
idea of ituika as an idiom for mobilizing its rank and file in support of the
Uhuru candidacy. But to the movement’s leadership and to urban-based
criminal elements, the generational change of guard was an idiom for reinforcing
clientelist relations with the KANU elite to ensure continued
power and control over Kenya’s criminal underworld.

Project Uhuru and the re-traditionalization of society
Deborah Durham has suggested that analyses of youth must elucidate
local understandings and determine in what kind of political space young
people participate; it is also critical to probe what kind of ideology drives
their politics.

This sheds light on the kind of politics that shaped Mungiki’s
response to Moi’s Project Uhuru. In an earlier article, I traced the ideological
and political legacy of the Mau Mau on the Mungiki movement.47 In
this article, this legacy is examined in the context of generational politics
and Mungiki’s effort to re-traditionalize the discourse surrounding a generational
transfer of power in 2002. During the electioneering period,
Mungiki’s ideological trajectory drew heavily from debates on ituika in the
1940s and 1950s.

Mungiki’s view of the traditional transfer of power was based on a close
reading of writers on Kikuyu social history and of fiction, such as Jomo
Kenyatta and Ngugi wa Thiongo and on oral histories of the Mau
Mau, all of which reinforced the idea of youth revolution. The myth of
ituika, itself an ideology of generational transfer of power, had exercised an
immense influence on the Mau Mau fighters.

The generation that spearheaded the revolt against tyranny was given the name Mwangi (‘one who captures, conquers, triumphs or gathers together’). The next generation
which had the task of consolidating a democratic tradition came to be
called Irungu (taken from the verb runga which means ‘to put straight’).
The ituika system, therefore, produced a political dispensation in which
the whole Kikuyu nation was divided into two generations, the older one in
power and the younger one waiting in the wings. It also formalized the
alternating succession of ritual authority between the two generations.

It was, however, the trope of resistance and revolutionary change in
Kikuyu political thought that is the most enduring legacy to Mungiki
politics. At the core of Kikuyu thought on youth rebellion was the myth of
the iregi (‘resisters’ or ‘refusers’), a revolutionary generation that rebelled
against and overthrew tyranny and restored the right of citizenship and
civic virtues in the mythical Kikuyu society. The iregi revolutionary heroes
became iconic of the Kikuyu past, driven by a collective search for a new
moral order, equity and justice.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the role of iregi in the ituika was concretized by
the speeches and writings of nationalists like Jomo Kenyatta, who redirected
it to the moral dictates of ethnic nationalism. Critics saw the Mau
Mau as a re-enactment of the ituika, which Jomo Kenyatta had projected
as revolution in his book Facing Mount Kenya. Indeed, Mau Mau’s fighting
oath, batuni, was sprinkled with ituika symbols.

Thus, the idea of iregi became associated with the trope of youth rebellion
that dominated the notion of ituika. Members of the Forty (age)
Group (riika ria fourty) that formed the bulk of the Mau Mau fighting force
imagined themselves as the heroic iregi revolutionaries. In his autobiography,
General Waruhiu Itote, who in August 1952 became one of the first
youths to enter the forest to prepare for war, described his forest base as
thingira wa iregi, ‘the hut of revolution’.

However, what loomed large in Kenyatta’s idea of the re-enactment of ituika was not inter-generational discord, but the harmony between youth and elders that underpinned the
Mau Mau movement. While a few Mau Mau warriors may have ‘expected
to lead “the night of the long knives,” and take over from their elders, the
vast majority saw themselves as itungati (rearguard or servants). Experienced
itungati [rearguards] were to all intents and purposes the “strong
fortress” that civil leaders needed behind them’ and the backbone of the
Mau Mau.

Both the Mau Mau and the ituiki narrative provided the political text for
Mungiki youths in their interpretation of politics in multi-party Kenya.
Mungiki began to imagine Kenya as a country immersed in a generational
struggle between elders and youths. They accused the generation of elders
of overstaying in power, repressing the youth and looting the Kenyan

Mungiki cited rampant corruption and land grabbing that had
reached mega-proportions in multi-party Kenya to support the claim that
the ‘Mwangi and Irungu generations have betrayed the country and,
therefore, must get out of power’.54 They argued that the Mwangi and Irungu
generations had failed to ensure a smooth transfer of power at the due
moment in 1932 and thus disrupted the traditional generational order of
things. After the nomination of Uhuru Kenyatta in August 2002, Mungiki
invoked the trope of youth rebellion signified by the iregi generation in
preparing its followers for a takeover of power in case the elders should
refuse to vacate.

Mungiki ideologues came to believe that youth has a duty to restore the
generational system. The process begins with the youth (Mungiki) assuming
the role of the iregi generation and initiating the revolution that will
usher the Mwangi generation to power. ‘We are neither Mwangi nor
Irungu’, declared one youth informant, ‘we are iregi’. The concept of iregi is
extended not only to the generational politics of power in the national
space but also to the international realm to designate resistance to the
Christian church and the exploitative forces of globalization and westernization.
The iregi ideology of resistance pervaded every aspect of Mungiki’s
social and political thought and cultural practices. Mungiki youths
assumed the name njama (singular munjama) which can be translated as
‘warrior class’ and ‘warrior’, respectively.

Their conversations and ceremonies are punctuated by a language of combat. The self-introduction or the contribution of a munjama during a public gathering of Mungiki members is
referred to as guikia itimu (‘throwing a spear’). The diet of choice for the
njama is meat and milk, the preferred food of Kikuyu warriors especially
when preparing for war. David Anderson has shown how Mungiki’s vision was based on the prophecy of the Kikuyu seer Mugo wa Kibiru.

Its vision of youth leadership carried a strong element of Mugo’s message of a redemptive youth, a messiah, which is captured by the Kenyan novelist, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, as follows:
[S]alvation shall come from the hills. ‘A [young] man [shall] rise and save the people
in their hour of need. He shall show them the way; he will lead them . . . ’
Inspired by Mugo’s message of a redemptive youthful leader, many
Mungiki adherents found in Uhuru Kenyatta this ‘liberatory’ young man
‘from the hills’ whom they adoringly referred to as kamwana (‘the youth’)
— curiously, in view of his evident association with the Moi patrimony.

The concept of the hills is central to Kikuyu thought concerning their ancestral homeland
of Kenya’s Central Province. Uhuru hailed from ‘the hills’ as opposed to the Kikuyu
main diaspora in the Rift Valley.

‘We, the uhuru generation’: Mungiki and the Uhuru project
Mungiki’s leaders claimed that their endorsement of Uhuru’s presidential
bid was based on generational interests rather than ethnic affiliations.
‘Mungiki’s political agenda’, said the movement’s chairman and spiritual
leader, John Njenga Maina, ‘is to campaign for youthful leaders and phase
out the older generation. That is why we are supporting Uhuru since he is

On nomination day, writes one commentator, hundreds of thousands
of Mungiki youths ‘came in buses and mini-buses, donkey-carts and
on foot, descending on Nairobi streets from all directions’ in a procession
that caught many Nairobi residents by surprise. Imagining themselves as
the iregi revolutionaries of Kikuyu mythology, these Mungiki youths
wielded machetes, clubs or sticks, in a dramatic parade that resembled the
interahamwe in the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

The Kenyan press accused the law enforcement agencies of duplicity for
tolerating what it had called ‘anarchic’ youths. ‘The police’, it was said,
‘looked like they were actually guiding demonstrators carrying placards
and snuff boxes to the venue, where speeches denouncing the Local
Government minister’s [Uhuru Kenyatta’s] political enemies were
made’. The attorney general, Amos Wako, also censured police behaviour
as a ‘serious dereliction of duty’. A few days later, supporters of
NARC were violently dispersed from Uhuru Park by riot police. Opposition
leaders accused the government of double standards in dealing with all
parties to the elections.

Uhuru Kenyatta himself swung between publicly distancing his campaign
from Mungiki’s acts of terror and covertly soliciting Mungiki’s
support, arguing that ‘anybody had the freedom to support whoever he
wanted’. He represented Mungiki youth as victims of Kenya’s economic
meltdown, arguing that ‘Majority joined the sect because they were idle
but they are still our brothers and sisters who should not be hated or
secluded from the society but encouraged to reform’.

However, Uhuru’s staunch Kikuyu supporters like the Nairobi mayor, Dick Waweru, and Juja
MP, Stephen Ndicho, had no qualms about openly supporting the sect on
the grounds that ‘despite their militancy on some contentious issues,
Mungiki followers were Kenyans and should be accommodated as they
also had a role to play in nation-building’.

But perhaps Mungiki’s spokesman, Ndura Waruinge, may have gone too
far when he told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme in August 2002
that Uhuru Kenyatta was actually a member of Mungiki. This opened a
barrage of public criticism, with some challenging Uhuru to go public
about any links with Mungiki ‘because we are being told he is a member’
and others censoring the government for giving protection to the movement
despite its unlawful activities.

In November 2002, Uhuru denied that he was a member of Mungiki, declaring that ‘I am a Catholic and so is my whole family’. He emphasised his distance from Mungiki by recalling
an occasion in August 2000 when the sect’s members had accused him of
being used by the government to harass them, burning his effigy outside his father’s mausoleum in Nairobi.

Uhuru’s denial was followed by highly publicized police swoops against
Mungiki followers in Nairobi and Central Province and the invalidation by
the party headquarters of the nomination of Mungiki chairman John
Maina Njenga to vie for a parliamentary seat in his Nyahururu home on a
KANU ticket.The nullification of Njenga’s nomination sparked protest
from Mungiki followers who escorted Njenga in a fleet of 50 vehicles to the
Electoral Commission offices in Nairobi.

Nevertheless, Mungiki continued to support Project Uhuru. Whatever
damage these measures may have done to individual Mungiki leaders, it
was clear that the core of patron–client relations between KANU stalwarts
and the movement was not touched. The KANU elite moved quickly to
covertly reassure Mungiki and to deepen its relations with the sect’s leadership
at this hour of need and to encourage it to take a more active role in
mobilizing Mungiki members in support of Project Uhuru.

As part of its deal, the government aided Mungiki’s controversial takeover of the most
profitable matatu (public taxi) routes to Nairobi’s Kayole, Dandora,
Huruma and Kariobangi estates, whereby it extorted daily levies from
drivers, touts and taxis.

In addition to the breakdown of public order that David Anderson has lucidly analyzed, the government closed its eyes as criminal elements within the Mungiki movement stepped up collection of protection money from households in insecure estates and indulged in carjacking,
armed robbery and, to a lesser extent, gun-running activities.73

Although Mungiki’s entry into the urban milieu from its pristine origins
in rural Kenya ensured that it absorbed many criminal elements within its
membership, it was at the peak of the battle for the presidency between
July and December 2002 that its criminal element eclipsed its origins as a
social movement.

Not surprisingly, Uhuru’s defeat in the December 2002
elections was perceived as a major threat to the power and prestige of the
Mungiki leadership and to the livelihood of some of its urban membership,
which thrived on KANU’s patronage and on the political economy of
public disorder that pervades Kenya’s criminal underground.

For Mungiki followers, who still truly believed that Project Uhuru
offered a chance for the consummation of the ituaka through a generational
change of guard, the triumph of Kibaki and the NARC came as a
betrayal of the youth and the ‘iregi revolution’ by their Kikuyu kith and kin.
Their frustration found echoes in Mugo-wa-Kibiru’s own disillusionment
with his contemporaries:
The seer was rejected by the people of the ridges. They gave him no clothes and no
food . . .

Mungiki had already outstripped other groups in acts of violence.75 Now,
as Kenya crossed to the post-Moi era, it entered a new phase in its metamorphosis,
becoming a full-fledged criminal group.
Mungiki’s post-election violence

At the new year of 2002/2003, it became clear that Kenya had experienced
one of the most significant political changes since independence. NARC’s
Mwai Kibaki had defeated KANU’s Uhuru Kenyatta, and the former opposition
had won a comfortable parliamentary majority. This ended Daniel arap
Moi’s 24-year rule, blamed by many Kenyans for the decline of their living
standards.76 Obviously, NARC’s electoral victory had its critics, but few
would have predicted the violent response that the electoral outcome
would draw, particularly from Mungiki’s ultra-militants.NARC had
hardly raised its victory toast when Mungiki struck.

On 2 January 2003, Mungiki members were locked in a series of fights with touts over control of
matatu taxi terminals in Nairobi’s Kayole, Buruburu and Dandora estates
and parts of Nakuru town. NARC’s victory emboldened Mungiki’s erstwhile
rivals, who took the opportunity to regain control of these lucrative
sources of income. On the night of 5 January 2003, Mungiki members
killed over ten people in Nakuru’s Flamingo and Lake View estates. Two
days later, Mungiki militants hacked five people, including a police officer,
to death in Nairobi’s Dandora Estate.

By February 2003, the government had announced that more than 50 people had died in clashes involving the sect and owners of matatus, touts, drivers and their youth supporters.80
Mungiki’s acts of terror caused consternation within the newly installed
NARC government, which saw the hand of KANU behind these attacks as
an attempt to undermine the new government.81 As if to confirm these fears,
survivors of Mungiki’s terror in Nakuru claimed that their assailants told
them that they were avenging the defeat of KANU in the elections, since
Nakuru town had voted for NARC.

Mungiki members arrested by the government confessed that a former member of parliament for Nakuru town, David Manyara, aligned to KANU, sponsored Mungiki’s Nakuru killings.

Apart from convening a secret meeting of 200 Mungiki members in Engarasha
village in Subukia to plan the attack, the MP also allegedly provided
machetes, axes, clubs and homemade guns to be used during the operation
and gave each of the 200 fighters Ksh200–300 (US$4–5). He was also alleged
to be the brain behind the formation of an armed unit made up of 11 platoons
and two sections headed by a regional coordinator.

Even more disconcerting were reports of pro-KANU military forces abetting Mungiki’s terrorism
by providing vehicles, radios and other logistical support.

The percentage of Mungiki members who voted for Uhuru Kenyatta and KANU is difficult
to establish. But it is clear that Uhuru and KANU performed extremely well in Central,
Rift Valley and Nairobi where Mungiki members were concentrated. Uhuru won over 30% of
the presidential votes in Central Province, 53% in the Rift Valley, and 21% in Nairobi,
whereas KANU won six seats in Central, almost all in the Mungiki stronghold of Kiambu and
30 in the Rift Valley. Although there were other factors that may have contributed to this performance, the Mungiki youth factor is a major one.

The NARC government wielded a heavy stick against Mungiki. Police
swoops nabbed 239 Mungiki adherents in January 2003 alone. Internal
Security Minister Chris Murungaru issued a controversial order to the
police to shoot Mungiki members on sight. But he also dangled a carrot to
the movement by declaring a 30-day amnesty for members who surrendered
to the police.85 At the end of the amnesty period, the government
announced it had arrested and charged 957 Mungiki suspects, 547 in
Nairobi, 232 in the Rift valley and 178 in Central Province, whereas only
167 members had surrendered.

Despite this, critics accused the government of taking a softer stance on
Mungiki. In the words of one informant, Kibaki’s ‘Kikuyu’ government
had woken up to the realization that a full-scale onslaught upon Mungiki
members would amount to ‘killing our boys’.87 Another view is that the
government played soft with Mungiki because, at this early stage, it felt a
deep sense of vulnerability to Moi loyalists in the armed forces and, therefore,
hatched a plot to use Mungiki as a backup force in case these forces
decided to strike back.88 Whatever the case, violent clashes between
Mungiki and other thugs escalated, reaching a dangerous peak by September

The government soon realized that it had to regain control over the
urban space and restore public security and order by instituting comprehensive
reforms in the public transport industry, especially the matatu

Draining the swamp: Mungiki and transport sector reforms

The public security crisis posed by street fights between Mungiki youths
and the Kamjeshi90 gangs for control of lucrative matatu (private taxi)
routes in Kenya’s cities and towns came to a head from mid-2003. The
instrumentalization of disorder in the matatu sector had deep roots in the
high noon of Nyayo autocracy (1982–1990), when the Moi government
encouraged KANU youth wingers to take over matatu routes and
terminals, in a client–patron arrangement which not only enabled KANU
to monitor and punish dissent and to assert its authority in public spaces,
but more importantly allowed these youthful clients to eke a living by
extorting money from commuter buses and taxis, often resulting in violent
confrontations with non-KANU youths, drivers and touts.

As Matt Stevens has shown, the matatu culture, identified with youth who served
as drivers and touts, became synonymous with chaos and corruption in the
social fabric.

In October 2003, Kenya’s transport minister, John Michuki, announced
sweeping reforms intended to wrest control of the public transport industry
from gangs and thugs by imposing formal government control. Kenya’s
over 50,000 matatu operators were expected to fit their vehicles with seat
belts, install speed governors to limit speed to a maximum of 80 km per
hour, and to limit the number of passenger seats to 13 per vehicle, as
opposed to the usual 18–20, by 31 January 2004. Further, the reforms,
which came to be known as the ‘Michuki laws’, required drivers in the
public sector and their assistants to obtain a certificate of good conduct
from the police and to wear uniforms with badges bearing their names.

The reform of the matatu sector threatened to strip Mungiki of one of its
main sources of funding. Previously, Mungiki had controlled matatus operating
on the busy routes to Kayole, Dandora (routes 32 and 42), Huruma
(route 46) and Kariobangi (routes 14, 28 and 40) in Nairobi while it also
controlled and collected levies from other routes outside Nairobi.92 At the
peak of its influence, Mungiki is said to have collected at least KSh10,000
[$125] a day per route, amounting to nearly KSh200,000 ($2,500) per day
from all the routes under its control.

The failure of the transport reforms to
offer an alternative source of income to Mungiki and other youths forced
them to devise alternative strategies for exercising control over and extorting
money from the matatu sector. Although the government demanded
that touts and drivers in the matatu sector obtain certificates of good
conduct from February 2004, Mungiki stepped up its terror to maintain a
firm grip on the most profitable routes and marimas (terminals).

Mungiki resorts to terror

Hard on the heels of the transport reforms, on 8 March 2004, the press,
citing police sources, announced that a special terror unit known as ‘bagation’
squad, a corruption or contraction of the words ‘no bargain over death’,
was formed within Mungiki as one of the highest organs in the movement’s

Police sources disclosed that at least 50 young people had
entered the hit squad between January and March 2004. The number rose
meteorically in the succeeding months.

The bagation squad consisted of youths in their teens and early twenties
who curiously were required to pay between Ksh1,200 and Ksh1,800
[$15–$23] before they were allowed to graduate to the ‘prestigious’ and
lucrative bagation unit.

The formation of the bagation squad was part of a grand effort by Mungiki to reorganize itself to defend its turf. There is evidence that the movement adopted a cell system of mobilization akin to that of an international terrorist group. It set up an elaborate network covering
all of Nairobi’s shanty areas, with platoons operating in the Nairobi
slums and hideouts in Mombasa, Murang’a, Nakuru, Nyeri and Laikipia.

Once celebrated as a showpiece of efforts by displaced and disinherited
Mungiki follows to eke a legitimate living through agriculture, the movement’s
farm in Laikipia district became a ‘State House’, coordinating the
training of its fighters away from the view of security forces.

Mungiki’s new terror machine had two main tasks. The first and most
important was to secure the movement’s existing sources of funds and devise
and execute new fund-raising techniques. Ensuring control over profitable
matatu routes and terminals was the most important source of funding.98 Apart
from contributions willingly offered by some drivers who were still members of
the sect, the movement was also taking as much as KSh200 from drivers forcefully,
intimidating those drivers who refused to cooperate by showing them
their guns.

As earlier noted, Mungiki netted millions of Kenya shillings per
month from the routes and terminals where it exercised control.
Another source of income was protection money, made possible by the
collapse of public security under Moi. Mungiki squads extracted protection
money from households and businesses in certain estates to ‘maintain
security’ in parts of Nairobi.

In Mathare, Mlango Kubwa and St. Teresa’s estate in Eastleigh, Mungiki members demand KSh50 a month from every household. In Mathare slums, the group changed its name to Wazalendo (‘patriots’), posing as security agents. Besides protection money, Mungiki
also made tens of thousands of shillings from making illegal electric
connections from power lines to houses and charging monthly fees of
KSh100–300 ($1.50–$4.50) to residents.100 At one point, Mungiki members,
determined to occupy any opening in the informal sector by force,
frequently invaded Wakulima (‘farmers’) market in Nairobi, demanding to
take over the loading of goods onto vehicles.

Mungiki members were

Part of the reason for payment is that after graduation they would be in control of major
resources and were entitled to a regular income:
also required to pay one shilling everyday, delivered to the sect’s national
leaders every month. Mungiki squads also coordinated a set of high-level criminal activities
collectively described as gutaha (‘raiding’), ranging from armed robbery to

In fact, some of the household names in Kenya’s criminal
underworld such as Wucucu and Wanugu — both pseudonyms — are
alleged to have some linkages with Mungiki.

Mungiki was also linked to escalating cases of the hijacking of public transport vehicles where passengers were robbed of their money and belongings and stripped of their

Perhaps the only known legitimate source of funding in Nairobi
is a poultry farm that some Mungiki members reportedly operated in
Kitengela near Nairobi.

Money collected by the members from different sources went into
paying the salaries of those members who were involved full time in the
movement’s duties; contributing to the chairman’s kitty; purchasing weapons
for members, including guns for senior members (njama); and, finally,
a share went to bribe the government’s security system, particularly
Mungiki’s police collaborators. It is reported that in Dandora estate alone,
the group had over 300 guns.

A further task was to ensure the cohesion of the movement by protecting
leaders and dealing ruthlessly with defectors. The police reported that
diehards in the sect were trying to intimidate those who had abandoned it,
hence the formation of this dangerous squad for revenge missions.107
Mungiki’s elite bagation squad, which operated from the Riverside area of
Nairobi central district, was used by leaders to execute real or imagined
adversaries and to collect protection money.108 Members of the unit were
divided into platoons, each with ten members and a leader operating in a
Mafia style. These became assassination squads.

Mungiki’s war on defectors

From January 2004, Mungiki leaders became increasingly wary as
members began to defect in hordes to Christian churches and a few to
Islam. A combination of government amnesty, a clampdown on Mungiki,
transport reforms and Mungiki’s weakening control of resources in the
informal sector and criminal underworld induced massive defections. It is
estimated that by mid-2004, about 75% of former Mungiki followers had
abandoned the movement.

Perhaps one of the most painful defections was that of Mungiki’s mercurial national coordinator, Ndura Waruinge, who converted to Christianity and denounced the movement.110 Waruinge,
who had been arrested and charged on 17 April 2003, was set free
when the prosecution declared that it had no case against him, in what the
media satirized as a ‘peace bond’.

Mungiki’s underground war on defectors started with public harassment
and the disappearances of well-known defectors. In January 2004, Mungiki
adherents seriously injured four street preachers and chased worshippers
with clubs, machetes and swords.

One defector, David Kabia, went missing on 30 January 2004. Another defector, Jacob Karanja, a preacher and musician, was hijacked in Kariobangi.

From early June 2004, Mungiki diehards intensified their acts of terror. As a
warning to would-be defectors, they severed the head of a defector, Simon
Ndabi Kamore, put it in a paper bag and dumped it at the Overseas Trading
Company (OTC) bus stop in Nairobi.

At the same time, a Mungiki couple, Pastor James Irungu Njenga and his wife Florence Muthoni, were shot dead by gunmen at their Kiamaiko slum home as their three children watched, reportedly because they had openly renounced membership of the movement.

ByJuly 2004, at least 18 people had reportedly been killed by Mungiki squads,
most of them former Mungiki members who had publicly denounced the
sect.116 What terrified Mungiki’s potential victims, as one defector explained,
was the fact that ‘when a member is killed, the body will never be found as it
would be cut into pieces, packed in a bag and thrown into a nearby river’.

Mungiki extended its terror to non-members. A 13-year-old school girl, Evelyne
Mumbua, was slashed to death by suspected Mungiki diehards who
unleashed terror on residents of Nairobi’s Mlango Kubwa in Easleigh estate.

The kidnapping and disappearance of Pastor Jacob Karanja sparked
violent demonstrations in Nairobi streets by Mungiki defectors asking for
government protection, leading to serious confrontation with the police.
Former Mungiki members also sought an audience with the national
security minister, Chris Murungaru, to seek guarantees for their security.

Many defectors scurried into hiding or sought safe havens in rural areas,
forcing provincial administrators in Nairobi to convene an emergency
meeting to discuss the security of Mungiki defectors.120
Government clampdown

In response, the government formed a special force, the ‘Cobra squad’,
made up of over 100 officers from five security units drawn from the
regular police, the General Service Unit (GSU), the administration police,
the Criminal Investigation Department, the Flying Squad and special anticrime
units to try to wipe out the group.

The squad had remarkable success in arresting over ten national and
regional leaders of the sect during raids in Dandora in Nairobi and Juja in
Thika district and extended the net to Embu, Eldoret, Kericho, Nyeri,
Nakuru and Machakos town. Dissenters in the sect provided the police with
lists of members, a list of contributions made by members and other documents
on the group’s possessions, enabling the police to make major depredations
on the movement.122 Former Nakuru Town MP David Manyara and
12 Mungiki members were arraigned in court on charges of the murder of ten
people in Nakuru’s Flamingo and Lake View estates in January 2003.

The police raided Mungiki’s headquarters in Nairobi’s Mukuru kwa
Reuben slum, arresting John Maina Njenga, widely believed to be the
sect’s spiritual leader. Njenga was later formally charged with murder
and belonging to an illegal society.

On 15 April 2004, police arrested a woman suspected to be leading a gang that circumcises women by force. Internal Security Minister Chris Murungaru declared ‘total war’ on the
remaining sect members and promised that the government would ‘wipeout’
the sect.127 Three Mungiki members who had killed a police officer,
Constable George Waigwa, on 24 September 2000, were sentenced to

These measures seemed to work. By the end of June 2004, Mungiki
appeared to be losing the fight and was calling for a truce. On 21 June,
Mungiki leaders including the Rift Valley coordinator Kimani Ruo, the
national organizing secretary, Njoroge Kamunya, the Nairobi coordinator,
Kamau Mwatha, and Nakuru coordinator Kamondo Karuri, appealed to
the government for negotiations, asking to meet the Parliamentary Select
Committee on National Security and ‘be given a chance to defend
ourselves and put the record straight’.129 These leaders blamed the murders
of the perceived Mungiki defectors on what they described as ‘rogue
Mungiki cartels’, revealing splits within the movement especially between
the diehards and what these leaders described as ‘street preachers and
herbalists fighting for supremacy and a bigger pay cheque’.130 Further,
these leaders claimed that most Mungiki members had reformed and
joined the mainstream churches and Islam. The perpetrators of the killings,
they claimed, were members of murder groups formed by politicians
and former policemen.131 While reinforcing the argument made elsewhere
that Mungiki was not a homogenous group, these claims also revealed
intensifying political struggles within and between various factions in
NARC over the constitution and the Kibaki succession. It is possible that
we are witnessing a realignment of elements inside Mungiki that will again
become a factor in the politics of succession ahead of the 2007 elections.


This article has examined how Mungiki used a generational discourse and
adopted traditional Kikuyu ideas concerning the transfer of power to
challenge their powerlessness and to stake claim to leadership in the politics
of Moi’s succession. In a sense, Mungiki signified not only a logic of instrumentalization
of disorder that has characterized Kenya’s multi-party era, but
also the effort to re-traditionalize governance in an essentially modern space.
However, the movement’s leadership was co-opted by the dominant elders in
the ruling party and joined the KANU bandwagon in support of Project
Uhuru, introducing a violent streak to electioneering. It abandoned its original
moral crusade and embarked on reckless violence that eventually undermined
its legitimacy and its influence in the public realm. Its continued
violence in the post-election era convinced the government of the need to
restrain youth as part of its reconstruction agenda and to restore public order
and security. This has translated into the bureaucratization of the matatu
transport sector, identified with the culture of vigilantism and youth violence.
While the reform of the public sector coupled with enforcement of the law
has effectively contained youth violence and seen the exit of the Mungiki from
the public sphere, among other youth groups, the need for generational
equity and empowerment will continue to haunt the political elite in the
post-Moi era. As scholars announce the ‘end of the post-colonial state’132
in Africa — meaning that the African state has ceased to resemble its colonial
progenitor — it is important to rethink the ideological foundation of the
African state that is emerging from the wave of democratic projects. Consequently,
this article has argued that the future of the African state lies not only
in transforming (moral) ethnicity into the foundational myth of modern African
political thought, but also in grounding the state in Africa’s multi-ethnic and
multi-identity reality. Generational identities are part of this reality.