Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mungiki Mayhem

There is a type of evil in Kenya that rarely rears its head in the U.S. It involves politics and paganism and poor and angry youth, manipulated by leaders with hatred and a thirst for power. The malevolence was witnessed in the post-election violence and appeared again this past week in a more familiar form. . .The Kenya National Youth Alliance is a registered political organization and (not surprisingly) includes supporters in the new government cabinet and in various upper level political posts. The K.N.Y.A. is better known as the Mungiki and is a dreaded pseudo-religious sect and somehow an offspring of the Mau Mau revolutionaries. The Mungiki have a long history of violence and extortion, and were actually responsible for much of the post-election ethnic violence here in Kenya. They are a Kikuyu gang enrolling young men (sometimes through kidnapping, coercion, or bribes), and engaging in bizarre rituals with animal sacrifice. Members take blood oaths of loyalty and submit to a jailed spiritual leader and prophet who founded the group while in high school.

The Mungiki have a stronghold over certain regions of Kenya and are financed largely through extortion schemes. Mungiki members charge monthly “protection fees” to every household in some slums, and require small businesses to cough up a portion of the proceeds. They also demand a daily fee from matatu drivers and public transport vehicles for “allowing” them to use the roads. From time to time passenger vehicles that do not comply are torched and their drivers and conductors are beheaded.

I’ve had several close encounters with the Mungiki. In fact, a few weeks ago I ran into eight hundred of them. It was a Wednesday and I was on my way to Nairobi’s city centre, hoping to meet my landlord and pay the monthly rent. As I entered the city, I found a loud and large gathering of teenage and twenty-something young men shouting slogans. It was mid-morning and shops were open with many wandering about their normal business, pretending not to notice the large crowds of dreadlocked youth. At first I thought the marchers were celebrating the recent peace agreement; they seemed somehow jovial even in their riotous anger, proudly lifting placards and setting piles of rubbish ablaze. Usually the police disperse such crowds swiftly, but there were no forces in sight. Not realizing what was going on, I joined two smartly dressed businesspeople and walked right through the middle of the Mungiki march, taking my normal path to the landlord’s office. Immediately after crossing the road, we all ran for cover. Security forces tossed tear gas and shot live rounds towards the crowd. I dashed into a Barclays Bank as the lobby attendant quickly sealed the doors. . .We were a bit bleary eyed but grateful for the grace to escape such a mad-capped malevolence.

“In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free.” – Psalm 118:5

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