Police in Kenya’s crime-ridden capital of Nairobi gunned down 22 suspected members of the outlawed Mungiki sect last week in the Mathare slum, a gang stronghold. The Mungiki, banned since 2002, are suspected in the deaths of at least 18 people over the past three months, including six found decapitated since May, their heads erected on stakes, their bodies hacked to pieces. Those gruesome killings are thought to have been carried out in retaliation for a recent police crackdown.
The religious sect, which claims two mil-
lion adherents, draws from Kenya’s Kikuyu tribe, the country’s largest. It first emerged in the late 1980s as an anti-colonialist, antiChristian movement, says professor Stephen Brown, an area specialist at the University of Ottawa. Like latter-day Mau Maus, the Mungiki wore dreadlocks to show their disdain for Western culture, and adopted the militancy of class warfare. Currently, however, the Mungiki function as a sort of Kenyan mafia. Adherents, who swear an oath of allegiance, are accused of illegally providing water and electricity at monopoly prices in the country’s slums, and of extorting protection fees.
The recent beheadings came in the wake of an order from the internal security minister for round-the-clock policing of the country’s minibus stations, to stop the widespread extortion of drivers and riders. And the crackdown continues: last week, officials announced 2,500 Mungiki arrests. But Kenya will hear from the sect again, says Brown. Experts fear the Mungiki may disrupt the country’s elections, scheduled for December, in which President Mwai Kibaki will seek a second term. “They could be used to mobilize people or intimidate candidates,” says Brown. “Clearly they are not afraid of killing people.” M
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