*By Wangari Maathai -Nobel Peace Prize winner
With the pervasive demonisation of the Mungiki militia group providing an effective cover for the killing of members of the Kikuyu community – Mungiki and non-Mungiki alike – ordinary citizens are reluctant to speak out, both for fear of being accused of supporting the sect and of the reactions of Mungiki militia to criticism. Calling on the political and religious leadership of the Kikuyu community to face up to the challenge in its midst, Maathai urges the country to heal the growing rift between the community and other Kenyans.
In the course of history everywhere in the world, it is the leadership of the day that guides its people towards peace or war, poverty or wealth, development or collapse, slavery or freedom. And so it is with Kenya’s current leadership, a leadership which is failing to see the signs of anger and frustration of those they govern even though the writing is on the wall. Since the rupture over the infamous Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2003, the referendum on the constitution, the general elections and the subsequent fallout from them, Kenya has continued to slide dangerously backwards.
In 2008, thanks to a quick response from the African Union and the international community, Kenya was saved from the brink and a National Accord was arrived at to allow the Party of National Unity (PNU) and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) to declare a ceasefire, share power and work towards national cohesion and reconciliation. Kenya was given a new lease of life but since then the leadership has wasted away that second chance as it continues to compete and play politics with only 2012 in mind. In the past, the failure to recognise danger signs were the reason why some people expressed shock and dismay that deadly post-election violence could happen in Kenya in 2007-08. Such people had believed that Kenya was a peaceful country. Unfortunately, that perception was because people ignored the danger signs and lived a lie. To such people the tribal clashes of 1991, 1992 and 1997 were quickly forgotten. Yet during those earlier clashes, as in 2007-08, distress calls to the police for help were ignored. Many people died, and more were maimed, raped and displaced, while much property was destroyed. Again, once politicians shared power and privileges, nobody was held responsible for those crimes. Everything was swept under the carpet and was quickly forgotten. As it turned out, the clashes of the 1990s proved to be rehearsals for the post-election violence of 2007-08 and in all cases the violence was largely directed at the Kikuyu community.
Currently, the danger signs are palpable. Instances of citizens being murdered in cold blood in cases where no robbery is involved, or citizens shouting down leaders at public rallies – such as happened during Jamhuri Day (12 December 2008) and Labour Day (1 May 2009) – or youth uprooting the railway, engaging police in gun battles in rural towns, or engaging in killing orgies of defenceless villagers, are all signs of a society that is falling apart and losing respect for the rule of law. The government knows that the violence and killings are largely perpetrated by members of militia groups, which are created and funded by politicians. Different communities have their militia, which bear different names. The government knows these militia groups and knows that politicians use them to punish and defeat their opponents, especially during elections. If they win elections, the same politicians end up in government and become part of the leadership.
Mungiki, which is currently making headlines, is the militia group from the Kikuyu community. Information about the group is kept secret, but unconfirmed reports indicate that this militia is split into several groups. The original Mungiki members were only interested in pursuing the Kikuyu form of worship, which prays facing Mt. Kenya. This group does not believe in Christianity and calls for the traditional Kikuyu way of life, including practicing female circumcision. Owing largely to its stand on those two issues, the strongly christianised Kikuyu community has been unsympathetic towards this group and has largely demonised the sect. The banning of the sect by the government has criminalised it, and therefore the community and Kenyans in general have tolerated the extrajudicial killing of its members.The police have taken advantage of this demonisation and criminalisation to kill Mungiki indiscriminately, because they know that they will not be called to account. Why the members of the sect are denied freedom of worship, in a country where everybody else can worship as they please, is not clear. Indeed it is only among the Kikuyu community that worshiping in a traditional way is demonised, criminalised and the killing of followers is tolerated.
The second group camouflages itself as Mungiki but is said to be comprised of militiamen being recruited from thousands of unemployed youth. With the failure of the cash crop economy, impoverishment and the introduction of drugs and illicit alcoholic drinks in the Central region, it has been easy to recruit youth and men into militia groups. Criminality gradually infiltrated some of these militia groups, especially as they sought ways to sustain themselves beyond the handouts from their sponsors. Therefore, they become available to politicians and others for hire. They are the type we encounter protecting grabbed public lands or properties built on stolen land. Sometimes they may receive police protection, an indication of their political patronage.
The third group is claimed to be closely connected to the law enforcement arm of the government and is used to collect information, intimidate and instil fear in citizens, terrorise matatus and silence elements like dissidents, activists and competing elements. It may also provide ‘protection’ or other services for a fee. These are the ones people accuse of hiring police guns to commit crimes.
In some cases the militiamen and the law enforcement arm of the government form a symbiotic relationship, which sometimes goes sour with either of them getting killed. When militiamen are killed they are labelled thieves and members of the Mungiki sect. That is usually an indication that the matter get closed and no further action is expected. Because of the internalised disdain of the Mungiki sect, especially in the Kikuyu community, the expected outcry against their killings has been absent and nobody in the community wants to be seen supporting Mungiki. At the same time Mungiki has instilled so much fear in the community that nobody is willing to speak about them or their actions for fear of immediate elimination.Therefore, when innocent persons are killed and are labelled Mungiki, death is stoically accepted as the will of God and the community internalises the pain. Killing members of Mungiki, irrespective of their innocence, has became so acceptable that all that police have to claim to literally get away with any murder is to say that the victim was a member of Mungiki. Unfortunately, that has degenerated into acceptance of killing of innocent Kikuyus. Currently this is further degenerating into members of Mungiki turning on the community itself in a cycle of vengeance and tit-for-tat.
The recent murder of the son of the former member of parliament for Gatundu North, Hon. Kariuki Muiruri, painfully exemplifies the tragedy and the dilemma that the Kikuyu community faces. The son was shot dead by a plainclothes policeman, who subsequently walked into a police station and wrote in the Occurrence Book (OB) that he had killed a thief who was also a member of the Mungiki sect! Yet the son was on holiday and the two met casually at a social place. Whatever the circumstances that led to the shooting of the son, this was a case of an innocent young man killed by a policeman who knew that nothing would happen to him if he were to record that the man was a member of the Mungiki sect. But for the fact that the victim was the son of a former member of parliament and a former assistant minister, Muiruri’s son would have joined the list of thousands of Kikuyu youth who have been killed under similar circumstances and labelled thieves and members of the Mungiki sect.
The Mungiki phenomenon, almost like the Mau Mau experience five decades ago, is providing cover for extrajudicial killings, intimidation, harassment, criminalisation and the bashing of the Kikuyu community under the pretence that police are protecting citizens from Mungiki. Sometimes police are fully aware of the activities carried out by this group. The killings in Mathira and Kirinyaga, for example, are said to have been committed with full knowledge of the law enforcement arm of the government. Indeed, citizens claim that distress calls to the police for help were never responded to until the killings had been completed. The extrajudicial killings of innocent Kenyans have been attracting international attention. This is because not only is the state perceived to be failing in protecting its citizens, but the police are being blamed for some of the deaths. Promises to carry out a thorough investigation come to nothing, and nobody has been held to account. After all, the police cannot be expected to investigate and incriminate themselves.
Perhaps militia groups like Mungiki have gotten out of hand. But is the right response to militia groups a license to kill them indiscriminately? We are not in a state of war, and nobody should be killed without following the due process of the law of the land, police excuses for self-defence notwithstanding. Police Commissioner Hussein Ali will find it hard to explain how in his era Kenya has experienced a level of carnage at the hands of the police greater than at any other time, even when compared with the colonial era. When the government sends the message that the Mungiki group should be crushed, it is an endorsement for extrajudicial killings. For their part, the militiamen will subsequently go on a killing spree to avenge members killed. This cycle of death has become a common feature, has instilled fear and has given rise to frustration in the people of Central Kenya.
The way I see it, the political and religious leadership of the Kikuyu community should rise to the challenge facing the entire community. This is a community that suffers from accumulated trauma and frustration extending back to the beginning of the colonial era. From the latest attack during the post-election violence, the community has yet to bury their dead, settle the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and send their children back to school. A culture of Kikuyu bashing, criminalisation and isolation is being perpetrated and is quickly entrenching itself, creating a deep rift between the community and other Kenyans. The fact that this is happening when the national leadership in State House is from the community is doubly tragic. How can they be so bashed, so criminalised, killed, displaced and humiliated when their beloved son is in State House? Will he wait until he or members of his family are touched by the tragedy afflicting the community? If they are now encouraged to turn on each other, there will be no shortage of helping hands, including being given guns to kill their own children! For a country awash with militia groups, these are dangerous signs not only for the Kikuyu community, but for Kenya as a whole. The question I would ask Prime Minister Raila Odinga is, have you not heard the cries or seen the tears of these Kenyans in your capacity as the coordinator of government business? Have you not seen the mourning mothers?