Police stormed impoversihed Nairobi neighborhoods June 4 in search of Mungiki militants accused in a string of beheadings—killing 22 suspects and arresting 100 in overnight gun-battles. The raids came after two police officers were shot dead in the Kenyan capital’s Mathare district. The Mungiki cult is suspected in the deaths of at least 18 people in the past three months, including 10 found mutilated or beheaded since May. The latest beheadings were overnight, the same time as the Nairobi gunbattles, in Muranga, 40 miles north of the capital.
Mungiki militants faxed a statement to Kenya state television, saying the raids killed just one of its members. Police say they found leaflets allegedly circulated by the group calling on Kenyan youth to join and prepare for an uprising against the government. The leaflet reportedly includes the threat: “If one youth is killed we shall kill 10 police.”
Mungiki is believed to have thousands of followers, overwhelmingly from the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethncity. The group, whose name means “multitude” in the Kikuyu language, was inspired by the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s against the British. Sect members traditionally wear dreadlocks, as did the Mau Mau fighters, and pray facing Mount Kenya, which the Kikuyu believe to be the home of their supreme deity. The sect also encourages female genital mutilation and using tobacco snuff. The movement was outlawed in 2002 after at least 20 people were killed in fighting between the Mungiki and another gang called the Taliban, whose members come from the Luo people of western Kenya.
Mutuma Ruteere, dean of the Kenya Human Rights Institute, linked the Mungiki problem to poverty. “We have no policies to ensure that young, poorly educated people have a livelihood and a stake in the future of this country,” he told AP. “You can have the economy growing at 6 percent but these young men do not have shares at the stock exchange so this does not help them with anything.” (AP, June 5)
Kenya’s Information Minister Mutahi Kagwe warned the Mungiki their missions were doomed to fail and urged Kenyans to assist the government in hunting the militants down. He also said the attacks are geared towards discrediting the administration of President Mwai Kibaki. “This country has faced more serious issues than this we shall overcome,” he said. (The Nation, Nairobi, June 5)
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