It’s a catch-22 situation in Mungiki

A GSU officer patrols Kagochi village in Mathira East on October 27, 2009, a day after two youths suspected to be Mungiki members were killed in Ihwagi village. Residents called for reconciliation among the local youths after the incident.

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Mwaura is one of the many young men trapped in dilemma over whether to quit and face the wrath of other sect members or stay put and continue to face arrest by police

Mr Kimani Mwaura’s dull and tired eyes seem to lack the motivation for life as he sits on the side of Outer Ring Road.

It is three months now since he came out of jail after serving for nine months for what he calls trumped-up charges of possessing stolen property.

Mr Mwaura, 34, believes he was arrested because he was a member of the proscribed Mungiki sect although the police came up with other reasons for the seizure.

“The police arrested me with seven others and took us to a cell where we were held for two months before they took us to court on charges of handling stolen property,” he said.

Mr Mwaura looked bitter as he talked about his arrest and subsequent jailing but is confused on who to blame for his predicament.

Prior to his latest arrest and subsequent jail term, he has lived in police cells several times in the last two years over one criminal allegation or the other.

“Once the police knew that I was a Mungiki member, they never failed to get a reason to arrest me when I was based at the Machakos country bus station,” said Mr Mwaura.

He said he would collect between Sh500 and Sh1,000 in fees from the buses travelling upcountry. Together with collections from colleagues, they would end up with not less than Sh40,000.  

Mr Mwaura said in 1999, he and three of his friends left their village in Kangema division, Murang’a, at dawn for the city they had only heard about.

He had lied to his single mother, Mama Njeri, that he had been invited by his friend to visit him in Nairobi, where he would help him find a job.

The journey to the city, which was considered to be full of opportunities, took one-and-a-half hours.

Mr Mwaura, the first born in a family of six,  said that anxiety about what lay ahead gripped him because he only had Sh500. “I didn’t know how much it cost to live in the city,” said Mr Mwaura

For a week they were hosted by a village mate in Kayole Estate before a neighbour convinced him to take up a job in Gatundu, Kiambu, that involved taking care of her mother’s livestock.

He said for six months he was dedicated to his work in Gatundu before one of the youths he had come along with to the city, a Mr Wa-Njeri, paid him a visit on the farm one afternoon.

“He looked smart and seemed to be doing well in the city and I was eager to listen to him because he must have found a secret about surviving in the city” said Mr Mwaura.

It did not take long for his village mate to convince him to leave the job in the village and join him in making money. At the end of the month, he left the village job and joined his old-time friend at his house in Kayole.

Mr Mwaura said that his friend took him around town for a number of days, introducing him to his friends.

Little did he know that the colleagues, including the village mates he had come from the village with were Mungiki members.

“It then dawned on me that most of my friends I had interacted with in town were Mungiki members and they seemed to be proud of it. I envied their easy life and possession of money all the time,” said Mr Mwaura.

Before long, he was inducted into the Mungiki sect and a new life began. Most of his friends now became closer.

“They readily accepted me and shared the secrets of how they made their money and the sect groups they had in the city. Many members knew each other well. I felt good being part of the sect,” said Mr Mwaura.

The Mungiki adherent said life was good then. They would extort money here and there and remain with some after passing over the rest to there caucus heads.

“With money and power of being untouched, we enjoyed the moment and even the police did not care much about our existence.”

According to Mr Mwaura, the Kanu regime did not have a problem with their operations and things ran well for them. There were no police disturbances, he said.

However, the outlawed sect member said life changed as the years went by, with the government starting to crack down on their operations, including extortion of money from matatu operators.

“It was easy for the police to deal with us because we were not hiding and they knew that we were Mungiki. For the many years that the government has been cracking on us, I have lost many friends. This was particularly true of the operation in 2007,” said Mr Mwaura. “The crackdown was so intense and vigorous that I lost a good number of my friends.”

Since he has been in and out of police cells and jail, Mr Mwaura has no family. The wife she had lived with and with whom he had a baby boy left him when he was on remand.

Wants to leave the sect

Deep in his heart, Mr Mwaura wants to leave the sect and lead a normal life. However, the man from Kangema is in a dilemma.

“If I dissociate myself with them (colleagues), they will know that I have developed cold feet. I don’t know what will befall me. I don’t even want to imagine it. Meanwhile, the security people know that I am Mungiki and I don’t know how to convince them otherwise,” said the bitter sect member.

To him, the only option is to go and live somewhere far from Central, Nairobi and parts of Rift Valley like Nakuru, Naivasha and Laikipia, where Mungiki cells are active.

“These people (Mungiki) are very vicious. If you get out of the caucus for some time, they start following you and they are capable of doing anything. At least I have a reprieve because I have come out of jail and I asked to be exempted from extorting money from the matatu operators as a way of evading the police,” he said.

Mr Mwaura is one of the many youths trapped in a catch-22 situation over whether to quit and face the wrath of the other sect members or stay put and continue to suffer under the heavy police crackdowns.

Although Mr Mwaura is glad that he is still alive, he feels that life no longer has taste and that he has been a pawn in a game.

“When I joined the sect, I thought it was a good life with free money and many other things. But now I am 34 without a family and nothing to show for my years and I don’t know when to get out of this mess,” said Mr Mwaura.

The name of the Mungiki confidant and that of his mother have been changed for fear of repercusions.