Sungusungu: Vigilante that elicits fear and admiration

Suspected Sungusung members a past function in Kisii. PHOTO | JACOB OWITI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Youth from poor and lowly educated families are particularly attracted to Sungusungu as it offers them money.
  • Some residents have however lauded Sungusungu for restoring sanity in Kisii, having succeeded in weeding out criminals.
  • Sources in the police indicate that bodies are collected often but investigations do not go far because no resident is willing to give information.   

To most locals in Kisii and Nyamira counties, the mention of Sungusungu draws chills down their spines. But a few admire this dreaded group.

The dreaded group, which used to maim or kill at will, probably because it was linked to key political chiefs in the region, had virtually disappeared in the last five years or so. 

But incidents in the region in the last three weeks signal its return.

Some locals fear that after the political goodwill was cut off, after the ban, the group could be ready to do anything to earn their daily bread, often at a brutal expense of humanity and justice. 

PAIN
In Kisii Town, the group recently activated its operations near Gusii stadium and has bases or cells in major towns in the two counties. 

Some top county security officers say members of the group disguise as community policing committee members. 

Sadly, the militia group, inflicts evil and criminal deeds on innocent residents.

Recently, a man commonly referred to as Jose and a suspected ring leader of Sungusungu died following a botched attack in Manga, Borabu Sub-County, Nyamira. 

Jose together with his friends numbering 15 were supposedly hired by a local tycoon to perform some duties in his house. 

The group had been ‘ imported’ from Kisii Town and went to the man’s first wife resident at night armed with iron bars, axe and machetes for the “job”.

ATTEMPTED MURDER
They were however attacked by an irate mob, which had responded to an alarm raised by Ms Mary Kwamboka Omundi and her sons. 

Most of the group members managed to flee but Jose, who hid in a cabinet, was cornered and received the wrath of the mob. 

He died at Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital where he had been rushed for treatment. 

A man, identified in court papers as Alfred Moffard Omundi, and his third wife were later arraigned in Keroka Law Courts and charged with attempting to rob and murder their close relatives.

Mr Omundi together with eight other suspects before court were charged with attempting to murder Eric Omundi. 

They were also charged with violently robbing Ms Kwamboka, the tycoon’s first wife, and her son Eric. 

PASTOR ABDUCTED
Another incident involves a pastor from Suneka who was abducted two weeks ago. Pastor Esther Bochaberi Oyugi is yet to be found. 

Her colleagues, relatives, friends and neighbours say she was abducted following a land tussle with a neighbour who works in the county government. 

Area chief Benson Machuka and four other suspects said to be community policing members were arrested and arraigned in Kisii Law Courts on accusations of being behind the kidnapping. 

Two weeks ago, residents of Nyanchwa estate discovered a human head and arm stuffed in a black polythene bag, inside a bucket and abandoned on a road side. 

Some residents speculated witchcraft while others pointed fingers to members of the outlawed group. 

Locals say with the recent happenings, they are worried that the group may have been targeting many innocent people. 

“They are men for hire and work is done according to the highest bidder,” a trader in Kisii Town says.

POVERTY
Youth from poor and lowly educated families are particularly attracted to Sungusungu as it offers them money and ‘higher socio-economic status’.

But the money earned seems not to be of help to them as most live miserable lives. Those holding positions may be benefiting more.

A reformed member of the gang says there is a hierarchy in the group and respect, loyalty and discipline are key among members.

There are also departmental heads each mandated to deal with particular social issues.

“The greatest problem now is that there are wrangles among top members mostly brought about by differences arising from sharing of loot.

"Some members feel oppressed in that they carry out most of the dangerous and dirty assignments while those who benefit most do little,” a reformed member reveals.

SAFETY
Some residents have however lauded Sungusungu for restoring sanity in Kisii, having succeeded in weeding out criminals while some view it is as a haven for criminals. 

“We no longer worry so much about breakages in our homes. We have a 24 hour security,” one woman who only wanted to be identified as Kemunto says.  

Ms Kemunto says a decade ago, Kisii was home to notorious criminals and where she lives in Nyanchwa was worse.

Now she claims Sungusungu is credited for clearing out criminals. That, though, brought in a new problem: They are the only ones roaming the streets and now target civilians. 

“The problem now is that there are no more criminals to deal with and members of the group have to continue working to remain relevant.

"They must also cater for their daily needs and have therefore turned to not so good activities,” Kemunto says. 

DISPUTES
The group is very powerful with connections among politicians and the police.

It has been arbitrating cases involving debtors, land disputes, adultery and family conflicts, punishing witches and fixing political and business competitors in the region.

Even some couples after a slight disagreement run to the vigilante for help.

“I was arraigned before a group of men for allegedly ‘stealing’ another man’s wife.

"I tried to explain that I was innocent but none heard my plea. I was given a thorough beating before being fined Sh30,000,” a man who once tasted the wrath of the gang says.

Sources in the police indicate that bodies are collected often but investigations do not go far because no resident is willing to give information.   

“They fear that members of the gang will go for them, so they prefer with-holding information,” reveals an officer with the Directorate of Criminal Investigations. 

UNIDENTIFIED BODIES
And where suspects are arrested, the cases end up being thrown out of court for lack of evidence and witnesses. 

In fact, unclaimed bodies at the Kisii Teaching and Referral hospital morgue may be the works of the outlawed group.

Public Health officials say some of the unidentified bodies are collected by police officers from various parts of Kisii County and dumped at the facility.

About eight years ago, the Government outlawed 33 criminal groups in the country, among them the dreaded Sungusungu. 
It was declared an organised criminal group, but despite being banned, it has continued to thrive almost a decade on. 

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