Armed police reportedly raided his homes in Laikipia and Nairobi counties a couple of hours before the burial of Mukami Kimathi, widow of Mau Mau hero Dedan Kimathi. Maina Njenga nonetheless sneaked into Mukami’s burial in Njambini, Nyandarua County on Saturday, May 13, after taking a ride in opposition chief Raila Odinga’s chopper.
The former Prime Minister went ahead to introduce the Laikipia politician to a thunderous applause from the mourners.
This short but high drama has since triggered a series of actions and reactions, including the interdiction of the Rift Valley Regional Director of Criminal Investigations, Francis Wanjau, who has been replaced by James Mwangi Kanywira.
Wanjau was reportedly being punished for failing to prevent Njenga from attending Mukami’s burial. He was also accused of “doing little” to ensure Njenga’s arrest ahead of the burial day – “so as not to embarrass the DP [Rigathi Gachagua]”.
Former President Uhuru Kenyatta has also been sucked into that Saturday episode as the alleged financial sponsor of the former leader of Mungiki, a proscribed ethnic organisation, amidst fears of the group’s revival to destabilise Ruto’s administration. Top government officials – DP Gachagua and Interior Cabinet Secretary Prof Kithure Kindiki – have vowed to vanquish Maina Njenga “if he attempts to revive the Mungiki movement”.
The intense focus on Njenga by government apparatus and political figures allied to the ruling Kenya Kwanza alliance as well as the rival Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya begs a host of questions. Just why would a 53-year-old politician without an elective seat and whose once vibrant outfit is now dormant, having been banned a decade ago, be the source of such anxiety and fear for Ruto’s government?
Is the man who has twice unsuccessfully vied for the senatorial seat in Laikipia now become such a forceful figure? Alternatively, is he a political threat to the government or a hazard to the political scheme of things in the Mt Kenya region, in particular Gachagua’s individual political career?
Former Subukia legislator Koigi wa Wamwere observes that officers in the Ruto administration are right about one thing – Njenga’s demonstrated capabilities in endearing himself to the youth and mobilising them for a targeted political goal.
Pointing out that Njenga has over the decades demonstrated a knack for “political opportunism”, Koigi, who was a crusader for political pluralism the 1980s and 1990s, recalls how Second President Daniel arap Moi used Njenga in the late 1990s to shield himself against political pressure from the Gikuyu Embu and Meru Association (Gema), spearheaded by then cabinet minister and Kiambaa MP Njenga Karume.
Moi reportedly gave Maina Njenga’s group money, vehicles and weapons to destabilise Gema from within. Njenga has confirmed several times that he worked closely with Moi, including engaging in “political and development activities” from when he was just 20 years old.
Curiously, that is just around the time when Gachagua – another close ally of the second President – served in Moi’s administration as District Officer. And noting that Gachagua was Moi’s “Mr Fix It” in the Mt Kenya region, Wamwere wonders whether it might be the former DO who connected the emerging Mungiki leader to Moi.
“How did this poor, struggling boy get to meet the country’s CEO and strike a working agreement if not through some connections by high-profile individuals in his administration?” he wonders. “And if that is the case, then these two (Gachagua and Njenga) are pretty well known to one another, in which case the DP’s fears about Njenga are justified.”
The Kenya Kwanza fraternity concurs with the concerns around Njenga. Kikuyu Member of Parliament Kimani Ichung’wah, for instance, considers him “a special purpose vehicle by merchants of violence and saboteurs” who, in his opinion, is plotting to use violence and “fear-mongering” to undermine the country’s national peace and security.
The National Assembly’s Majority Leader believes that the revival of Mungiki and its remobilisation and financing by political actors is a big threat to national security: “The people of Mt Kenya have absolutely no time for criminal elements and their financiers must know it will end in tears for them just as it has before whenever they have used the criminal elements for their own selfish ends.”
Although Ichung’wah does not disclose the said financiers, there is no doubt that his tirade is directed at Uhuru. It is a narrative that the allies of President Ruto have pushed for some time and one that DP Gachagua, in particular, is not shying away from.
Giving the resounding warning to Njenga a fortnight ago, Gachagua said that the government would not allow criminal gangs to cause mayhem in the country. He promised “to crash” Njenga and his group and accused Jubilee party leader, Kenyatta, of financing Njenga’s activities.
Typically, the former President has not reacted to the allegations but Wamwere insists that Gachagua is spot on about Njenga being a potential threat to Ruto’s administration. “They are afraid that he can mobilise rebellion against the government and totally dismantle the political equation for Gachagua in Mt Kenya region,” opines Wamwere.
Njenga leads a quiet life, only making occasional appearances at public gatherings, the latest being at Mukami’s funeral, former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka’s Yatta home, and the courts in Nakuru, where he made a brief appearance in an ongoing case against him.
Attempts by The Weekly Review, to interview the former Mungiki leader on his political considerations and to respond to accusations of plotting to revive the outlawed outfit proved tricky. After days of planning with one of his closest confidantes and a series of near-misses at discreet locations, Njenga reportedly turned down the interview.
His first wife, Virginia Nyakio, was brutally murdered in 2009 while he served sentence in prison, and his second wife, Grace Wairimu Nyambere, was also gunned down in a dramatic car chase in 2014. He is therefore highly secretive and security-conscious, more so now with the heightened interest in his activities. He neither picks calls from unknown people nor engages in “serious” discussion over the phone, preferring physical meetings which are difficult to honour because of his odd hours and choice of location.
Profiling Mt Kenya youth
In the meantime, Azimio has been quick to put in a word for the former Mungiki leader. In a press statement on Tuesday, the opposition coalition accused Kenya Kwanza of profiling Mt Kenya youth by linking them to Mungiki. Azimio argues that the government is profiling the region for political and economic domination.
“It is our position that profiling the Mt Kenya youth will not solve the regime’s problems. It will only derail the healing process,” remarked Narc Kenya party leader Martha Karua.
In addition, Gachagua appears to have shot himself in foot by kicking off an anti-alcoholism campaign to rid the Mt Kenya region of excessive consumption of cheap and illicit drinks and use of drugs. The youth are the main victims of the ongoing swoop. Coupled with joblessness and the high cost of living, they are a highly disenchanted lot that can easily be mobilised against the regime of the day. Judging from history, Njenga knows only too well how to manoeuvre such a situation.
He may have lost out on his bid for elective seats, but he continues to be a person of great importance on the national political stage. Except for his “lack of ideological clarity”, observes Wamwere, Maina Njenga is a lethal player and a ruthlessly efficient mobiliser who can be a “major source of political discomfort” if he is not on your side.