NAIROBI, Kenya -- Kenyan police said on Wednesday they had arrested 146 members of a shadowy religious sect, part of a crackdown sparked by the group's vow to seize control of public transport routes throughout the country.
Police have accused followers of Mungiki, a banned sect preaching a return to traditional African values, of creating a public disturbance and launched a drive in recent weeks to stamp out the group's activities and curb its influence.
"We have 146 members in custody," police spokesman Peter Kimanthi said. "We have held them in custody because we intend to charge them for various offences, including creating disturbances and being in possession of offensive weapons."
Mungiki leader Ibrahim Ndura Waruinge has also been arrested and is in police custody. "We will charge him with as many offences as we can find," Kimanthi said. "Mungiki is not a registered organisation, it is illegal."
Little is known of the sect which appears to be growing in popularity, especially among young and unemployed Kenyans. Waruinge has said the group has four million followers, but there is no independent confirmation of his claims.
The sect's leader was arrested after appearing on an independent television channel last week and declaring his group would take control of all minibus, or matatu, routes in Kenya.
Authorities have denied Waruinge's boasts that he has recruited thousands of members within the police and military.
Mungiki is believed to have emerged in the 1980s. Its male followers, many of whom wear dreadlocks, see themselves as the sons of the Mau Mau movement which fought a violent rebellion against British colonists in the 1950s.
While initially following the animist traditions of the Kikuyu tribe, the leadership of the sect converted to Islam last year and called for implementation of sharia, the Muslim legal code.
Police last evening arrested the controversial Mungiki sect's national co-ordinator Mr Ibrahim Ndura Waruinge and whisked him away to an undisclosed destination.
Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers from the Central Police Station staged a stake out at the Nation Centre along Kimathi Street for one hour before they arrested Waruinge.
He was then bundled into a waiting police vehicle and driven away.
Police sources said Waruinge was being held at an undisclosed station because it was feared that the Mungiki adherents might attempt to storm the Central Police station and release him.
The police have been searching for Waruinge, who has publicly declared that the Mungiki, an unregistered movement, would paralyse the transport system within the city should police interfere with their bid to take over the manning of all matatu termini.
The Mungiki have so far taken over the management of several routes around the city including Dandora, Baba Dogo, Kayole, Kikuyu, Wangige, Kariobangi and Waithaka.
On Friday afternoon and Sunday evening, Waruinge during a broadcast press conference warned police against interfering with Mungiki operations in the matatu termini.
However, the Nairobi Provincial Police Officer, Mr Geoffrey Muathe, cautioned Waruinge against issuing inflammatory statements and interfering with matatu operations in the city.
"If he interferes with matatu operations, we will deal with him and his group. We have laws in this country and they must be followed. Nobody will be allowed to hold Nairobians at ransom. We will not allow criminals to take over the transport system," warned Muathe.
The PPO last evening confirmed that Waruinge was arrested and that the police were collecting evidence of the crimes he has committed recently.
"We are looking at some issues and cases he has been involved and we are collecting evidence, including court files of cases still pending in various courts. We are looking for all criminal activities he has been involved in," Muathe said.
He said Waruinge will most likely be charged with taking over the matatu stages by force, creating disturbance, and interfering with business among other offences.
Waruinge had earlier yesterday morning allowed matatu manyangas (mini-buses) to start operating in Kayole after a two-day "ban" before his arrest.
Meanwhile, Mungiki leaders yesterday said they will disrupt future Gikuyu, Embu and Meru Association (Gema) meetings if all stakeholders in the country are not involved, add Beatrice Obwocha and Dorothy Nyukuri.
The Mungiki leaders said the Central Kenya MPs have failed to include all stakeholders in the province, adding that their sect has a larger following in the area than any other group.
They were reacting to the Gema Members of Parliament's five-hour meeting held last Thursday at a Naivasha hotel.
The Mungiki leaders, led by the sect's national chairman, Mr Maina Njenga, said the youth were not involved in the meeting and urged them to ignore the Gema MPs.
Njenga said Mungiki would lobby for a youthful candidate whom they are yet to name come the 2002 General Election.
Is the Government condoning the sect's exploits in Nairobi?
A puzzling scenario has been emerging lately. Is the government, which previously treated Mungiki as anathema, softening its stance towards the movement? Why is the government turning a blind eye as Mungiki runs riot by taking control of the matatu industry?
The leader of Mungiki, Ibrahim Ndura Waruinge, says in an interview this week that the movement is staying on course to its pre-ordained goals and will not be relenting.
He sounds ambiguous when asked whether he has entered the good books of the establishment, though he won't admit as much and now claims that his current woes have been manufactured in the newsrooms.
In an interview with him this week, he was particularly incensed by a commentary carried in the East African Standard recently.
But he admits, that on the contrary, this sword-crossing with the media has made his organisation flourish.
"They (media) began by saying we were oathing certain people. Then they came up with the issue of us circumcising women. Then they changed the version to say that we were striping women. They later said we wanted to overthrow the Government and now they are saying we are taking over the matatu industry," he charges.
"We are used to this and it's what has made Mungiki grow," reckons the co-ordinator of this amorphous movement.
What has baffled observers is that while Mungiki groups previously used to be scattered like dry leaves by government forces lately they have been roaming the town with new-found confidence. It was not until an outcry led by the matatu association that police this week started taking some action to remove Mungiki from some matatu termini they have already occupied.
Waruinge is non-committal on many issues to a point of being vague. One finds it puzzling what to make of him, a man who simultaneously belongs to the Mungiki sect and the Islamic religion. Lately he has emerged more like a politician or a trade unionist strutting ahead of his followers declaring that Mungiki with now lord it over the matatu industry.
By his words we could be witnessing the beginning of transformation of Mungiki from an rudimentary movement with vague aims to a political party.
Over a tepid cup of tea (at lunch hour) in a nondescript cafe, he says the movement has Sh800 million cooling in a bank somewhere. This money, Waruinge says, is for sponsoring Mungiki parliamentary aspirants for the 2002 general election campaigns.
He is talking big. He claims Mungiki bags Sh45 million monthly from membership subscription (4.5 million members paying ten shillings each), Waruinge boasts that Mungiki owns hundreds of matatus, taxi cabs, handcarts and a few buses.
But sitting opposite him and his two clean-shaven bodyguards, one is hard put to figure out how this organisation can have that kind of money, membership or even the capacity and capability to collect such moneys.
Waruinge himself does not look prosperous and actually refers to Mungiki followers as the "dot.poverty" generation. In the same breath, however, he dismisses what his boys are raising by manning matatu termini, as little money.
And when faced with the question of why the government is letting his organisation get away with 'murder' he brags that many in the government, whose organs he claims to have extensively penetrated, "are in Mungiki and so we have everything we need."
But nobody can afford to take Waruinge and Mungiki lightly. The movement might not have 4.5 million members, but it has membership. This membership mainly consists of young unemployed Kenyans, with nothing or little to lose. And with or without the assistance of the establishment, they have potential to wreak untold havoc, especially in Nairobi.
Waruinge loathes Dickson Mbugua of the Matatu Welfare Association (MWA), with a passion. In Mbugua, he sees a man with no stake in the matatu industry, and only bent on milking it dry for personal gain.
To Waruinge, the MWA chairman is standing between Mungiki youth and gainful employment. Mbugua, according to the Mungiki chief, is importing Maasai morans from Tanzania to man matatu termini in the city, to the detriment of local youth.
This is what Waruinge has vowed to fight to "the last man". And it is not only Mbugua and his Maasai that he will fight to reach this goal - he has extended his keep-off warning to tough policeman Geoffrey Muathe, the Nairobi police boss. Muathe had on Thursday warned Mungiki or any other group to keep away from matatu termini, but the following day, Waruinge called his bluff - in public.
Since Friday, the police were said to be cracking down on Mungiki and Kamjesh for defying their orders. Scores are said to have been arrested in Dandora, Kayole, Kariobangi North and Kasarani Mwiki. But Waruinge is still a free man and has vowed to battle the police on this. We wait to see whether this crackdown is a mere PR exercise to appease the baffled citizens of Nairobi or serious mopping up of what police deem to be criminal elements.
The sect can also be intimidating and prior to interviewing the Mungiki chief, a col-league had warned me that Waruinge's escorts could be nasty and would not take kindly to a "negative interview" of their boss. But while we candidly conversed, his two young minders kept their peace and did not once interfere with our talk.
Waruinge, who called a Press conference to warn the two lawful organisations (police and MWA), is however quick to dismiss the notion gaining credence in certain circles that he has support from some of the powers that be. The rumour is that he is being used to scuttle the opposition, especially the Kikuyu dominated parties. This, according to hearsay, is why he is being allowed so much leeway.
Hitherto, only rowdy Kanu operatives have been allowed as it were, to cause a breach of the peace and get away with it.
The question coming now is: From where do Waruinge and Mungiki, get such macho confidence?
This is the same movement that has sealed the Dandora City Council dumpsite threatening to burn any refuse truck that approaches it. No authority questions this.
In fact Waruinge had the guts to, according to him, take round the Mayor of Nairobi and show him a new dumping site in Industrial area. Who is he! "They (the City Council) believed they could only dump garbage in the midst of people. Now all children born in this area of Dandora have deformities." Waruinge reckons the Mayor was "happy" when he (Waruinge) identified the new site and on Thursday he claimed, bulldozers were on site creating truck inroads to the quarries Waruinge identified as the new dumpsite.
But while claiming the move to seal the dumpsite was prompted by environmental concern, the Mungiki chief also discloses that his movement intends to turn the site into a " mini Gikomba", to be used by hawkers who are its members.
And to prove his leadership qualities, he will remove the hawkers from the central business district to Dandora.
"We don't believe in mere words, unlike the current crop of MPs. We will show them by action."
When accused of co-operating with Kanu to wreck the opposition, the Mungiki co-ordinator suddenly goes ballistic, claiming that the Opposition died when Matiba "hitherto the only true oppositionist in this country", approved of his son's appointment to the Kenya Tourist Board.
He reckons everyone in Parliament is in Kanu, whatever party they profess to belong to and so he has nothing to scuttle. And either through sheer gut feelings or in jest the man talks of bringing 150 Mungiki members into Parliament following the 2002 elections. "If elections were called today, we would comfortably get 70 seats," he declares.
Well, Waruinge must be a formidable force on the Kenyan political scene or a big joker! Take your pick.
Most of those who would vote Mungiki are the young mainly unregistered youths, but on the issue of youthful voter registration, Waruinge tends, albeit without conviction, to rely on the Kanu government's goodwill. Out of his 4.5 million members, however, he reckons it is only less than half who are not registered voters.
"We have the potential of 2.4m registered voters," he says.
He dismisses the fight between Kamjesh and Mungiki, saying the two are basically one.
Waruinge reckons Mbugua of MWA should also answer a few questions about himself and the activities of his organisation. He is not the first person to claim that the matatu boss owns no matatu.
Waruinge, the mystery-man, says he spends 20 hours on the move, "talking to my people" and the only time he has to himself is 30 minutes over lunch and after one in the morning when he joins his family (he does not say where). Are these the making of a future Kenyan leader?
The Mungiki sect says it will continue taking over all matatu termini in the country despite Government warnings.
In a telephone interview, the sect co-ordinator, Mr Ibrahim Ndura Waruingi, said he was not scared by threats from the police that they will be removed from all the matatu termini they have taken over.
"Within one month we will have taken over all matatu stages in the country," he said.
Police spokesman, Mr Dola Indidis, has said the move by the sect is illegal.
"The Mungiki have to know that the police is in control and that there is a Government," Indidis said.
He said there is no way the sect is going to take over control of matatu termini. "This will not happen."
But Waruingi has dismissed the comments by Indidis saying the threats are "useless".
On Tuesday there was heated debate in Parliament over the continued operations of gangs such as Mungiki and Kamjesh without Government intervention.
Mathira MP, Mr Matu Wamae (DP), wondered why the Government is reluctant to deal with the gangs and protect innocent Kenyans who have suffered in the hands of the groups.
Juja MP, Mr Stephen Ndichu (SDP), said the leaders of the groups should be exposed.
Speaker Francis ole Kaparo said the orgy of violence perpetrated by the gangs was worrying.
But even as debate raged, the sect members yesterday "officially" took over matatu routes 102 and 103 from the city centre to Kikuyu through Dagoretti and Waithaka. Waruinge said operations by the sect members started in the morning.
He said they will operate from Muthama stage to town but the stages in Kikuyu are to be manned by six Maasais who, he said, are recognised by the matatu owners. He said each of the 300 matatus that ply the routes will pay Sh150 daily.
On Tuesday, Waruinge met the security team from Waithaka to deliberate on how the exercise was to be carried out peacefully.
Those who listened to the leader of the Mungiki sect, Ndura Waruingi talk on KTN Breakfast show last Sunday must have wondered from what fountains Waruinge was getting -and usually gets- the confidence to talk on matters that, ideally, constitute an intent to commit a crime.
Mr Waruinge, with the poise and confidence of a warlord, enumerated the matatu routes that his sect intended to take over in the city, totally disregarding the aspirations of stake-holders in this industry. Already, Mungiki has taken over some routes, triggering off bloody clashes with other groups that purport to man these routes. Strangely, some matatu operators think that Mungiki has brought order on some routes. Others think that the group is as anarchic as the industry it purports to bring order to.
Despite the warnings issued by the Nairobi PC, Mr Cyrus Maina, that the Government will not condone what Mungiki is doing, the sect is uncowed. On Sunday, Waruinge was, in actual fact, cocking a snook at the Government and in particular the provincial administration, the Road Transport Department, specifically, Mr Ole Sompisha's Transport Licensing Board and the newly registered Matatu Vehicle Owners Association.
Where Waruinge and Mungiki may be getting the confidence may not be easy to find. But at least there are some clues. First, the issue of the control of matatu routes has been contentious for many years. Some termini are manned by some Maasai people, others by a motley gang with dubious backgrounds and others by such amorphous groups as the Kamjeshi. In all this, the Government, specifically TLB has been powerless in asserting itself. In fact, it stands in like a bemused by-stander watching a fight it does not want to stop lest it bloodies its hands.
Secondly, even the newly-registered MWA seems already overwhelmed by the crisis on matatu routes. They are hardly three months legal but they seem tired.
Thirdly the Traffic Police, who should be ensuring order in this area mainly exist to take bribes and blink at the many failings of matatu operators. In fact, Waruinge says, albeit pretty fallaciously, that the taking over of the routes by his sect would "tame bribe-taking officers." Unless his is an alternative Government, how he aims to "tame" the law enforcement arm of the Government, only he can tell us.
Into this imbroglio then is where Waruinge is insinuating his act. So let us face the facts: If the Government and especially the TLB and MWA were active entities, Mungiki would not have done what they intend to do or have already done. They have seen a gaping lacuna in law and order and a supine Government, so they have found it easy to gain entry and assert themselves. Waruinge for instance knows that what he intends to do is illegal, but he does not care and he does not seem to be afraid. Neither is he hiding his intentions. In other words, Waruinge is telling the Government: This is what I want to do, stop me if you are brave enough. This man is challenging the Government.
Unless he is a creation of the same Government he is challenging, many can be forgiven for concluding that regardless of the illegality of Mungiki, the Government is being given a wake-up call. Who knows, another group might come up and declare that they will take over the tourism industry or another vital industry... as the Government sleeps.
The Mungiki sect yesterday announced plans to take control of matatu routes countrywide.
Its co-ordinator, Mr Ibrahim Ndura Waruinge, said the move aims at taming bribe-taking traffic police officers.
He said members of the sect will from today take control of the Murang'a-Thika-Nairobi route followed by route number 2 and 102 in Nairobi.
Speaking on the Sunday edition of KTN's Breakfast Show, Waruinge further announced plans by the sect to field candidates for elective positions, including the presidency, come next year's General Election.
He denied claims that the movement was imposing itself on matatu routes so as to raise funds for the elections.
Waruinge claimed the Mungiki sect has raised a total of Sh800 million through members' monthly contributions. The sect, he said, has a membership of 4.4 million, each of who contributes Sh10 shillings a month.
Waruinge said the movement will never seek registration from the Government as its constitution was written by God.
Mungiki sect has over the past three months fought bloody battles with rival Kamjesh group over control of matatu termini in Nairobi.
Waruinge accused the chairman of the Matatu Welfare Association (MWA), Mr Dickson Mbugua, of milking matatu owners dry while doing nothing to restore order in the industry.
He claimed the Mungiki sect is currently in control of 500 hundred termini in the country.
Waruinge blamed the police, power-brokers and cartels of breeding terror in the matatu industry.
Mungiki, he said, charges matatu owners a small fee of Sh250 compared to Sh600 demanded by the Kamjesh group.
Dandora Matatu route chairman, Mr Ezekiel Angwenyi, who also appeared in the show, praised Mungiki for restoring order in Nairobi's route number 36.
In the meantime, Waruinge announced plans to stop traffic police officers from demanding bribes from matatu operators.
Meanwhile, about 15,000 people were yesterday "baptised" into the Mungiki sect.
The ceremony took place at the Manguo dam in Mwiki area of Nairobi.
An estimated 100 Mungiki high priests presided over the 3 am ceremony.
The initiates were immersed into the cold dam water and made to pass through smoke.
Mungiki sect members yesterday took over yet another city matatu route.
During a meeting with Murang'a, Thika, Nairobi (MTN) Sacco officials, the sect National Co-ordinator, Mr Ibrahim Ndura Waruinge, said they had officially taken control of matatus plying from the city through Thika to Murang'a.
MTN officials led by chairman, Mr Stephen Njogu Kang'ethe, said they had allowed the sect to control the termini because of harassment meted on them by touts. The two parties were speaking during a meeting at a city hotel .
They agreed that Mungiki will be paid Sh500 per matatu per day from the 200 vehicles plying the Murang'a, Thika and Nairobi route.
Kang'ethe said in the past they had asked police to protect their business without success. They had faith in the sect members to ensure the smooth running of the routes and subsequently announced they had dissolved the MTN office.
Over 50 matatu owners from Murang'a further accused security personnel in the area of failing to protect their business and instead colluding with touts to harass them.
Kang'ethe said the touts demand Sh200 per vehicle per trip. If they can't pay, they are beaten up.
Waruinge said he will deploy Mungiki youths to man the route from Nairobi to Murang'a to ensure there was enough security.
He accused Matatu Welfare Association Chairman, Mr Dickson Mbugua, of neglecting matatu owners.
The sect seems to be slowly but decisively taking over the management of the matatu industry for routes serving the city.
Over a week ago, Kasarani MP, Mr Adolf Muchiri, demanded a Government, statement over harassment of commuters by sect members.
On October 31, the sect announced the take-over of matatu route 25 that serves Baba Dogo area and 200 sect members reportedly deployed along the route.
On November 2, the group said its members had taken control of Kayole route amidst promises by Mbugua that the move will be resisted.
Mungiki militants a few weeks ago engaged Dandora Kamjesh group in bloody battles over the route control. Nairobi police chief, Mr Geoffrey Muathe,then said he was aware of plans by the sect to take control of the Nairobi Railway station matatu terminus saying police will deal with the sect members decisively.
I do not know so much about the Mungiki other than that it is a religious sect that has been receiving plenty of media attention for all the wrong reasons. They are a religious sect because that, at least, is how they have publicly portrayed themselves.
I also do not know much about Kamjesh other than it being what it claims to be -friends of matatu operators who are only trying to keep off the "bad boys" (read Mungiki) from the lucrative Kenyan commuter transport industry.
But I do know something about organised crime. I also know a little about how criminal gangs play protection and punishment games to get payment, usually in very tidy sums. I can't exactly say that Mungiki, or Kamjesh fit this profile.
But I can certainly say that there is something deeply unsettling about those bloody wars in Dandora that pitted these two factions against each other.
Fighting with crude weapons, the Mungiki-Kamjesh battles cut off Dandora from the rest of the city for days before police restored sanity, or more precisely until Mungiki took charge!
Even more worrying is the manner in which Mungiki has gone on to acquire lucrative matatu routes after overpowering Kamjesh in the skirmishes that lasted over a week, and left scores dead.
Mungiki's self-styled National Co-ordinator, Ibrahim Ndura Waruinge, announced last week that the sect will move on to acquire more routes within and outside Nairobi.
While announcing the take-over of all the stages along route 25, Waruinge was accompanied by Baba Dogo Matatu Sacco officials. But isn't it rather strange seeing legitimate entrepreneurs cavorting with a sect leader who has more political interests than a serious business sense, so to speak?
In old Italy, entrepreneurs, because they feared the Mafia's ability to punish, paid protection money to the Mafia. But Mungiki is not Mafia, and the matatu owners are not, so they say, paying protection money.
However, there is only one problem here. The entrepreneurs' willingness to pay may, or to be more precise will, encourage opportunistic criminals with Mungiki's or Kamjesh's reputation to also demand money.
Already, some kind of precedent which has the potential to spawn hundreds of criminals has been set here. This means that, at a certain point, all matatu owners will need some kind of protection from marauding brigands who will be demanding money from them.
Consequently, there will be a need for different versions of Mungiki and Kamjesh in every part of the country where matatus operate. These "hoodlums" will be there ostensibly to offer protection and regulate operations.
But in essence, they will be criminally oriented groups who will ignore all forms of authority except their own. In typical gangland style, they will (or are they already on?) work this way: You owe them something and they expect you to deliver. In this case matatu operators will be paying to be protected from alleged opportunistic criminals.
They will be expected to deliver by a certain date, assuming the payment will not be demanded in advance. If you don't deliver, that's when you'll run into trouble. If you are on your own with no one to vouch for you, you are as good as dead if you can't deliver.
Yet, the only people matatu operators will need protection from are these same people who purport to offer them protection. There will be take-overs and counter-take-overs of routes as different groups attempt to assert their authority.
There will be running battles like those witnessed in Dandora. There will be disruptions, life will be lost and property will be destroyed. It will be worse than South Africa's bloody taxi turf wars.
I do not know how, but only matatu operators can save themselves and the commuters from this looming disaster. Not the police, or even Mungiki and Kamjesh will save them.
Mungiki Movement (Kenya) Updates 2001
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