Terror in Kenya's slums

Florence Musola, a businesswoman living in Mathare, the second-largest slum in Kenya, and her four children were among the latest victims of an arson attack that destroyed their one-room shack.

The attack is suspected to have been carried out by Mungiki sect members, many of whom are believed to live in the slum.

The slum-dwellers pay a protection fee of 50 shillings a month to the gangs.
“They [the gangs] say they are protecting us,” she said, “If you fail to pay, you risk having your house burnt down. But we have lost a lot of property in such incidents; this is the second time [in May] that the gangs have burnt houses here. We have now been reduced to beggars, relying on the goodwill of neighbours,” she added.

Last year, three days of fighting between the Mungiki and another gang calling itself The Taliban displaced at least 9 000 people. A few others lost their lives and property in a row over control of a lucrative illicit brew market in the sprawling slum.

“I do not know where these gangs came from, they were not here before,” Musola said. “Nowadays, the slums have become scary even for the slum residents.”

The root cause of the conflict is the lack of permanent housing and inadequate or no access to basic services in the slums which increases residents’ vulnerability, according to reports. In the slums, the gangs also man public toilets, demanding a monthly fee that is often unaffordable by residents.

Mungiki sect members have targeted slum residents, burning their houses over non-payment of protection fees or as revenge for the killing of their members. In 2000, sect members torched 11 houses in the Kian’gombe slums in Thika town, north of Nairobi.

In central Kenya too, the gangs have terrorised civilians. “If you are found walking in the streets at night nowadays you can easily be arrested; we have now been forced to adjust our lives,” said Tom Njenga, a resident of Nyahururu. “This is because it has become hard for the police to identify members of the Mungiki sect.”

The Mungiki, a name that loosely refers to “a united people”, are an outlawed, quasi-political/religious sect with roots in the Central Province.

The sect has come increasingly into the limelight because of its alleged involvement in several grisly murders in the province, prompting a police crackdown on the group.

Although the sect’s activities are concentrated in Central Province, neighbouring areas, especially Nairobi and, in particular the slums, have also been affected.

Other than the slums, the Mungiki’s target of operation has been the matatu [public transport] business, from which they demand daily protection fees. Matatu crews and owners who fail to comply often suffer fatal consequences.

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