More deaths in fresh Kenya gang violence

Four more people died during a second day of nationwide rioting in Kenya on Tuesday, bringing the overall toll to 19, in a crisis that presented the new coalition Cabinet with its first major challenge.

Police said they had killed three members of the Mungiki gang and accused its members of having hacked a Nairobi watchman to death, a week after the group accused police of having beheaded their leader’s wife.

“Suspected Mungikis hacked a watchman to death in [Nairobi’s] Ngara area,” a police commander said, bringing to 19 the total number of people killed since the violence erupted on Monday.

Police say the outlawed movement, which is based in the country’s slums, is a cult-like criminal organisation.

Police recovered weaponry from the gang in the central Kenya town of Thika, where one of three suspects was killed and several others escaped, police said.

Mungiki members continued to battle police forces in Nairobi’s industrial area, petrol-bombing vehicles and setting up blazing roadblocks.

Officers arrested at least 52 Mungiki members, many of them armed with machetes, after they lit bonfires on the streets and threatened to kill people and burn their vehicles, Nairobi police commander Jasper Ombati said.

“We arrested them in a truck after laying a roadblock,” said Ombati, from the Kasarani district. “This is the group that has been causing mayhem in town, where they lit bonfires and threatened to kill people today at about 8pm [local time],” he said.

Meanwhile, the gang dropped leaflets in central Kenya threatening to kill traders who opened their shops, prompting at least five trading posts in the region to close for the whole day, police added.

Police said it had beefed up its operations in a bid to stamp out the Mungiki, an outlawed organisation that draws its numbers mainly from President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe.

“We have intensified patrols in the affected areas. Our key concern is to protect human life and property,” police spokesperson Eric Kiraithe said.


Appearing on television on Monday, a spokesperson for the Mungiki warned the violence would not let up until the deaths last week of the gang leader’s wife and her driver were elucidated.

“We shall not relent.
We are not cowards and the police should know that well ... We will not be cowed by the police brutality. We shall continue demanding our rights,” Njuguna Gitau said.

The group has rejected claims from the police that she and her driver had been killed by other members of the gang as part of an internal power struggle.

More than 150 people were arrested in the two days of violence that snarled public transport, police said.

The Mungiki have been linked with key officials from the president’s political camp and blamed in several rights reports for some of the ethnic violence that rocked the country after disputed December elections.

While police have insisted the latest spate of violence is unrelated to the political situation, the gang’s violence in several towns since Monday poses an early challenge to Kenya’s new coalition government.

On Tuesday, the top-selling Daily Nation urged the authorities to crack down on the gang and arrest its leaders. “There are convincing indications that very senior politicians in both the past and present government used the sect to carry out dirty political work. Perhaps that is where the impunity springs from,” the daily said.

“This is a challenge to the government. Will it allow the Mungiki to set up a parallel government, run a reign of terror and thumb a nose at the rule of law?”

Since March last year, dozens of people have been killed by the Mungiki, several of them beheaded. Police responded with a crackdown in which they killed scores of gang members.—Sapa-AFP

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