Brute force alone won’t end Mungiki

Widespread Mungiki mayhem has put to lie the Government’s claim last year — in the wake of a bloody repression campaign sparked by a spate of beheadings — that the outlawed organisation had been wiped out.

It has also demonstrated the inadequacy of the police force’s tactics in tackling the sect’s unique brand of organised crime. Police concentrate on neutralising the gang’s leadership and closing recruitment avenues. The arrests and disappearances of key members, however, seem to have merely opened the door to new leaders. Rank and file membership appears undiminished barely a year after the ruthless pre-election crackdown.

Despite reportedly having infiltrated the group, security agents were caught off-guard by guerilla attacks in ten urban centres. Police only had the upper hand where adherents massed for demonstrations and engaged them in running battles.

To succeed in dealing with Mungiki, the Government needs a better understanding of its different parts: the atavistic sect claiming roots in the Mau Mau movement, the organised crime network muscling for control of unregulated business sectors and the political machine reaching out to disenfranchised Kikuyu youth. Each poses a different threat and requires a different approach.

Brute force alone, history has shown, only pushes Mungiki underground. Extra-judicial killings remain an unjustifiable approach in a democracy. And, anyway, killing every last member of the sect is neither practical nor socially desirable.

The ideal approach is a lawful crackdown on the street-level criminal element, de-oathing those not yet involved in crimes, social reforms to deny the sect recruits and an intelligence-based campaign against those who plan and run its extortion, protection and drug-running rackets.

With new laws on organised crime in the pipeline, it will soon be easier to put Mungiki leaders behind bars for running a criminal organisation.

Suspicion lingers over the sect’s role as political shock troops, especially considering the timing of their demonstrations. A day after the National Accord was signed, they marched through Nairobi demanding the release of their leader, Mr Maina Njenga, who they describe as a "political prisoner". Their current protests — ostensibly over extra-judicial killings, including that of Njenga’s wife — came in the wake of the Grand Coalition Cabinet. These may well be coincidences, but they are also reminders of Mungiki’s aspiration to amass economic and political power.

China and Italy, among other nations, have in the past had to deal with the encroachment of organised crime groups into politics. Their experience should teach us that dealing with such groups ineffectively — such as relying entirely on crackdowns — is as dangerous as ignoring them.

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