Don’t negotiate, but address causes

Going by the Government’s admission that it had intelligence on Mungiki’s plans but was outwitted by a three-hour advance of the terror campaign, it is obvious the police were derelict in their duty.

Are we to believe that the intelligence arms of the State have no idea who the politico-religious gang’s street-level leaders are? Or how it arranges and finances its operations? Do they know nothing of their logistical preparations from past instances where the gang has bused large numbers of adherents into Nairobi for political protests?

With credible information an attack was imminent, police could have — and should have — made preventive arrests of those involved.

As this did not happen, we are left with two disappointing conclusions: that the intelligence, whether it existed at all, was too poor to act on, or that security chiefs deliberately allowed the attacks to go ahead so as to draw Mungiki out into open confrontation.

The first conclusion would indicate a fatal weakness in infiltrating and gathering information about the gang, while the second reflects a poor choice of tactics in taking the war to the criminal gang.

Both indicate a need for a change of approach.

After a day of direct confrontation, Mungiki switched to fire-bombings and threatening leaflets. The fear of attacks has had a paralysing effect on parts of the transport sector. With thousands of matatus off the streets, economic activity has been disrupted in some towns.

The response, a deployment of hundreds of riot police to make arrests in slum areas in Nairobi and parts of Central Province may be a sign the Government is open to a new approach. So far, with hundreds of arrests and 230 people still in custody, there have been no reports of the atrocities that characterised a similar operation last year.

As we argued on Wednesday, the use of brute force alone is no solution to organised crime.

We agree with Internal Security minister, Prof George Saitoti, that Government should not negotiate with Mungiki — or any other organised crime gang for that matter. But, we repeat, the State needs a broader repertoire of weapons against the gang than is available in the police force.

Despite their talk of land grievances and unemployment, Mungiki are primarily a problem of a criminal nature. Extortion and protection rackets, enforced with the threat of beheadings, are not offences you can talk your way out of.

However, addressing the root causes of the political and social disillusionment of young Kikuyu men will go a long way to heading off future recruits for the gang. As long as Mungiki remains the only powerful avenue for employment, political and cultural expression, crackdowns will only increase our prison population.

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