Nancy Mburu: Leaders must tackle youth problems to stop militias

Mungiki, Taliban, Sungu Sungu, Chinkororo, Baghdad Boys, Sabaot Land Defence Force, Kaya Bombo, the warriors of Rift Valley: To me, they are all the same, except perhaps in the degree of viciousness and notoriety.

These are the self-styled militias, vigilante groups and organised crime gangs that have sprouted up in almost every part of the country, posing an increasing challenge to an overstretched police force.

These gangs specialise in instilling the fear of God in people. Given their numbers, they are threatening to overrun the entire country. The more police try to crush them, the more hard-core they get.

Last week, we saw the Mungiki paralyse public transport and force businesses in parts of Central and Rift Valley provinces to close. Many youths in Central, and women too, now think it is hip to join the underground sect.

Troubled youth

We may theorise and quote all the research papers we can get, but I believe Mungiki is a microcosm of the troubled youth in this country. It is sad case of a youth living by the sword and dying by the sword. It is about a disillusioned youth who are determined to hit back at the society with whatever means they can find.

And as Mungiki recently proved, they were not merely protesting at the horrific killing of their leader, Mr Maina Njenga’s wife, but they had an underlying resentment. As soon as Prime Minister Raila Odinga extended an olive branch to the sect members, they immediately halted the riots. They expressed hope that the Grand Coalition Government would give its members jobs and investigate alleged extra-judicial killings by police.

We are looking at a case of youths who are unable to deal with poverty and lack of employment, in a capitalist society where the minority are too rich and the majority too poor. In this system, you are nobody if you have no money or a job.

It is about an angry youth who have been duped by politicians to do their dirty work for them, but the latter have not kept their part of the bargain. It is about an education system that only glorifies academic grades and ignores those who are not academically gifted. And even for those who pass academic exams, jobs are not guaranteed.

It is about a leadership that only thinks the youth should be confined to petty businesses and the jua kali sector, as the old generation clings on to the white collar jobs.

A part from the militias, gangsters, carjackers and rapists are also
young people. Those who do not have the stomach to join hardcore crime resort to prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse and even suicide. The press last week carried the sad story of Kirinyaga District, which has been hit by a wave of suicides among the youth.

Back to the militias: Security forces may be sent to flush out gangs and raiders in far flung areas like Mt Elgon and Pokot, but Mungiki have proved that urban areas are not safe either. If the trend continues, organised crime will become a way of life among the youth.

The militias now use mafia like tactics to intimidate even police. One mafia gang in Italy, the Naples mafia, proved its might in 2004 when a whole neighbourhood literally surrounded police and made them hostage for trying to capture a leader of the Naples Mafia.

Likewise, the Mungiki have the audacity to dare the police with their attack-and-run tactics. Clearly, guns and batons will not work with these gangs, given the pathetic ratio of police to citizens in Kenya.

Most organised crime groups in the West arose from the "rejects" of their respective societies. Most have roots in prison gangs and people who were expelled from their countries.

Likewise, members of Kenyan militias are the "outcasts" — the "idlers" and "academic failures". But now, even school boys are getting recruited.

The onus, once again, is on the leaders to save the youth. Even as security forces tackle crime, the leaders have to come up with lasting solutions of rehabilitating the youth.

Every MP worth his or her salt should start a viable youth project in their constituency.

Work for Madam Hellen Sambili, the new Minister for Youth and Sports, has just begun. She must liaise with relevant ministries to help young people. Job creation and wealth creation, and a fully fledged social services department to address problems their problems should be priorities. We do not want a Government of selfish old men, who have no agenda for their most productive people.

The writer is The Standard’s Chief Sub-editor, Weekend Editions

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