Posted on November 29, 2011

Kenya’s Mungiki Gang: Huge, Secretive and Terrifying

Christopher Goffard, Los Angeles Times, November 27, 2011

Its name means “multitude,” and it may be the biggest and most dangerous gang in the world, a thuggish army terrorizing Kenya with extortion rackets and gruesome punishments.

Much about the organization called Mungiki is cloaked in myth and speculation, not least the estimate of sworn members–some say 100,000, others say millions. Those claiming to be defectors, however, say the gang relies on strict discipline and tolerates no dissent.

“If a member disobeys, they would cut that member’s head off and put the head in public view at the place where they had a problem with the member,” an alleged former member said in a statement to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court.

Six Kenyans are facing charges at the ICC related to the ethnic violence that brought Kenya to the brink of civil war in 2008. The proceedings in The Hague in the Netherlands have cast a spotlight on the workings of the secretive Mungiki and its alleged role in what the court charges was government-sponsored mayhem in the wake of a disputed presidential election that left more than 1,000 people dead.

Often referred to in the Kenyan press as “an outlawed sect,” Mungiki has roots as a religious movement of the Kikuyu, Kenya’s most populous ethnic group. {snip}

Central to the ICC case is the nature of the gang’s links to the Kenyan government, despite a bloody, controversial battle to crush the group.

Prosecutors contend that chilling attacks by Mungiki thugs in the Rift Valley towns of Naivasha and Nakuru against members of the Luo ethnic group were orchestrated by one of Kenya’s most famous figures, Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the country’s first president and currently its finance minister and deputy prime minister.


Despite long-standing public animosity between Kenyan police and Mungiki, prosecutors allege, police allowed gang members to roam from house to house, targeting mostly Luo supporters of presidential challenger Raila Odinga, a Kikuyu, who claimed he had been cheated out of the presidency.

Prosecutors contend that Kenyatta orchestrated the attacks with Francis Muthaura, the head of the civil service, who allegedly ordered police not to interfere.

Kenyatta appeared as a witness before the pretrial chamber in September and denied that he had ever belonged to the gang. The gang had, in fact, burned him in effigy in August 2000, apparently blaming him for a government crackdown.

The claim that he distributed millions of shillings at State House was “completely ludicrous,” Kenyatta said. Though the Mungiki backed his failed bid for president in 2002, he said, he did not solicit that support, and had repeatedly denounced the gang’s activities.


Embodying the gang’s enduring enigma is Maina Njenga, who was long described in the Kenyan press as its boss. In 2009, Njenga was incarcerated on murder charges but released after he threatened to reveal an affidavit detailing links between government and the gang.

Since then, according to accounts in the Kenyan press, Njenga claims to have been born again as a Christian “ambassador of peace,” and announced that he would turn his Mungiki followers–who he claimed numbered in the millions–to positive political action.


A much-debated question is how large and how dangerous Mungiki actually is. Some say it is a band of directionless Kikuyu youths who use the gang’s mystique, and its echo of secret Mau Mau rituals, to terrify victims who can’t discern genuine members.