The Politics Of The Mungiki – The Dread Lions of Kenya

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The politics of the mûngîkî, by Grace N. Wamue
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What have “the politics of the Mûngîkî” to do with power in religion? Not much at first hand, but quite a bit if one stops to think about it. Why is the Government not happy with this sect which is trying to persuade people to go back to the religion of their ancestors? For obvious reasons: the Mungiki represent, dressed up in the garb of religion, the power of those who are discontent with the present political order in Kenya, an order which people of the main stream religions have helped to perpetuate. If this power it not to get out of hand, it will be unwise to ignore what this sect is trying to get across.
Origin and History of the Mûngîkî
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Mûngîkî is a Gikuyu word that is derived from the word mûingî, which mean masses. Mûngîkî refers to a religio-political movement composed mainly of youth of Gikuyu origin, aged 18-40. (However, there are exceptional cases of those in the 40-60-age bracket.) Most of these people are victims of the ethnic conflicts that erupted on the eve of the 1992 multi-party general election in Kenya. Educationally, the majority of these people are Standard Eight and Form Four school-leavers. Most of them are low-income earners in the jua-kali note sector. The group strongly resents accumulation of massive wealth by a few Kenyans, especially those in the top political ranks. They argue that this is done at the expense of the masses who are thus made landless and/or jobless. In a very practical way, the Mûngîkî oppose unfair and unjust practices in the society by sharing among themselves the few resources that they have.
Initially, the aim of the Mûngîkî was to sensitize people against the government which they accused of starting and fuelling the ethnic clashes. The sect started administering oaths to its members during the time of the clashes in the hope that they would become united in fighting back their attackers. This move alarmed the government, with the consequence that, ever since the police have been watchful of any public or private Mûngîkî assemblies and sometimes arrested its followers.
Waruinge co-founded the Mûngîkî sect with six other youngsters in 1987 when he was only 15 years. At the time he was in Form One at Molo Secondary School. Due to the oppression of the one-party government, the movement remained underground until the advent of multi-parties in 1992. According to Waruinge, the group consulted ex-Mau Mau generals in Laikipia and Nyandarua districts who approved of their plans.
Mûngîkî followers affirm that theirs is a religious and not a political movement. The sect has, however, clearly acquired impetus from recent political events. A discussion with any Mûngîkî member hardly carries on for five minutes without spontaneously deviating into the politics of contemporary Kenya. The members lament bitterly about KANU’s machinations that split the original Forum of Restoration for Democracy (FORD) party when it was all set to remove KANU from power. The Mûngîkî also criticize the widespread political oppression, poverty and violence experienced by Kenyans at the hand of government agents in the same breath as they condemn cultural and religious imperialism.
The sect has elicited condemnation on the part of religious leaders and government officials. On several occasions the local dailies have reported scenes where the Mûngîkî have clashed with government authorities. In particular, President Moi has repeatedly accused the sect of taking binding oaths in order to overthrow his Government. On a number of occasions, followers have appeared in court accused of oath taking and of unspecified illegal activities, only to be discharged the following day for lack of evidence. So concerned is the KANU government about the sect that more than once, Kihika Kimani, the MP for Molo, has paraded a group of dreadlocked youths at presidential rallies in Nakuru town, introducing them as repentant Mûngîkî followers. However, the sect’s national leadership denounces the so-called defectors as impostors who are being used for selfish political gain. According to the oath of allegiance, membership in Mûngîkî is irreversible.
Aims and Objectives
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The main objective of the Mûngîkî is to unite and mobilise the Kenyan masses to fight against the yoke of mental slavery, which they claim was introduced by Christianity and colonization. The liberation of the masses from mental captivity must come through a reversion to indigenous ways of life, in particular culture and religion. All ethnic groups in Kenya should therefore denounce foreign faiths, especially Christianity, and revert to traditional beliefs and practices. The latter is referred to as kigongoona (spirituality) which, according to them was lost with the introduction of Christianity. Since that time the Gikuyu, like all the other people of Kenya, have lost their spirituality, and the whole country has been defiled by foreign worship. This has in turn brought about many social, economic and political problems. Christianity has been particularly blamed for creating serious divisions among the Gikuyu, which has annoyed Ngai (God in the Gikuyu language). The Gikuyu and the other people of Kenya are being asked to adopt one religion and one worship in the manner of their forefathers (before the coming of the missionaries). As we have already seen, this call to go back to the religion of their ancestors has elicited condemnation of the Mûngîkî by both the Church and the Government.
As an indispensable condition for any change, Mûngîkî calls for the teaching of African indigenous values. This is referred to as kîrîra. It is a stage of sensitization about the consequences of abandoning African culture and religion. Each ethnic community should be taught their religious values and how they can mobilize people in times of need. A case in point is the role played by the Gikuyu religion during the Mau Mau struggle against colonial oppression.
Kîrîra should lead to a socio-religious cleansing ritual known as g–thera. This consists of traditional rites of denouncing foreign cultures and faiths. Mûngîkî advocates a more genuine and practical religion. Christianity, according to them, has never been beneficial to Africa, since it has always been used as an instrument of oppression.
The Mûngîkî openly criticize the current Kenyan political system, whose leaders are mostly Christians who attend church every Sunday. Nevertheless (they say) they are known to oppress the masses by amassing wealth through corruption, grabbing of public land, bribery, the looting of banks, etc. Christianity, through the Bible, which they refer to as gîkunjo (tying, imprisoning, binding, enslavement, conditioning) has resulted in mental slavery which the Gikuyu, and all other Kenyans, must get rid off. The Bible has been used to confuse and hoodwink Africans. As a result, most Kenyans do not see the hypocrisy demonstrated by the so-called Christians. By failing to criticize Christians, the masses continue to support a corrupt government. According to the Mûngîkî argument, since God does not support corruption, it follows that the corrupt Christians do not worship God. In spite of their condemnation of Christianity, however, the Mûngîkî constantly refer to certain sections of the Old Testament, especially to those passages where Yahweh gave victory to the Israelites against their enemies. They also subscribe to certain rituals in the Bible which they find relevant to Africans.
According to the Mûngîkî, in the beginning God gave each ethnic group ample land with plenty to eat. That way, God has always been on the side of Africans just like he was on the side of the Israelites. Through Christian interference, however, the Africans abandoned their God. No wonder the Mûngîkî associate every problem afflicting Kenya today with this abandonment. Therefore it follows that solutions can only be found through a return to traditional ways of worship. They blame the Europeans who strategically plan and create economic hardships in order to exploit Africans forever. Neo-colonialism, created by the current African leaders and supported by European powers, has heightened the existing economic hardships. Since Western religion has been used to oppress Africans, Africans in turn have no choice but to use their religion to protect themselves.
The fraternity is adamant in its denial of the accusations that its members engage in oath-taking and forced female circumcision, as well as taking Africans back to savagery and barbarism. They readily defend their belief as ideal for development, by arguing that neither the Japanese nor Chinese abandoned their religion or culture, and yet they have attained high economic development. Equally, Africans should have been allowed to keep their religion and culture. The Mûngîkî see the accusations against them as part of a smear campaign in order to denigrate them.
The significance of the symbols they use on their flag shows a clear political leaning. These symbols are:
Red, black, green, black, white, in that order, from top to bottom. Red symbolizes blood, black the African people, green stands for land, while white is a symbol for peace. According to the Mûngîkî, black people are shamefully disunited in their own land. (That is why green separates the two black colours). As a result, there is a lot of bloodshed in Kenya through ethnic conflicts, accidents and crime. The Mûngîkî symbolize this by putting red at the top of their flag. This disunity has been blamed on the adverse effects of Christianity and capitalism on the African. To achieve unity and peace, the Mûngîkî advocate a return to traditional outlooks and practices.
The Mûngîkî challenge the divine mandate of Christian faith and teachings. This is made evident in their numerous campaigns called ciûngano. In these, they theologically challenge Christianity by arguing that exploiters and oppressors cannot preach the good news of liberation. Christianity is branded blasphemous since its adherents do not practice what they preach.
An Assessment
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People interpret religion in a way that suits them. In some cases, religion becomes a tool for waging a struggle for human liberation. At such times, religion acts as a strong bond of unity. The Mûngîkî, a quasi-political movement, has taken Gikuyu religion as a weapon to challenge political and religious authority. With them, religion becomes a tool to mobilize the masses for passive resistance and to achieve liberation and justice. Although the sect condemns fighting and bloodshed, their methods of bringing about change smack of militarism. This is demonstrated by the use of liberation songs in their worship. The sect also appears to be mixed up and confused about problems afflicting Kenya as well as about colonialism and neo-colonialism. It is true that there are numerous problems affecting the country, but these cannot be wholly blamed on foreign worship and neo-colonialism. On the other hand, Mûngîkî followers are hard working, peace-loving Kenyans, with strong virtues of sharing, unity and morality. They have positive and practical options to offer to the present Kenyan society. This is demonstrated by their condemnation of oppression, bribery, corruption, idleness, laziness, drug abuse, crime, etc. Nevertheless, the Government, being highly suspicious of their programme, has wholly dismissed them. However, a group such as this should be given a hearing as long as its militant activities are kept in check.
Note: jua-kali means “hot sun” in Kiswahili, and refers to people in small-scale businesses who work mostly in the open air. Back to text.

Reproduced from the online version of Wajibu: A Journal of Social & Religious Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3 (1999).


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2 thoughts on “The Politics Of The Mungiki – The Dread Lions of Kenya”

  1. I’ve spent most of the last year living in Kenya with my fiance’s family and found the Mungiki issue to be very complex and opaque.

    The Mungiki are regularly blasted in all of the Kenyan media as being a violent, organized-crime group. Their religious or political views are rarely–if ever–addressed.

    But they’re religious aspects cannot be completely hidden. I caught one news report showing footage of Mungiki-sect members held in police custody that clearly showed dreadlocked followers of the Kikuyu cultural traditions praying together from the Bible.

    I was curious about the truth behind theis group, so I asked people on the street about them. I found that Kenyans outside the Kikuyu homelands have no first-hand contact with Mungiki. They tend to use the word as slang for a criminal or murderer.

    But, Kenyans in the Nairobi area know alot more about them. They acknowledge that “Mungiki” is a term with old roots in Kikuyu tradition, and it was also used to describe the Mau-Mau freedom fighters. However, I was often told that these new Mungiki have no legitimate connection to the proud traditions, that they are seen merely as a murderous organized-crime group. While they may have begun with high motives, they degenerated into crime and murder. They preyed for recruits on the jobless and addicted. They set themselves against the rest of society and used criminal means for fundraising.

    When talking to Kenyan Rastas about this group, I heard nothing but negative. They tell me that Mungiki are not in any way Rastas, either because they do not follow Ras Tafari, or because they engage in murderous acts. Though some acknowledge the virtue of following tribal traditions, I found no one who was willing to look past the highly-publicized criminal activities and murders of this sect. The ill-feelings are exacerbated because Mungiki activities have brought negative police attention upon dreadlocks all over the country.

    These are jsut observations. My own opinions could fill their own article…

  2. i think mungiki as a group has to stay up to date and know how to fit in tha current gvt and thats why they endulge in tha murderous act.if tha gvt can’t here their cry then do some thing that can pay attention.i support the group- am a rastafari

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