I just got my wrists slapped by 'Wanjiku' who commented; how can you be writing about snakes when 25 of your fellow countrymen have been brutally slaughtered? Fair point - but in my rather weak defense this was just breaking news yesterday.
This morning the headlines were; 'Mungiki Massacre' and 'Slaughter of the Innocents'. The story concerns the brutal killing of 26-30 people in Kiangumara village, Nyeri East District at the foot of Mount Kenya, most probably by Mungiki thugs.
Mungiki sect members, whose power base is in Central Province (around Mount Kenya) are mainly comprised of Kikuyu unemployed youth. The sect believes in oathing, sacrifices and is rumoured to have links to politicians.
The Standard had a good summary of what Mungiki are, how they began and where they are based in their article 'Transformation from a religious sect to murderous gang appears complete'. To quote: 'the police say Mungiki is Kenya's version of the Mafia and is involved in murder, extortion, racketeering and levies protection fees on the urban poor and supplies elelctricity and water illegally at a fee.' They have a rather distinctive trade mark; to kill those disloyal or uncooperative by cutting off their heads.
What happened on Monday night was that Mungiki members retaliated against villagers in Central Province because they had recently organised themselves into vigilante groups (reportedly calling themselves 'The Hague') to take action and fight Mungiki. Villagers, tired of being constantly terrorised and having money extorted from them have carried out 15 murders of suspected Mungiki Sect members in Kirinyaga District over the past two weeks.
As innocent bystanders in the region widely feared, the wrath of Mungiki was no match for them. On Monday night, Mungiki lay a trap by setting light to a cottage (2 burned alive inside) then hid outside in bushes to lie in wait for villagers who would soon run over and help battle the flames. Sure enough, as help arrived from the village, the Mungiki members lept out and brutally hacked men and boys to death.
An interesting angle on the crime refers to UN official, Philip Alston's recent report (Feb 2009) on extra judicial killings carried out by the police. Alston reported that over the years police have formed a secret 'death' squad to fight Mungiki, saying that 500 youths were killed for being members. Right or wrong, there are now claims that since the Alston report was published, Mungiki sect members have become emboldened and more active in central Kenya. Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said: 'the release of the Alston report made the followers think they were above the law and can continue to terrorise Kenyans..... These are criminals who want to govern Kenyans.'
Security Minister was in a tight spot when visiting the beleaguered village today saying something along the lines of; 'these criminals will not go unpunished' then adding, 'but in a humane and judicial manner.'
The story smacks of lawlessness in the face of organised crime. Death squads are not the answer but in the face of such brutal behaviour, what is the answer?