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Brutal Kenyan Sect Aims to Provoke Strife

A police officer uses a dog on fleeing youths in Nairobi's Mathare slum during a raid last month that targeted members of the Mungiki sect, suspected in a string of beheadings.
A police officer uses a dog on fleeing youths in Nairobi's Mathare slum during a raid last month that targeted members of the Mungiki sect, suspected in a string of beheadings. (By Karel Prinsloo -- Associated Press)

Buili was unapologetic for the recent violence, which he said was directed at people who had "violated" Mungiki rules.

"In this country, there is not fair distribution of wealth," he said. "There is a gap, and we want to bridge that gap. To work through the system is impossible."

He ordered another warm beer.

Buili, who idolizes early 20th-century black nationalist Marcus Garvey, was never as poor as some of the young men he recruits. He attended one of the best private schools in Nairobi and either dropped out or was kicked out of college, which he said "was too undemocratic."

He was vague about how he became involved with the Mungiki, which originated during rural land clashes in the 1990s that pitted members of Kenya's largest community, the Kikuyu, against the Masai and Kalenjin communities.

The Kikuyu formed militias whose members were often the sons and daughters of the Mau Mau, the underground movement that fought for independence from British colonial rule and often beheaded its enemies.

As the Mau Mau had, the Kikuyu militias required fighters to take an oath and a vow of secrecy, and soon the militias morphed into the Mungiki -- a Kikuyu word that means "masses" -- developing extortion and protection rackets and luring jobless young men into its fold, often by providing work such as hawking vegetables.

"What do you do when you find 10 friends in your house asking for help?" Buili said, referring to the young men who come to his Nairobi home seeking jobs. "Then you have 20, then you have 50? Do you tell them to walk away?"

Buili, whose father was a Mau Mau fighter before becoming a relatively well-off businessman, offered the young men Mungiki ideology: a blend of revolutionary rhetoric and Kikuyu traditions that Buili believes are fading in a modern society he calls "useless."

"Morality," he said, sipping his beer. "That is what our movement must bring back, morality. And we want to push back the sources of inequality."

During the late 1990s, Kenya's president, Daniel arap Moi, allowed the Mungiki to move into Nairobi and run their rackets. Many believe the Mungiki became intertwined with government officials and politicians, who used the group for financial gain and muscle during elections. Buili said he is on a first-name basis with some of the highest-ranking officials in Kenya.

Eventually, some Mungiki leaders became rich. One, Ndura Waruinge, officially renounced the sect, converted to Islam, changed his name to Ibrahim, then converted to Christianity and changed his name to Hezekiah. Now he is running for a seat in parliament.


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