Mungiki is a politico-religious group and a banned criminal organization in Kenya. The name means “A united people” or “multitude” in the Kikuyu language.The religion, which apparently originated in the late 1980s, is secretive and bears some similarity to mystery religions. Specifics of their origin and doctrines are unclear. What is clear is that they favor a return to indigenous African traditions.
They reject Westernisation and all things that they believe to be trappings of colonialism, including Christianity. The ideology of the group is characterised by revolutionary rhetoric, Kikuyu traditions, and a disdain for Kenyan modernization, which is seen as immoral corruption. Mungiki is often referred to as Kenya’s Cosa Nostra, Yakuza, or Kenyan Mafia due to its organization. They have been newsworthy for associations with ethnic violence and anti-government resistance.
According to one of Mungiki’s founders, the group began in the late 1980s as a local militia in the highlands to protect Kikuyu farmers in disputes over land with Maasai and with forces loyal to the government, which was dominated by the Kalenjin tribe at the time. Mungiki arguably has its roots in discontent arising from severe unemployment and landlessness arising from Kenya’s rapid population growth, with many disaffected unemployed youth attracted to an organisation giving them a sense of purpose and cultural and political identity, as well as income.
The founders supposedly modelled Mungiki on the Mau Mau fighters who fought British colonial rule. During the 1990s, the group had migrated into Nairobi with the acceptance of the government under Daniel arap Moi and began to dominate the matatu (private minibus taxi) industry. With the move to Nairobi came the development of a cell structure within the group. Each cell contains 50 members and each cell is then divided into 5 platoons.
Using the matatus as a springboard, the group moved into other areas of commerce, such as rubbish collection, construction, and even protection racketeering. Inevitably, the group’s actions led to involvement with politicians eager for more support. In 2002, Mungiki backed losing candidates in elections and felt the wrath of the government. The group’s activities became less visible although it still received revenue from protection taxes, electricity taxes and water taxes. There have been unconfirmed allegations that Mungiki has links to both the old KANU government and some MPs in the current government. In fact, because of the cult’s extreme secrecy, little is known about its membership or hierarchy.
Many members state that at the height of its influence, the group could claim as many as 500,000 members and received substantial sums of money. Many Kenyans debate whether the group’s influence in Nairobi is waning or is on the rise.