Gang now takes war to the church

Nairobi, Kenya - A new battle in Central Province is in the offing as the proscribed Mungiki sect targets the church.

The sect is now threatening residents to steer off Christianity and openly challenging the clergy to cease evangelism amongst the Agikuyu community.

While the sect advocates for extreme traditional cultural practices like female genital mutilation, tobacco sniffing and ‘decent’ dressing for women, the Christian doctrine teaches repentance and salvation.

The church views the sect as representing the anti-Christ, whereas Mungiki describe the church as slaves of Western values.

Capturing the magnitude of the sect’s assault on cultural order is Mrs Watiri Michuki, wife of Environment minister John Michuki.

In a recent church function in Kangema —where she is a women’s leader — she lamented: "In my 60 plus years, I have never witnessed such blatant affront on cultural values as being showcased by our youths."

She called upon all mothers countrywide to pray for their sons.

A pastor in Iyego location, Murang’a District whose name cannot be published for his own safety says Mungiki has succeeded in creating a rift between churches and the society.

"Mungiki recruit students even in primary schools. They incite students against Christian Religious Education (CRE) studies," he says.

He adds: "Recently, a Mungiki kingpin raided a local church as brethren prayed. He was armed with a panga and went straight to the pulpit and banged it on the floor. He warned Christians not to compete with him in recruiting followers."

Clergy under threat

It was a warning that the community should troop to traditional shrines and reject the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The sect is said to have beheaded a pastor of the Anglican Church in Nyeri’s Kabaru area to stamp their authority.

But whereas opinion has always been strong that politicians, businessmen and professionals finance the sect, it is emerging that some clergy have joined the bandwagon.

So complex is the situation that even musicians in the province are split down the middle.

"Most of the secular musicians openly support the sect whereas Gospel ones strongly push for Christian values," reveals a security officer attached to the National Security Intelligence Service in Murang’a District.

This comes after the release of at least 10 new albums, all of them showing open support for the sect and its values. Three songs, Matigari (remnants) and Muhiko II as well as Mutu I and II (Maize Flour) are among new hits seen to glorify the sect’s activities.

An exception is Queen Jayne who has released a counter volume titled Gikuyu cokererai Ngai (Agikuyu return to God).

The conflict has even distorted some of the revered cultural practices like burial ceremonies.

"It has reached a point where some families are burying their dead as if they are outcasts," says Gitau Njuguna, National Youth Alliance spokesman.

He says that during crackdowns, authorities gun down suspects and police bar close relatives and other mourners travelling to the deceased’s village from attending the burial.

He says police barriers are erected near the burial site.

"It is an infringement of our culture as pertains to how we ought to behave as a community in matters of death," says Richard Mwangi of Murang’a.

Mwangi says some parts of Mugoiri location are greatly feared even by area residents working in Nairobi.

"You dare not visit here even if it is your village. If you want to send money to your family, use phone transfer services or tell the person to come for it," he says.

This has severed family ties and values where people working in urban centres are forced to keep away from their families hence breeding unfaithfulness.

"Our parents think we have neglected them since we dare not visit them lest we are arrested. The threat of being cursed is real," Njuguna says.

On the other hand, most Christians accuse Mungiki of forcibly recruiting children into the sect.

A civil servant from Murang’a South District, says families are feeling the heat of Mungiki activities.

"I have a school going brother who recently called me saying he was already in Nairobi. I found that unusual. When we linked up he told me he was fleeing from a Mungiki recruitment drive," he says.

He reveals that for fear of the sect getting their children, parents have to be extra vigilant during circumcision period.

"Gone are the days when circumcision was a matter of pride and had to be done openly. Today, we are taking our sons to mission hospitals and go for them after they heal," he explains.

This, he adds, is to make sure the youths are ushered into adulthood through the counsel of the clergy as opposed to having them recuperate at home and be recruited into Mungiki.

Central Province Police Boss John Mbijiwe says it is for such reasons that security officers blocked sect members from attending a cultural fete the group had organised.

"They had planned to ‘hold prayers’ at Mt Kenya. In essence, it was a cultural devaluing congregation in the offing," he says.

He explains that it could not be allowed since "the intention and purpose ranged from massive oathing to recruitment".

Police vow to fight

But Njuguna complains that through the instigation of "culturally illiterate personalities" they blocked a noble idea where Gikuyu, Embu and Meru youths wanted to seek divine intervention from Mwene Nyaga (God) believed to reside on Mt Kenya.

Murang’a North DC George Natembeya says Mungiki have no choice but to reform and join the church.

"There are those traditional values that are safe and the Government supports them through the Department of Culture and National Heritage. But when such support is abused to progress criminal and outdated cultural beliefs that devalue the social fabric, we must execute the crackdowns," he says.