Mungiki hit matatu trade

The Standard/May 16, 2005
By Dauti Kahura

When the matatu (PSV) sector was overhauled in the name of reform, 14 months ago, it was mainly to rid it of cartels that controlled lucrative Nairobi routes denying the owners and passengers their rights. But the reforms, initiated by the then Transport Minister John Michuki, have done little for the proprietors of matatu business.

Mungiki people before their activities were declared illegal.

Just to prove their clout, Mungiki are believed to have organised the recent strike of Eastleigh matatus, which paralysed business along Juja Road for more than six hours.

"Since they cannot come out in the open, says a matatu owner along Juja Road, "the Mungiki mobilised our drivers and conductors to demonstrate against the police.

Their beef with the police was that the officers were harassing the drivers and touts — their people — to whom they (Mungiki) owe protection, and they are paid handsomely for it.

"Nothing has changed," is how one matatu owner who declined to be named for security purposes sums it up.

The powerful Mungiki cartels have returned to own and control matatu routes in Dandora, Eastleigh, Githurai and Kayole.

"It is like we were thrown from the frying pan into the fire," he says.Being one of the newest proprietors on Eastleigh route No.9, the Big Issue interviewed him when he had just met some "friends" to discuss business who had demanded to meet him.

When the three youthful and lanky fellows had arrived, he said, the meeting was short and precise but it left him confused.

And after the business meeting, the three young men had disappeared as quickly as they had come, leaving the matatu owner looking more relaxed.

"The young men were Mungiki members and they had come for their money", confides the businessman.

Shorn off their trademark dreadlocks and untidiness, the youths would pass for your ordinary estate school leavers.

But the news they delivered was not pleasant to the businessman. They informed him that owed Mungiki some thousands of shillings that every matatu must pay on entering the Eastleigh route.

After putting together his lifetime savings to buy a brand new 25-sitter minibus, the 35-year-old matatu owner says he realised a little too late that just putting his vehicle on the road would not warrant him to heave a sigh of relief while awaiting the returns of his investment.

"The day my matatu began operating on the Eastleigh route, some young men stopped it and asked the crew where I was," explained the proprietor.

He says that his driver and conductor must have known who the young men were. "So they candidly advised me to co-operate," he says.

"Anybody who operates a matatu in Eastleigh must pay entry fees to the Mungiki kingpins who live in Mlango Kubwa," said the puzzled businessman.

The sprawling slum off Juja Road, known as Mlango Kubwa, has become the haven for the Mungiki followers.

And matatu owners have been paying between Sh30,000 and Sh50,000 to the notorious gangs.

"I was lucky because I belong to the House of Mumbi (meaning he is kikuyu) so they were not hard on me," he explained. He also counts himself twice lucky because the Mungiki lords allowed him to operate without having cleared their "dues".

"I’ve been paying them in instalments, and that’s why, they had sent their emissaries to pick their monthly.

Although the pseudo- religious and cultural sect is an outlawed group, it has continued with its operations unabated despite stern warnings from the Government.

Chest thumping and devoid of fear, a Mungiki youth from Mlango Kubwa boasted that the sect is "here to stay."

"Some people in the current Government thought they could finish us," said the youth, "but they soon realised Mungiki was a force to reckon with."

"There are no farms in Nairobi to dig," but the Mungiki youths who are sent to collect the money reason that their families "must eat and dress just like other Kenyans".

That is why they have had to organise themselves as the only powerful cartel in the transport sector by fighting off any other existing groups such as Kamjesh.

In Eastleigh, the battle to control and wrestle the route from the Kamjesh gang was violent and brutal.

One morning, the leader of Kamjesh, going by the name Moha, was found murdered in his cubicle.

It is alleged the murder was ostensibly committed by the Mungiki men, as a warning to any member of Kamjesh, who dared to challenge the Mungiki authority.

Thus, the two matatu routes that serve Eastleigh (No.6 and 9) are completely under the control of Mungiki.

The Mungiki youth who spoke on condition of anonymity bragged that "the sect own Juja Road".

Juja Road happens to be one of the most lucrative matatu routes in Nairobi.

What about the law?

"The Police are aware we control the route and there is nothing they can do," said the youths.

Everyday, each matatu must pay Sh200 to Mungiki leaders and the money is collected by a group of youths at strategic points.

Any public transport vehicle that uses Juja Road must pay between Sh50 to Sh100. Mostly matatus from Dandora, and Kariobangi (route Nos.14, 42 and 46) which occasionally divert to Juja Road also have to pay for it.

Failure to remit the money is done at the matatu owners’ risk.

"This is protection money for your matatu," says the source. "If you do not pay or if you give the boys a hard time, you will be taught a lesson. They can be dangerous."

Says the matatu owner: "We used to pay Sh100. One day, Mungiki leaders decided the ‘cost of doing business’ had gone up and they doubled the charges. In essence, Mungiki are controlling an underground economy that would be the envy of formal entities.

In Eastleigh alone, it is believed there is an excess of 200 matatus operating daily on the route, together with about 100 others from Kariobangi and Dandora that also use the road. In one day the cartel collects at least Sh50,000 not for doing any work, but for trouble they unleash on those who fail to please them or their business.

Asked whether he is aware of the Mungiki presence on Juja Road, which is under his jurisdiction, immediate former Officer Commanding Kasarani Police Division (OCPD) Solomon Makau, said he was not aware Mungiki were controlling Juja Road and extorting money from matatu owners.

The new Kasarani OCPD, Mr Paul Ruto, also said he had no idea that Mungiki gangs could be controlling the matatu routes.

"I’m still new here, I’ve just finished a month and I’m yet to get acquainted with my new area of jurisdiction", said Ruto. Given time, he says he would be able to find out and comment about the issue. He promised to do his investigations and find out whether the assertions by the matatu owners are true.

But officers from Pangani Police Station, who deal directly with the Eastleigh matatus say it is not a secret that Mungiki runs Juja Road.

"Mungiki collects money from matatu owners, there’s nothing new there," says a senior police officer at the station.

"The Government knows the Mungiki still exists and what they do".

"The recently disbanded Rhino Squad was formed to eradicate the Mungiki followers, but instead of the Squad curbing the nefarious activities of the group, they became illegitimate partners," said the officer.

And the Mungiki men confirmed this saying they fear no one, not even the police.

"The police are poorly paid, greedy and are not interested in their work", said one youth, adding that the defunct Rhino plainclothes officers still get their weekly share of bribes from the sect leaders at Mlango Kubwa.

The officers are often spotted in their nondescript Peugeot stations wagon parked at Baridi Lane, in Mlango Kubwa.

"When you see the vehicle the police are here to see our bosses," confessed the youth.

With the money, the Mungiki organisation is able to run its affairs and feed their families, mostly living in Mlango Kubwa, Dandora, Githurai and Kayole.

The group has "enough money to buy justice and police officers, who try to make their life difficult", the youth boasted.

"But if any police officer becomes to much, we deal with him".

Dealing here means eliminating. Police sources from Pangani station reckon that the Mungiki could be more armed than the police officers in Nairobi.

"Mlango Kubwa is their territory and no policeman wants to lose his life fighting fearless and dangerous people," said a source.

In Mlango Kubwa, Mungiki also serves as the vigilante group that patrols the area at night.

"We like it that way," says a resident. "They know all the criminals in the area and we pay them promptly for the work."

A Mungiki follower boldly stated the police are not a match for them.

"We are ready for them any time and can engage them in a battle that we are sure to easily win". He observes the Rhino Squad was formed to fight the cultist movement but the Mungiki rhetorically asked: Where are they (the police) now?

Some police sources say their officers are not ready to shed blood fighting a phantom.

"Who are the Mungiki?" He poses, and then answers himself: "Those people are dangerous and seem to have some ubiquitous political backing".

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