In Kenya, the name for a group of youth organized to do so something outrageous shifts from ‘militia’ to ‘gang’ to ‘vigilante’, and back, depending on when you are assessing it and who is paying you at the time.
Gangs gain political angles, or political militia become gangs, vigilantes are used by politicians and businessmen, generally, everyone sleeps with everyone, and the fact that we have not been killed by one group or the other, or its splinter groups, or the ‘strayed bullets’ by now is a total surprise and a proof that if there is indeed a God, then He or She must be confusion.
#7 Sungu Sungu
In its truest sense, ‘sungusungu’ is a term rather than a single criminal gang.The escalation of insecurity is often how gangs and mob units form, and eventually morph into militia and mafia-type groups made of young boys who just need to get laid. The funny this is that the sungusungu do not have a single known chain of command or structures. This might be a farce though because the group had offices and of course, police support, in Kisii town because, what is running a gang without an office? Ask Al Capone…
The Sungu Sungu had existed before 2002 at least as vigilantes, but finally morphed into brutal gangs over the years. They were most famous for lynching suspected criminals and burning suspected witches. Residents of villages and estates still contribute to finance the operations of the sungusungu as volunteer patrols, and you know, to torch witches and commit extrajudicial and targeted killings on their behalf.
The Sungu Sungu are actually one of a set of three ‘criminal gangs’ centered in Kisii that regularly feature on lists of proscribed groups-the other two being the chinkororo and the amachuma. Chinkororo translates to ‘We will rain on you’ and is either the most chilling threat ever packed in a criminal group or simply a case of misunderstood raindrops. They are traditional warriors of the Kisii community, like the famous Morans of the Maasai community. Traditionally, the Chinkororo would mobilize in times of ethnic conflict to protect the Abagusii families of Borabu and Gucha districts. They did-admittedly, engage in cattle rustling ‘to compensate those whose livestock is stolen’ because, what is a good tribal warrior without a few stolen cattle?
The amachuma were a curious addition to the government ban on criminal gangs because they are not a gang, and they do not even exist. ‘Amachuma’ might be from the slang ekegusii word for ‘metal’ -‘richuma’- that ‘loosely translates to village tough.’ Amachuma is the plural for richuma and is not really a gang, but a specific cadre of youth, like saying ‘’ unemployed youth.’ . So, the government has banned unemployment and juvenile delinquents? Such an effective government.
Perhaps the poster child of Kenyan criminal gangs, militia, and vigilante, the Mungiki were not known givers of fucks, although they were generous with the machete. They are the Kenyan Mafia, the Cosa Nostra, the Yakuza of Kenya. Mungiki emerged in the 1980s as something of a gang that combined criminal vigilante activities with cultural preservation. In the 1990s, the group moved most of its operations into Nairobi, gradually taking over the running of protectionist rings and racketeering in slums, middle-class suburbs and most importantly, running matatu terminus.
The Mungiki are highly structured: The national overall structure is broken down into a defined cell structure, each divided into five platoons of 10 people each. Even with this, the actual hierarchy remains largely unknown outside the group and of course, the complicit police. The political wing and mouthpiece of the group, the Kenya National Youth Alliance (KNYA), has since gone underground.
The name Mungiki probably comes from ‘muingi’ or ‘Kiama kia Muingi’ which means ‘a united people’ or ‘The party of the multitude/masses’ and which was what the Mau Mau was originally known as before all the propaganda. The Mungiki styled itself as the modern version of the Mau Mau, advocating for cultural rites such as circumcision for both male and females, and complete with a blood-oathing ceremony.
The Mungiki dabbled in politics and backed KANU in 2002, specifically Uhuru Kenyatta, now Fourth President of the Republic, as the presidential candidate.They were furnished with ten military land rovers ostensibly because they had important places to be. The NARC government discovered the link about a month into power, and Internal Security minister at the time, Chris Murungaru, asked the then Chief of General Staff Joseph Kibwana to investigate because you best investigate yourself, sir! After Uhuru Kenyatta lost, the gang’s power waned. Imagine what would have happened had he won…oh wait…
The first real attempt to break up the group in 2003 was a raid that ended up being two full days of clashes with the police in Mathare slums and other places.50 people had died in Nairobi in 2002 during clashes pitting matatu owners against the sect. In June 2007, the gang embarked on another campaign, beheading defectors, conductors, matatu drivers, and killing almost indiscriminately. The retaliation campaign led to over 10 extrajudicial killings by the police in Mathare alone. In July 2007, members of the sect/gang/militia killed a two-year old, decapitated and mutilated the body in what is thought to have been ritual killing In the 2007/8 civil unrest they were back with a bang, because the Mungiki are not people to miss a tribal cleansing party!
There have been stories of 500 bodies discovered in thickets, male genitalia being found hanging in town centers, and forced circumcision of members of the Luo community, and women.
Mungiki’s tentacles, like those of the Cosa Nostra and any mafia organization worth the name, are thought to have stretched beyond central province and even Kenya. One notable case is the gruesome murders of Jane Kuria and her two daughters in the US. Jane’s husband had died in 2001, after which she moved to the US and sought asylum saying that she and her children were in danger of being forcibly circumcised. The link might have been a fluke, but not completely implausible given the financial might of the group over the years.
In 2009, Mungiki leader Maina Njenga was released from prison and acquitted of murder charges. A week later, David Gitau Njuguna, the charismatic Mungiki and KYNA spokesperson, was shot dead on River road, in broad daylight, by obviously not the police. Another famous Mungiki leader, Ndura Waruinge, renounced the sect and converted first to Islam and changed his name to Ibrahim, then to Christianity and changed his name to Hezekiah perhaps intending to wash his settle his sins with all possible deities, the ultimate Pascal’s Wager.
The gang has since gone underground, and splinter groups such as Wailer and Thaai, which are already emerging as equally brutal gangs.
As the divisive Mungiki permeated through Nairobi slums, members of the Luo tribe living in Nairobi slums formed their own defensive vigilante gangs. Known as The Taliban, the gang obviously morphed beyond its initial intent. Other than choosing a name that carries connotations of Islamists who do not like it when women go to school, the Taliban are often referred to as ‘a Christian group.’ To confuse the deities of course… They viewed the Mungiki as ‘moral savages’ more so for the act of forcibly circumcising people than for killing Kenyans for sport.
The Taliban followed the Mungiki business and the business-of-cutting-heads model, extortion, beat-downs, murders, illegal taxation, racketeering, and others. They also engaged in public executions, the most common being stoning a target until he or she was unable to walk, and then burning them alive. Remember the famous photo from the 2007/8 civil war where a group of men are holding a dreadlocked man as another drives a machete into his skull? Well…
It is sort of what happens in Afghanistan and Iran, what did you expect? In the 2007 PEV, the Taliban emerged as the vigilante defense against the ethnic cleansing (or for, if you were a member of the other tribe) that was taking place while the government was meeting to decide who to blame. The Taliban once tried to blow up a bridge that connects the ‘Kikuyu area’ with the ‘Luo Area’ in Area 3 proving once again that in any way, you should go for the jugular, but you should not.
The Taliban began as an offshoot of the Baghdad Boys, the original grouping that was ‘the Luo tribe’s answer to the Mungiki’. The Baghdad Boys of Kisumu emerged in the early 1990s around the same time as the Gulf War, which might explain the choice of name. They were used widely in the 1992 and 1997 elections. The group later disbanded into several factions, with Taliban being the biggest and most influential. Other splinter gangs include ChinaSquad and ‘American Marines.’
The are many other offshoots of the Baghdad Boys, the most notable being Nyalenda Base, the Chief Squad, Nyamasaria Massive, Kenda Kenda, Kondele Bagdad for Peace (Who do we sue for misleading the public?), Karamojong Boys, Saba Saba, Artur Margaryan (because…why not), Kebago
#4 Ngoroko Anti-Stock Theft Unit
In January 2013, a Joshua Waiganjo was arrested for (supposedly) posing as a senior officer. Everyone denied knowing the man but there is overwhelming evidence that everyone knew who he was. The case is tied to the Baragoi Slaughter of 40 police graduates who walked into a trap where cattle raiders used them to test their new guns and newfound wealth. The undertones, of course, pointed to Waiganjo being a member of the Ngoroko or for a more apt title, the ‘Stock Theft Unit.’
The Ngoroko was never/is not just a militia group, it was a parallel police force made up of, well, who else but police officers? Integrated into the Kenya Administration police as the Anti-Stock theft unit, the modern-day Ngoroko was formed as a private army and quasi-official police force. Sometime between 1976 and 1978, the Kiambu mafia was willing to do anything to prevent Moi (or any other non-Kikuyu) from ascending to power. Its original aim, according to the Kenyatta Succession (the book, not the joke), was to impoverish the vulnerable pastoralist people.
Its primary activities were poaching and cattle rustling but it moved to assassination hits, carjacking, bank robberies, money laundering, gunrunning, protectionist rings, import, and escort of pirate loot, drug trade, takeover of Mungiki areas, and electoral malpractices. If there is any police unit that knows where Felicien Kabuga really is, then it is these guys. They are like a conglomerate for all things illegal.
Ngoroko was first used in reference to the ‘armies of heavily armed bandits’ who emerged in Northern Kenya, especially the area from the Ilemi Triangle into the Pokot and Turkana districts. The Ngoroko used AK 47s procured from Sudan and Somalia to raid each other and re-raid each other after they were raided for first raiding the other communities. That was before the first militia was trained by Rift Valley police Chief James Mungai, the same guy who slapped Moi twice in front of Kenyatta and once carried out a strip search and home raid after Moi came back from an overseas trip. The first target? Moi of course because if you are going to kill someone, it might as well be the Vice President at the time. They were said to have been armed with silenced weapons, and only missed him because he was ‘sneaked past Nakuru.’ They were running roadblocks on the highway as they whistled and waited to give Moi several bullets because, they were generous.
#3 Sabaot Land Defense Force (SLDF)
Perhaps the most memorable guerrilla groups in recent years, this militia group focused its activities in the Mount Elgon Area. Formed in 2005, the SLDF’s activities and the ensuing security operations left at least 600 casualties and displaced over 66, 000 people over eighteen months of the most action. The original aim of the group was as a community reaction to the Chebyukk settlement scheme. The scheme, like all other land settlement scheme, was just one ‘big fap job’ [citation not needed] where only the government was left feeling nice and rich.
SLDF ran a parallel administration system and was funded in much the same way as six of the entries on this list, through racketeering, taxation and running protectionist rings. It was also the well armed, with most of the militia carrying AK47s and other types of guns, and with seemingly unlimited access to ammunition. The group used mobile phones, discarding the sim cards after every raid.Rumor has it that the first commander was a former Presidential Guard because the more famous commander, Wycliffe Matakwei Kirui, was just the deputy commander .
“Once they raid a place, they divide themselves in groups of 12-20 men. Then they surround the area and strike. They are so confident that they at times send warnings before they strike,” says the police officer.
Each of the members is supposed to carry special charms to protect him during an operation.
After surrounding their target, the militia group then blocks all the roads leading to the place as was exemplified during the Kapsokwony raid where the Kaptama/Kapswokony, Kapsokwony/Kimilili and Kapsokwony/Kopsiro roads were all closed.”
In March 2008, the military launched ‘Operation Okoa Maisha’ a large-scale assault to fight off the group. The government also offered an amnesty and KShs 10, 000 for information and surrender. The full title of the operation should have been ‘Operation Okoa Maisha…ha-ha, NOT!’ because the army might have outdone the SLDF. The month before the military operation, the police had uncovered mass graves in the Mt. Elgon forests. …and of course, it sought to outdo the SLDF by carrying out its own massacre to stop the SLDF one. Proving once again that ‘dawa ya moto si maji.’ The militia is estimated to have killed, about 30 people before the well-meaning, deity approved government killed 68 people because, double or nothing.
Successful military campaign huh? Matakwei was killed, the commandant remained and unknown and of the very few who were tried, eight commandants were freed after the government entered a nolle prosequi . The government’s counter-massacre ended the scourge, right? Actually no, in February 2012, the group was said to be regrouping. We are just waiting for the next Mt. Elgon Massacre, let us see who wins this round. My bet is the government remains undefeated in the third round, via technical knock-out…plus, what is a military operation without a few explosives left behind to kill any future militia, or as we prefer them, innocent kids.
#2 Northern Frontier District Liberation Movement (NFDLM)
Perhaps the most underplayed yet one of the most significant conflicts in Kenya’s history is the ‘Shifta War.’ Recorded in most books and etched in memory as the ‘Shifta menace’, this seeming success of the government propaganda machine overlooks an important militia called the NFDLM. The irredentist militia began in the pre-colonial era, and its exact history has not been well covered.
The Shifta are actually more of an idea than a group and existed as early as the British Military Administration of Eritrea (1941-1952). 4 days before granting the Somaliland areas independence in June 1960, the colonial government declared that all Somali areas should be unified into the Greater Somali. Kenya was granted administration of the Northern Frontier District despite the fact that it was inhabited by ethnic Somalis and an informal referendum had demonstrated their wish to join Somalia.
The Kenya government first considered the NFLDM a s serious threat in 1966 after they used a landmine which “killed two 2 officers and wrecked the vehicle (a police Land Rover).’ The NFLDM was supported by Somalia in training and finance.. The proxy war almost brought Kenya and Somalia to full-scale all-out war. Since almost zero information is known of the NFDLM organizational structure, the only possible info can be gleaned from the government reaction. For example, the government confiscated livestock to deny guerrillas access to food and logistical supplies. The state-sanctioned propaganda strategy makes for an interesting read.
The government reaction to the group’s activities was brutal, and was borrowed, almost in intricate detail, from Operation Anvil, the military strategy during the State of Emergency in the 1950s. In fact, declaring a State of Emergency was the first thing the government did. The North Eastern Province (NEP) was closed off to the rest of Kenya hence the lack of evidence of the atrocities committed by both sides. Most accounts suggest that the government engaged in genocide, as it always does, slaughtering entire villages and ‘vigilization’ pastrolist communities into 14 Manyattas, concentration camps. The villages included passes and fences and all, and of course all the rape and testicle-crunching.
This might be the longest running militia in Kenya’s history, as the first real secession of conflict ended in 2000. The war officially ended in 1967 after a peace agreement between Somalia and Kenya, but not before the lesser-known Garbatulla massacre where more than 2, 700 people were killed and buried in mass graves. The few disgraced fighters who managed to avoid being tortured and massacred went home and begun engaging in banditry within the manyattas. Remember the more famous Wagalla Massacre of 1984? That was also part of the conflict, and the government might have used chemical weapons.
With five decades of conflict, most of the new militia are content with engaging in the occasional bombing, or shooting, of ‘hostile forces’, ostensibly the Kenya security forces, often warranting extreme reprisals …
–notably, in March 1997, the Ethiopian Shangilla raided the Kenyan side of the border and shot dead over 100 people, including 19 security officers. The skirmishes lasted a whole week, and became a mini-war where they engaged the military and cut off road link. They attacked again in October 1998, and killed 200 members of the Degodia clan, Kenyan Somalis. In 1999, they again attacked, this time with land mines and many times after that…
With the emergence of extremist Islamist governments in Somalia , the violence quickly returned, and as of 2013, involves various largely unknown militia against security forces. The massacres happen almost daily, and the government swears it will not stop until all of NEP is cleared of its common wish to join the motherland. Okay, it does not swear that aloud, but it has used the NEP for human target practice before.
#1 The Kaya Bombo Raiders
You know how there are movies where a group of raiders attack a strategic village and hold it as they fight off government resistance and kill people? Well, it has happened in Kenya…
The Kaya Bombo raiders are the arguably the most structured and best organized entry on this list.
On August 13, 1997, a group of about 200 raiders carrying traditional weapons and covered by foreigners wielding guns, attacked a police post, a police station, and basically anything else at the Likoni Ferry station that had a portrait of Moi in it… They killed 6 officers and stole more than 40 guns. They then went on a violent rampage killing almost indiscriminately, or so it seemed at first. They targeted ‘the mainland communities,’ the tribes that would vote ‘the other way’, in the December elections.
They later retreated to the Kaya Bombo forest, hence the name, when security forces arrived the next morning. The guerrilla attacks did not end, not even after elections ended in December, they continued December of 1998. The police found themselves outmatched by a group that was seemingly coordinated, effective, and almost any other adjective you can use to describe a successful militia. They had had numerous opportunities to practice as Coast politicians jostled for power.
In materials and records that were intercepted during the course of the gang’s activities, a proper military structure, with 278 men in total, was clearly detailed and illustrated. The commanding officer of the group was one Juma Bempa. They had a military structure headed by ethnic Digo men who had served in the police or military. The group also included a retinue of mercenaries and some security forces might have crossed over during the yearlong conflict.
“An attendance register, records of personnel matters (promotions and demotions, disciplinary actions), and a firearms register that detailed the number of guns, their serial numbers, and a log of who used them”
“… the raiders were divided into different “companies” of fixed composition, and listed the dates of the training given to each group”
“…the second book detailed the raiders’ expenses on food and hospital treatment and included an unsent letter”
If you clicked on the previous link, somewhere in the middle, you will find a detailed analysis of the military structure including the uniform issued to different ranks, and accounts of raiders attacking the post office, shops, homes, and everyone else.
How could a small militia of more than 200 carry out such an effective (because murder) campaign?
The whole gang was the work of KANU politicians exploiting local politics to win the 1997 elections. Most accounts of former gang members, who went on to form the MRC, indicated that similar attacks, a trial run of sorts, had occurred in 1992 but at a smaller scale.
The jury is still out on whether the Mombasa Republican Council is an armed gang, a secessionist group, or a political party. While the courts decided otherwise, the executive still maintains the MRC as one of 33 criminal gangs. The MRC , or as It was first called, the Republican Council, is thought to have been partially inspired by the Kaya Bombo raiders. There is the curious fact that the group was formed as the RC in 1998, around the same time the Kaya Bombo raids subsided, and was also made up, at least originally, of ethnic Digo men.
+ Forty Brothers
This gang is not to be confused with the ‘Forty Two brothers’, another proscribed gang that clearly has two more ‘bros’ than this entry….or the ’40 Ndugus’ which gets zero marks for militia brand differentiation.
Formed in 1998 (again, curiously, around the same time the Kaya Bombo raiders dispersed), the gang would raid homes, rape young women, and steal from the homesteads. Like all other gangs on this list, its signature weapons were crude machetes and traditional weapons, police uniform and the occasional gun. It also operated boats because transportation…
The group used to meet in Changamwe to strategize on its targets. They would hide in caves in Mshomoroni area of Kisauni, which is also the same place they are thought to hide their loot. Residents in the affected areas publicly lynched its leaders and the group fizzled out. Pssst, treasure hunters…? Anyone?
Plus, when do we get the next counter-massacre? What is a good massacre among countrymen?