Matatus grounded as Mungiki riots feared

Thursday March 5 2009

By JOHN NJAGI and GEORGE MUNENE

Transport in Central Kenya was paralysed for several hours as matatus (public minivans) were pulled off the road while in Kirinyaga Central District, businesses were shut down following Mungiki riots.

There was panic among matatu operators that members of the outlawed sect, who had threatened to hold demonstrations to protest against alleged extra-judicial killings, would torch their vehicles.

Will be burnt

“There are fears that matatus will be burnt,” said Nyeri Matatu Owners Association chairman Patrick Mugwara. Heightening the fears were warnings by insurance firms that owners of vehicles destroyed in Mungiki riots would not be compensated.

Over 1,000 matatus belonging to 2NK, 4NT and Nyena saccos that ply the Nairobi, Nyahururu and Nanyuki routes were grounded. In Othaya, Murang’a, Kerugoya and Mukurweini, matatus were off the road by 8am.

Nyeri Central district commissioner Michael Mwangi said about 30 suspected Mungiki members had been arrested at Nyeri Town’s bus termini after they ordered operators to park their vehicles.

Unlike in the past when law enforcers were seemingly caught by surprise, security personnel were on Thursday on high alert following an announcement by Government spokesman Alfred Mutua on the demonstrations.

In Kirinyaga, 15 suspected members of the sect were arrested following protests that lasted for six hours and paralysed business in the district.

Fierce battle

Chaos erupted when the protesters barricaded the Kerugoya-Kutus road and other routes, harassing motorists and commuters. A fierce battle erupted when police arrived and whipped and clubbed the youths, who retaliated by throwing stones.

The rioters fled into a hotel, but were flushed out. The owner said that one of the arrested men was his employee and had nothing to do with the protests.

There was uneasy calm in the area as police patrolled towns to keep the protesters at bay as they had vowed to regroup and strike again.