Matungu killings smack of a return to Nabongo days, with betrayal rife

Sunday May 12 2019

Tales of betrayal and let-down abound in Matungu and its environs.

This is the seat of power of the once powerful and famous Wanga Kingdom, whose King Nabongo, history books say, accepted mirrors, cowrie shells and other gifts from Arab and Swahili traders to allow the foreigners to capture and sell non-Wangas as slaves.


Nabongo Mumia (1888 - 1949) also collaborated with the British imperialists, who helped him repel attacks by neighbouring, hostile and anti-colonial communities like the Bukusu.

But while Mumia’s betrayal was among the first ones to be recorded in the now ceremonial monarch’s homeland, the latest spate of bloodletting and slaughter shows it is not the last.

The story is the same, but instead of Arabs and Swahilis, the script now features 42 and 14 Brothers as the merchants of death, while the king’s descendants — the Wanga people — have become the “slaves”.


A close look at the unfolding script of slaughter shows some descendants of the king and the people the government has entrusted with the security of Matungu are following in the monarch’s footsteps, 70 years later.

In more than a dozen interviews with the Nation, the residents of the constituency that borders Bungoma, Busia and Siaya counties, narrated how chiefs and police commanders have disappointed them in their quest for security.

Members of Nyumba Kumi, the clergy, businesspeople, farmers, bodaboda riders and ordinary villagers said it’s now considered “foolish” to report suspects to the authorities.

In Mayoni, there is a tale of a local chief, who has been taking bribes, including bulls, to clear young men linked to the 14 and 42 Brothers.

“We prepare lists of suspects and hand them over to chiefs and their assistants. Sagana and Yondo (suspected masterminds and commanders of 14 Brothers), for instance, are on those lists, but they continue to roam free,” said a Nyumba Kumi member who sought anonymity for fear of reprisals.


“Whenever we ask police about the suspects, they say those lists have never reached them. We later learnt that the chiefs were taking bribes to clear the suspects.”

A local religious leader told the Nation that the provincial administrators contact the suspects and their parents and offer “ways to help each other”.

In some cases, two outspoken and rival politicians in Kakamega County and local businessmen, who are on the police radar over the bloodletting, have been bailing out the suspects, to the chagrin of the residents of Matungu.

“They don’t care. We, the poor, are the ones being killed like chickens. Not them,” said Ms Florence Atsieno, a widow whose husband Isaac Sakwa, 38, was hacked to death by a gang member, who had told him, "I know you, so what brings you to our village?"

The death of her husband, the sole breadwinner, has left Ms Atsieno, who kept getting lost in thought and staring into emptiness during the interview, in a tight spot with six children, the eldest only nine-years-old.

While chiefs and their assistants use the confidential reports to extort bribes, area residents said police commanders reveal the identities of the informers and whistle-blowers to the killers, endangering the lives of volunteers who seek to stem the wave of bloodshed.

A local religious leader, for instance, narrated how volunteering information on suspected 14 Brothers to two police bosses endangered his life.


“I went to Kakamega in the morning (after guns were stolen from Bookers Police Post) and found both of them and the regional criminal investigations officer in the office. I told them what I knew, but before evening, the suspects were calling my number and threatening me with death,” he said, as he sought anonymity, fearing for his life.

“There were just the four of us in that room. Just who could have informed the gang members?”

Residents think the betrayal goes beyond the chiefs and police.

Their young people, they say, have turned against them after selling their souls to merchants of death for pieces of silver and other gifts.

“First, they joined and accepted to work with 42 Brothers, a group that was unheard of in this region. We only used to hear of 42 Brothers’ reign of terror in Butere, Marama, up to Lusumu River. Later, they came up with the more ruthless 14 Brothers,” Ejinja resident Ali Khata said.

Area residents said boda boda riders, are used by local politicians to terrorise the villagers.

“They’ve hired motorcycles, but they don’t work. Their bikes are fuelled and daily fees (Sh300) are paid by the politicians. Why are the politicians funding them? To do what?” they posed.

The situation has led to a blame game, with police saying Mutungu residents have also disappointed them by hiding the suspects, or not going to court to testify.