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Massacre planners must face the law

Tuesday April 21 2009

Tuesday will remain a day of infamy in Kenya's history, a day when a horde of bloodthirsty criminals bent on atavistic revenge invaded two villages in Nyeri in Central province and killed 26 villagers in cold blood.

The massacre must have come as a complete surprise to the villagers, who had no run-in with the group described as Mungiki; they had no reason to fear an attack of this nature.

But it did happen, and though this is hardly the time to start pointing fingers, it is still necessary to remind the government that it has time and again failed to protect the lives and property of Kenyans.

Sporadic news about a concerted effort by villagers in Kirinyaga Central District to flush out alleged Mungiki members who had been extorting money from them to the point of desperation started trickling into newsrooms two weeks ago.

By early this week, 13 suspects had been lynched, many hacked with machetes, others being burnt alive in their houses. It is not clear what police ever did to discourage this ‘‘mob justice’.

Certainly, neither the district police bosses, nor the provincial administrators were reported as admonishing the villagers who were only doing the job the police had failed to do — enforcing law and order.

That was to prove to be a very costly omission, and someone must be held accountable. How could the authorities allow this barbarism to continue?

How could they look the other way as mobs of vigilantes in Kirinyaga Central behaved in such a manner, considering that under the rule of law, everyone is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty? Was it not a tacit admission that they had failed to enforce the law?

Presumably, they increased patrols in those villages, but they did not reckon with a change in strategy by the Mungiki who attacked villages in a different district altogether. This points to a dearth of intelligence that is quite baffling. By then, the authorities ought to have penetrated the sect and learnt its secrets.

We Kenyans are living in a world where life has become very cheap. It could be that the death of at least 40 people in a few adjoining villages may have no major impact on an administration so besotted with politics that nothing else matters, but if it is pointer of things to come, then this country is in great trouble.

Pervasive poverty

The term, ‘‘Mungiki’’ has become generic. Under its cover, all sorts of gangsters have been banding together to extort money, which has made it most difficult to eradicate the menace.

Politicians have made an even worse mess by using jobless youths to fight their enemies and then abandoning them.

Everything seems to be in total confusion, perhaps reflecting the complexity of the situation. Pervasive poverty among the unemployed and unemployable does not help either.

But one thing is clear: the Mungiki or any other gang cannot be allowed to rule our cities or our rural areas in a country with a government. They cannot be allowed to continue extorting money from traders, matatu operators, landlords and even households in rural areas as they were doing in Kirinyaga.

When mobsters (the Mafia and other organised crime gangs), sought to rule American cities, they were eventually contained through diligent police work, wide-ranging intelligence gathering, and strict law-enforcement.

We cannot afford to do anything less. Allowing vigilantes to do police work is not the answer. A more robust response to the outrage in Nyeri must not be ruled out.

But it must be followed by better organised detective work, and a set of laws that will ensure that gangsterism will never be condoned or tolerated.