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Why Njenga’s transformation from Mungiki to pastor is not convincing

Sunday June 3 2012

How do you solve a problem like Maina Njenga? When he was Mungiki leader, his boys raped the conscience of Central Kenya and parts of Nairobi.

Mungiki killed, maimed and extorted money from businesspeople and peasants alike. In a sense, Mungiki ran a parallel rogue state.

And when he renounced the sect, the killings stopped but the extortion continues. In between the atrocities, Maina was arrested and charged with possession of illicit arms, among other crimes.

He was bundled into prison, and there started his transformation from a suspect to Maina Njenga the nationalist.

As the post-election clashes intensified in 2008, politicians across the divide fell over themselves to curry favour with him.

Mr Raila Odinga, whose supposed ODM supporters were being killed in Naivasha by Mungiki, sent him Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power and even pledged to facilitate his release.

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The head of the most murderous gang in recent history suddenly became a cog in the political wheel of reconciliation.

When he was freed, Maina cast his spell on more people. As the politicians courted him, he struck a national chord and capped it all with benediction.

Out went Maina Njenga the notorious Mungiki leader and in came James Maina Njenga the prophet. Many dismissed this as just another circus, but again we had terribly underestimated this man’s genius.

And so when he renounced the Mungiki, we believed him. Wasn’t he just “born-again” the other day? Soon, the focus shifted from Mungiki and its atrocities to its political benefactors.

The killers became political lambs, and their masters national chaperons for security.

As Saul (Maina) became Paul (Maina), he got another revelation — different from the one that supposedly struck him as a teenager to drop all things Western, including Christianity, and embrace the deadly dogma that fertilised his violent mind.

The spirit, he said, had told him to found a church to save the souls of youths led to crime by poverty and politicians. Maina the layman became Maina the pastor. The transition was not difficult, for he had long been the spiritual leader of Mungiki.

And not surprisingly, his church has stood out for two things. First, the profile of the average faithful is a perfect fit for Mungiki. Second, it is the only church where police responding to a distress call have been beaten up.

From the pulpit, Maina has become a nationalist. He castigates politicians for misusing youths for violence and has vowed to lead a generational change in Central Kenya leadership.

The people who only five years ago condemned Mungiki are now courting him with unprecedented lust. Maina has become a trophy spouse for politicians proclaiming their love for youth.

But he has not apologised for atrocities committed in his name. You cannot talk reconciliation when you have murderers and politicians cutting deals among themselves.

Reconciliation is a factor of honest dialogue and integrity, not expediency. This is why I am afraid, very afraid, of this man and his wiles.

I shudder every time I see human rights activists like Hassan Omar and Paul Muite hug Maina with the exuberance only seen among freedom fighters.

I worry even more when Mr Odinga’s allies fall over themselves to entertain Maina. I fear that to our politicians, victory at the ballot box is more sacred than life.

The politicians love him for the votes (and the violent edge) he brings to the campaign trail, giving him a perfect insurance against his sordid past. The so-called human rights activists love him for the cash-cow his ilk present.

At times like this, I realise that it’s not only the law that is an ass. The politics, the economy, the church — the whole society sucks.

I don’t hate Maina, I just love life more. It’s sacrilegious to cheer him on as he dances on the graves of Mungiki victims.

Maina could be “born-again”, but he’s yet to demonstrate he’s not Mungiki. Finding the Lord was a personal journey, now he must not turn the pulpit into a convenient guise for spawning a more virulent enemy of the people.

Mr Galava is a senior editor with the Nation. ([email protected])

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