Church leaders in central Kenya have asked the government to enter talks with a banned ultra-traditionalist tribal sect that has both committed bizarre murders and extortion while campaigning to impose circumcision and a strict dress code on women.
Anglican, Presbyterian, and Catholic leaders, including Cardinal John Njue, delivered a joint statement at Holy Family Basilica on Thursday. They said that the Kenyan government has not been able to subdue the powerful Mungiki sect. According to the Catholic Information Service for Africa (CISA), the church leaders called for the release of the Mungiki leader Maina Njenga, who is in prison for illegal possession of firearms. The prelates called him one of the country’s “renowned personalities.”
In their statement, the church leaders accused the government of “denying the obvious.”
“This group is not a small force to dismiss with television and radio statements. There is a need [for] another strategy to deal with this sect,” they said.
Kenya Prime Minister Raila Odinga has called for dialogue with the group, saying talks are ongoing.
“When there is conflict, we can only reach people through dialogue and we will do so with Mungiki,” Odinga said.
The state-run Kenya National Commission on Human Rights has said the disruption caused by Mungiki atrocities highlights the need to disarm and permanently demobilize all militia. “Nothing can justify the killings they have committed and in this regard they should be arrested and charged in court,” commission chairman Maina Kai said.
Police have pledged to wipe out the group. The prelates said between six and ten Mungiki suspects killed by the police are buried daily in two central Kenyan districts.
The church leaders said on Thursday that the government needs to stop demonizing the sect, arguing that the government ought to extend loans to Mungiki members to help them earn a livelihood.
“These youth within Mungiki are energetic, averagely educated but jobless and living in absolute poverty. They cannot starve when the rich and elite are eating the surplus,” they said in their statement.
The clergyman also accused prominent unnamed politicians of relying on sect members when politically convenient, but later abandoning them.
“Politicians ought to be told to stop the method of ‘use and dump.’ Mungiki are people not things,” the statement said, according to CISA.
The Mungiki problem, the church leaders said, is a problem needing a long-term solution. They said that a majority of sect members are found in impoverished area. They called for dialogue with the Mungiki and funding for new businesses to reduce poverty.
The church leaders said they will organize a prayer service for the Mungiki and asked the government to “soften the language used while issuing security statements on any group of Kenyans that may happen to disagree with some government-backed opinions.”