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Political Violence In Kenya: Who's responsible? - 2002-09-25

Election violence has killed several people and wounded scores more in recent weeks as the campaign to elect Kenya's first new president in 39 years heats up. Youth gangs called "mungiki" are allegedly behind disruptions of several political rallies. Mungiki leaders say they’re not involved in the violence, and are being falsely accused.

According to victims of the violence that were interviewed this week in the hospital, mungiki youths were responsible for killings and injuries, including a forced circumcision. But "Mungiki" leader Ndura Waruinge says “hooligans” are impersonating his members. Mungiki is a name that comes from the majority Kikuyu tribe, who believe in supporting traditional ways of life in Kenya, including circumcision of both girls and boys.

Many in Kenya say mungiki are paid by political leaders to commit crimes across the country. The gangs have been banned by the Kenyan government, but many say they operate with impunity.

He says, "We are not mercenaries for hire. We will ask politicians not to use us and not to use young people to unleash terror on other Kenyans who are peace loving." The mungiki support Uhuru Kenyatta, the candidate chosen by current president Daniel Arap Moi to succeed him. president Daniel Arap Moi to succeed him. Mr. Moi is constitutionally bound to step down by the end of the year. But observers say his party, KANU appears to be desperate to continue its rule, against the backdrop of the country's poverty and corruption.

In recent weeks, mungiki leaders have warned that there will be violence if voters elect anyone other than Mr. Kenyatta. The election is expected to be held in December, although President Moi has not set a specific date.

The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, a U-S non-governmental group, worries that youth gangs will continue hurting and killing people. In response, NDI has started an anti-violence campaign. Felix Odhiambo is an NDI program officer focusing on political parties.

He says, "As far as we are concerned, if they're banned, they should remain banned. As election day approaches, the intention of using mungiki youths for violence is very high."

In July, youths tore down makeshift homes and stalls across Kenya. TV cameras caught government officials watching over the destruction. Thousands of Kenya’s poorest people lost their wares and possessions and were forced to flee during the mayhem and looting that followed. Critics say the destruction was an attempt to intimidate opposition supporters.

But Mr. Waruinge says all recent violence should be associated with Raila Odinga, a KANU member opposed to Mr. Kenyatta’s candidacy. Mr. Waruinge said mungiki members were not involved in the violence.

He says, "It was a group of people who unleashed terror. It was not mungiki members. Whoever is associated with violence is Raila Odinga."

Ethnic clashes killed hundreds of people in run-ups to elections in 1992 and 1997. And the Kenya Human Rights Commission three weeks ago warned Kenyans to restrain themselves and not follow the path of Rwanda in 1994, when ethnic violence led to genocide. Kenyans believe that won’t happen, saying the more than 40 tribal groups in the country get along for the most part.