At the naïve age of 16, Peter Jomo Macharia joined the then dreaded Mungiki sect. In 2000, lured by promises of good life, protection from aggressors and the call to restore the Kikuyu culture, he agreed to become a member. He had seen how some members had made a life for themselves and their families mainly through extortions in the guise of offering security and keeping law and order.
As a teenager, he was excited and did whatever he was asked to do without asking questions. As initiation, he says, one is beaten and tortured. Those who endure the violent induction that includes military like drills, then go through an oathing process. They have to promise never to discuss what goes on in the sect or desert duty. Jomo passed the test.
Now, he could ‘go out on missions as ordered by his superiors’. He attacked and maimed people without asking questions. For this, he was a favourite with the leadership. On his part, he imagined he was already on the path to ‘greatness’ four years after took an oath and swore to be a member. However, their demand to ascend to greatness left Jomo dead in his tracks. They wanted his mother’s head on a plate as a show of devotion and dedication to the sect.
The 28-year-old could not control his tears while narrating his chilling and nerve wrecking confession. He was flanked by the same mother he was asked to kill. “After two years, I was to be ‘ordained’,” Jomo recounts. In 2002, Jomo, who dropped from school in Class Two, was invited to attend an important sect meeting at Maili Sita in Bahati, Nakuru County.
It was the ‘ordination’, but he did not know that until he arrived there. At the ceremony in a dark house, a group of about 130 young men sat in two groups. The ‘graduands’ and the rest who were still undergoing training. The oath was being administered in a poorly lit mud house away from general public. “The oath included meat and blood. I am not sure if it was from an animal or a human being since it was dark,” he says.
The oathing is something that is never discussed. The ‘graduands’ were divided into groups of 10 and told to enter a pitch dark room naked. After a while, some people descended on them beating them senseless. Anyone who screamed, was out. The next stage was to confirm if all of them were circumcised. “Unfortunately, one of us was not cut and he was circumcised on the spot,” says Jomo. They then poured tobacco on him.
The sect believes tobacco is also some kind of medicine. The ceremony lasted 10 hours and before Jomo and the rest left, any sort of humanness in them had been drained. They were expected to be merciless and ruthless. While listening and speaking to the leaders during the oath, one the graduands had to be on their knees and the head bowed. When it was about time to take the last oath, it dawned on Jomo there was no turning back. “We were asked if we would bring anything the leaders wanted from us. We all agreed,” he says.
“Will you bring the head of your, mother, father, sister and brother to us if asked?” they asked. Already beaten senseless and hardened, the young men said they would. After the torturous night, Jomo was unable to go home due to injuries he had on his body. He sought refuge at one of the member’s house since he could not face his parents who knew nothing about his association with Mungiki.
A week later, in early 2003 Jomo was sent for a revenge mission after one member of his group was attacked. “The assignment was at Bahati. A shopkeeper had assaulted our member. I contemplated killing the man, but I changed my mind,” he says. However, he slit the man’s thigh with a sword. The attack left the man disabled. Jomo regrets maiming the man, but says he is afraid of confronting the man and asking for forgiveness.
After the mission, his seniors in Nakuru were impressed and booked an appointment with the former Mungiki leader Maina Njenga, who he alleged gave him a sword and advised him to continue working. Years ago, Njenga renounced the sect and converted to Christianity. Jomo says this could also have motivated him to leave the dark sect and is now a member of Gospel Campaigners Fellowship in Nakuru where he also reaches out the youth especially those still in the sect.
His role in the sect in Nakuru
I had been assigned to control 80 members in Nakuru CBD. Some members are responsible for killing deserters. Jomo with other members have been involved in deadly clashes in Nakuru, which left many injured and others dead. He points out that they used to extort money, engage in fraud, robbery, murder and even kidnapping. He jolted back into reality after he was given 21 days to take his mother’s head.
Jomo says he knew they meant business because he had seen the leaders behead three young men for deserting the group. “That is how I decide stay indoors for three weeks,” he says. However, his move left his family in grave danger, because sect members kept visiting his mother asking of Jomo’s where about. He thanks God that they did not turn on his family because sect members are known to harm families of deserters.
However, he could not hide for long because within a short time, his former sect followers were looking for him. Usually, to scare their target. They visit their homes, walk around and leave without saying a word. “I stayed indoors for three weeks in my mother’s house and some people were sent to spy on me,” he says. This prompted him to seek refuge with relatives in Elburgon. They declined to take him in fearing the consequences of their hospitality.
He then went to hide in Mau Forest for four months. When things got tough, Jomo says he resolved to go face the sect. “I was ready to die. I could not run away for ever,” he says. When he got there, he got word that police were also looking for him in connection to various crimes in Nakuru. “It was at this time I confessed to my mother I had been a member of the outlawed Mungiki,” he says.
Martha Macharia, a mother of five, listened to her son’s confession and was shocked to hear she would have been a sacrificial lamb. “I thank God that never happened,” She says. His mother says she knew all was not well with her son. Family members feared him and he had little interest in what the rest of them were doing. “It pains me to hear the confession of my son that he made people cripples but thank God this testimonies may liberate many youths who are in the verge of joining terrorism, Mungiki or other groups,” he says.
His family says it has forgiven him and embraced his transformation and he continues to be an inspiration to others who think there is no hope. “I continue receiving threats though they have subsided. I am not at peace when I met the people whose lives I ruined, but I pray God one day I will meet them and ask for forgiveness to clear my conscience,” he says.
Jomo says that to lead a group of several members, one must have proven himself by being lethal and heartless, especially when sent out on revenge missions. The more followers assigned to a group leader, the powerful they are. “One was promoted for carrying out a revenge mission with brutality and courage.
Killing was not a must, but it was one of the options when necessary,” he says. Surprisingly, followers in charge of extorting money from matatus are poor and barely get any of the money. Top national leaders divide the money among themselves. He says 10 years ago, each member was required to contribute Sh20 daily. Jomo’s group used to contribute Sh50,000. The former sect follower says he once overheard that the sect was making Sh2-3 million from followers every month. “I am sure now they collect a lot of money,” he says.
How sect exploits followers
The top leadership reign was filled with terror and they kept followers guessing on what the next mission would be. The leadership called impromptu meetings, sometimes in far off areas just to see which followers would fail to attend. According to Jomo, the sect is run like a rebel military camp where generals have an air of mystery around them.
He says revenge missions were often planned by the national leadership and instructions communicated to those in the grassroots. Indoctrination is a key weapon in the sect. Jomo says the fact that followers saw themselves as the economic, political and social saviours of the Kikuyu community hardened their resolve despite the violence sometimes meted on them.
The members of the sect disrespect women especially the uncircumcised and they equate them to children who have no say in the society. He says his group sometimes publicly undressed women deemed to be improperly dressed. Jomo says the sect does nothing more than turn followers into slaves and prisoners. Followers often operate like sheep and most of the time sit and wait for instructions on how to run their lives.
The cost of deserting the sect is death, but Jomo says he is a Christian now and believes God will not let harm come his way. At the end of the interview, he shakes his head at the thought of thousands of youth still bound by the yokes of the sect. He hopes the leadership could resolve some of the issues like unemployment and tribalism that lure the youth to such criminal gangs.