This man led a criminal gang that beheaded innocent Kenyans for a living. So why is former PM Raila Odinga burying his wife?

Maina Njenga means many things to different people. We expose the man, the myths, and reveal why this meek lamb of the Lord lies with politicians

Maina Kortini

With a dreamy look in his eyes, former Mungiki leader Maina Njenga lifted a bullet-riddled jacket a fortnight ago and narrated how an angel descended from on high and shielded him from the 30 bullets fired to his person.

It is the latest piece of fiction from the former spiritual leader of the criminal gang reputed for beheading its victims, and in the process, made a small fortune for its leadership. It is the tussle over the control of the “Mungiki estate,” that analysts say now threatens to subsume it.

More yarns have been spun around Njenga’s past life. Born John Maina Njenga on January 2, 1969, the fourth child of Kamunya Njoroge, Njenga’s alleged mystical powers started early.

When growing up in the plains of Laikipia, Njenga enrolled at Olng’arua Primary School in Laikipia West and later Ortum Secondary school before he forged his own transfer letter to Jomo Kenyatta High School to join Form Three.

The apple, the saying goes, never falls very far away from the apple tree, for his father, Kamunya Njoroge, had been a traditionalist who inducted his son into the old ways of Gikiuyu traditional worship.

Njenga became popular among students after a white dove allegedly perched on his head at school and later bestowed him with prophetic powers, enabling him to forecast news to students, and which was later relayed full verbatim on the Voice of Kenya radio.

Predictably, the only person who corroborates this yarn is Njenga himself, not some independent authority, but what’s without a doubt is that the legend sowed the seeds of what became the Mungiki sect, as students who surrounded Njenga to hear the “news” were encouraged to seek alternative forms of worship instead of Christianity.

Using this mystique, Maina fashioned Mungiki as a religious sect which advocated traditional Gikuyu worship facing Mt. Kenya. Women were excluded. To win acceptance, they were to undergo circumcision, an age-old rite of passage in traditional African society.

In the run-up to the 2007 General Election, Njenga is said to have obtained a list of four million voters from his community from the now defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya and convinced a presidential candidate that he could influence them vote for him.

Maina Njenga at Avenue Hospita

The Mungiki myth of numbers was discounted once again in 2012 when the Kangema parliamentary seat fell vacant following the death of John Michuki. Njenga’s candidate on Mkenya Solidarity Party was whipped by greenhorn from The National Alliance, Tirus Ngahu.

Initially, Njenga did not feature prominently in the Mungiki hierarchy as members were organised in cells from location level right up to provincial, and later national level under a coordinator.

Ndura Waruingi, a close relative of Njenga acted as the national coordinator of Mungiki because he was better educated and had better oratory skills.

In 1998 after ethnic clashes erupted in Olmoran division, Laikipia, where 60 people were killed, political leaders secretly started arming the Mungiki followers to ward off further attacks.

The funds-drive for the purchase of arms was spearheaded by the departed controversial politician, Kihika Kimani, who was then Laikipia West MP and former Kiambaa MP, Njenga Karume, who is also deceased.

When ethnic clashes erupted in Njoro immediately after Laikipia, they were quickly extinguished after Mungiki adherents countered the attacks.

Mungiki had quickly morphed from quasi-religious outfit to political militia for hire.

But the gang also discovered something crucial: they realised they could exploit existing security gaps by presenting themselves as the people’s watchmen, and levy “protection” fees for their trouble.

This soon expanded to cover public transport sector where they demanded money to allow matatus to operate on routes under their “command,” usually with police complicity.

Small and medium-size businesses also had to pay monthly protection fees collected by Mungiki operatives, who also imposed levies on construction materials delivered within their jurisdiction.

Cord leader Raila Odinga and Kisumu Senator Anyang’ Nyong’o (right) when they visited former Mungiki leader Maina Njenga (centre) at his home in Karen, Nairobi

Defaulters were beaten up and in some instances beheaded so as to enforce total compliance of the Mungiki code, especially in slums such as Korogocho, Githurai, Mathare Kariobangi and Dandora.

According to sources who cannot be named for fear of reprisals, a substantial percentage of those funds ended up in the hands of Njenga.

When law enforcers turned up the heat, Waruinge and Njenga sought refuge from a very surprising quarter. On September 3, 2000, Maina Islamised and became Mohamed Njenga, while Waruinge became Ibrahim Ndura Waruinge. They were received at Mombasa’s Sakina Mosque by the chairman of Council of Imams and Preachers Sheikh Ali Shee.

At the time the entire Mungiki leadership comprising of provincial coordinators, Hassan Waithaka Wagacha (Central) Mohamed Kamau Mwathi (Nairobi), Hussein Kamau Ruo (Rift Valley) and Khadijah Wangari (women leader) proclaimed their Islam faith and said harassment of Mungiki would be seen as an affront to Muslims.

The marriage between the two religious groups however hit the rock after only three short months after a section of Muslim preachers accused Njenga’s group of hiding in mosques to disguise their nefarious intentions.

By December 2000 there were calls for Mungiki adherents to be expelled, prompting Njenga and his group to retort that Islam was not a political party where converts could be kicked out.

Njenga and his henchmen then turned their focus on politics, winning the support of former President Daniel arap Moi who entertained delegations of Mungiki defectors at the State House in Nakuru.

The friendship between the outlawed sect and the political class blossomed on March 3, 2002, when Njenga and Waruinge declared that they would support Uhuru Kenyatta who had been picked by Moi to succeed him as Kanu’s presidential candidate.

However, the following day Mungiki goons went on the rampage in Kariobangi, Nairobi and butchered 23 people, after deadly clash with another illegal militia over turf control.

Kanu quickly distanced itself from Mungiki while Uhuru declared he was Catholic and would have nothing to do with the murderous gang.

Njenga was arrested in 2004 and charged with murder but he was acquitted, only to be rearrested in February 2006 and accused of administering illegal oaths and being in possession of weapons.

It was while he was in jail at Kamiti awaiting the conclusion of his trial that he proclaimed that he had finally seen the light and converted to Christianity.

During his stint in prison, Njenga was guarded by three hefty Mungiki followers who were allegedly protecting him from being attacked by the sect’s adherents for betraying their cause.

Mungiki had a penchant for severing heads of followers who defected or collaborated with police, a factor Njenga used to demand extra protection from the prison authorities.

The prison authorities were, however, not fooled by Njenga for then officer in charge of Kamiti prison Peter Njuguna dismissed the former Mungiki head as a cunning man who was just acting to attract attention.

Maina also enjoyed support from unlikely quarters: former Prime Minister Raila Odinga visited him in prison and gifted him with two books, “The 48 Laws of Power by American author Robert Greene and The Art of War by Chinese military tactician Sun Tzu.

As Njenga languished in prison, his wife Virginia Nyakio contested the Laikipia West parliamentary seat but was defeated and later abducted along Lang’ata Road, killed and dumped in Gakoe forest in Kiambu.

Nyakio’s driver George Njoroge was also gunned down and his body discovered alongside the remains of two others, which had started decomposing.

In an ironic twist, while Njenga was in prison, a contigent of General of General Service Unit transformed his house in Kitengela into a patrol base to guard Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Njenga was finally released on October 27, 2009 amidst song and dance from Mungiki adherents, after the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keriako Tobiko, said there was no evidence to sustain the 29 murder charges which had been preferred against him.

Maina had been charged with masterminding the killings in Karatina, Nyeri, that were blamed on the Mungiki.

After months of waiting, Nyakio was finally buried in Njenga’s Kitengela home which police claim was built from crime proceeds.

Top politicians, among them cabinet ministers, generously contributed towards the burial with a total of Sh9 million raised in a harambee presided over by the then Starehe MP, Bishop Margaret Wanjiru, Ferdinand Waititu (Embakasi MP) and senior counsel Paul Muite.

Njenga has since started his evangelical ministry, Hope International, after parting ways with one of his mentors, Kamlesh Pattni, the architect of Goldenberg scam in which billions were stolen from public coffers.

Njenga had been out of public limelight for some time until last month when fighting erupted in Kitengela pitting a group of Mungiki adherents demanding part of the 4,000 acres of land claimed by Njenga, and which, ironically, was reportedly grabbed from East African Portland Cement.

Seven bodies were found buried in unmarked graves on the property.

The in-fighting has split Mungiki followers, some of whom attend Njenga’s church where three of his followers were killed. Police estimate 20 people have since been killed in inter-Mungiki fighting.

Last month, Njenga cheated death by a whisker after his vehicle was sprayed with bullets by unknown assailants while driving to Nyahururu. The car driven by his bodyguards was also shot at.

Five people, including Njenga’s wife and bodyguards were killed but Njenga lived to tell the story. He’s exploiting the narrow escape to claim divine intervention, and just as in 2010, when Njenga turned the burial of his first wife Nyakio into a political spectacle, his second wife Melissa Wairimu Nyambere and his cousin Dickson Mwangi Wanjiru’s burial promises to be as noisy.

The burial of his wife has been pushed to June 21 to allow former Prime Minister Raila Odinga to attend after concluding Cord rallies, where Njenga is expected to accompany him.

Meanwhile, Njenga alleges he is being targeted by the Government because he is supposed to be an International Crimes Court prosecution witness. President Uhuru Kenyatta is facing charges at ICC over suspicion that he funded and coordinated Mungiki retaliatory attacks at the height of post-election violence in January 2008.

Internal Security Minister Joseph ole Lenku has dismissed Njenga’s allegations as fictitious, which wouldn’t be surprising as many aspects of his dramatic life are founded on myths.

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