Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kenyan Town Strikes Back Against Its Tormenters

Residents of Karatina, Kenya, walked by bloody clubs on Tuesday, evidence of the town’s attack against members of a gang.

Just after dusk on Monday, the residents gathered, armed with clubs, machetes and traditional spears. They said they were sick of paying extortion taxes, sick of fearing for their girls and sick of living under the thumb of the Mungiki, an intensely secretive Kenyan group that is part street gang, part Mafia, with an added touch of the occult.

And so the people of Karatina decided to strike back. Under the cover of darkness, a mob of hundreds of young men who were paid by elders, according to several residents, swept across this lush green tea-growing area that seems more like a slice of Eden than a killing field and rounded up dozens of men suspected of being Mungiki members.

The mob pummeled the men suspected of being thugs, and this normally tranquil spot exploded into a melee of killings and counterkillings that left nearly 30 people dead. Witnesses said some victims were beaten beyond recognition. The evidence was on display on Tuesday. The mud roads were still sticky with blood, and children carefully tiptoed around the broken sticks tipped in red.

The Mungiki started in the 1980s as a self-defense force for the Kikuyu ethnic group, Kenya’s largest. Gang members modeled themselves after the Mau Mau, Kenya’s independence fighters who wore dreadlocks, took secret oaths and waged a hit-and-run guerrilla war against British colonizers.

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