Former Mungiki leader Maina Njenga spoke to the Daily Nation in a wide-ranging interview about the rise of sect, life after prison, and political ambitions and more.
Here are some excerpts.
What have you been up to lately?
I have become a peace ambassador and our effort to reconcile different communities living in Laikipia is paying off. You know this region has been affected by wars. Our cattle, goats have been stolen, our girls stolen and people left desolate. The police were brought in, but the thieves hid in the bush. They even ambush and attack our security officers.
What really shocks us is the fact that those attackers have very sophisticated weapons. I have been to meetings with the victims and the assaulters, trying to seek peace, but the issue continues. I have also done some roads for the residents, about 14 kilometres, and built a police post and many other projects for the community.
And at what point did you begin mobilising the youth to form the organisation?
Since birth, I found myself in it. I just found myself gathering the youth since I was in school as a village boy. One thing I noticed is that every time I woke up in the morning, I would have a dream and whatever I dreamt would come to pass.
I started talking about the dreams I had at night and the youth would listen to me. I used to dream every day and I realised the dreams gave me some lessons and I saw my life was different from the other youth. When I went to school, I would drive a car, an imaginary car. I would go around humming like a car and whenever asked by my peers, I would tell them I was driving my car and I had a future.
At the age of 15, I told my father to build a gate at home because I was buying a car, make the compound because my army was coming. At times, my father felt I was crazy and I would even be taken for mental examination I realised long ago that leadership does not really have to come by training, at times you are just born with it.
The country goes to the polls in August, which position are you going for?
I vied for the senatorial seat in 2017, and I had wanted to use the Jubilee ticket then, but you know who was the boss there and when I went for my ticket, I was directed to the boss to give me his signature. I was also told I must go and see DP Ruto so that I get my certificate, but he denied me the certificate and I went back to Kanu. I met with Hon. Gideon Moi, met with Nick Salat and got a ticket to vie for the Senate seat. I will be going for the same seat again.
How did you relate with the late President Daniel Moi?
‘Nyayo’ was my best friend. I would visit President Moi at his house in Kabarak. I met him when I was in school. At one time, he had a meeting in Nakuru about Mau Mau, he brought all the Mau Mau veterans together and I was also there. I had told him it would be nice to bring in the sons and daughters of the Mau Mau together. That is how I started uniting the youth. Moi was my good friend, he supported me and I became friends with his family too.
But in the end you had a nasty falling-out that led to a bloody crackdown; what happened?
We did not fall out on bad terms. It is just that the youth started being so many and wanted to be independent in the 1992 election. We started doing politics. Moi asked us to look for money for him to campaign. We did and later started matatu operations. I was even a matatu driver in Kibera, hustling. We were the real ‘hustlers’. We hustled, united the entire country and formed the Youth for Kanu (YK92).
Most of the youths were sons and daughters of the Mau Mau. It got to a point they were being told they had the characters of their ancestors. The Mau Mau really fought but did not get what they wanted and we decided to fight for their rights because all the good things were with the old. The youth felt abandoned.
Most of the sect members were arrested for engaging in illegalities and some lives were lost when they clashed with the police. Does that disturb your conscience?
The important thing to remember is that in every struggle, there must be casualties. When the army goes to fight anywhere, we do not expect all of them to come back. That time, the youth felt left behind and they wanted to ensure each of them had his own farm, a wife and some foundation. They did just that and as they started doing well; the old people started beating their own children and were fighting the youth.
It was not just in Central Kenya but nationwide. Whenever people fight for the truth, they are beaten up and sometimes killed. Remember leaders like former Internal Security Minister John Michuki told us we would be having daily burials in our homes, but God is there for us.
Michuki came and went, [George] Saitoti came and went, then came Joseph Nkaissery, who is also gone. Right now, we have some tranquility and people understand where we are and where we are going. We have leaders who understand and respect the youth and their mission. We are all under Azimio la Umoja.
Talking of Michuki, it is said that an attempt by Mungiki to assassinate him is what escalated the bloody crackdown. Was that the turning point and did you really want him dead?
You know Michuki had a colonial mindset. He was in the colonial government and had their mannerisms. When the youth called themselves the children of the Mau Mau, he thought the original Mau Mau was coming back.
The youth were talking about their land and freedom and he got angry. Nobody wanted to kill him. We were talking about the unity of the Mt Kenya people — the Kikuyu, Meru and Embu. But now, we want the people of Kenya to unite under God. One government, one leader, one country and citizens under one nation. A leader can come from any part of the country, but for now, the one who can unite the people and the entire country is ODM leader Raila Odinga.
Since he and President Uhuru Kenyatta shaked hands, we can go to Kisumu, a place we could not go. The handshake has changed things and Luos and Kikuyus have come together. Again, the government cannot keep rotating between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin all the time.
Are you still actively involved with the youth after the government crackdown ended Mungiki?
There is no way I can part ways with the youth. You must support the youth, the true hustlers. What I must tell the youth is that before one matures into an adult, he must first be a child. There was a time we held demos frequently because we had been denied justice, but later started working without being disturbed by anyone.
During the Kanu era, it was very hard to work without being disturbed. We would be arrested on fake grounds, at times for illegal assembly or association. At other times when you slaughtered a goat for a feast, you’d be arrested for being involved in a cult and oath-taking.
When you renounced Mungiki, you formed a church; is it still in operation?
You are in it as we speak. This is a church, we pray here. We have branches across the country. We also collaborate with other churches and bishops.
Was this a strategy to hibernate after coming under heavy state firepower?
We saw it fit to use this church to rehabilitate the youth. To make them good Christians. When you live in the Lord Jesus Christ and get saved, humble yourself and pray, you become a new creature.
For how long were you in prison?
I stayed on remand for three years, then I was sentenced to five years. It was said that we abused President Moi and his government, and caused a disturbance, just tyrannical cases that were common then. I was released by the Court of Appeal.
What do you do for a living?
I am a preacher. I collaborate with preachers and whatever little we find, we share. At times it is not there. I am also a farmer; I have cows, goats and farms that I till. I also have some lorries and matatus. What I have sustains me well. I do not lack. I have dairy cows and sell milk. I also buy cows, feed them for six months, resell at a profit, and life continues.
You lead a mysterious life, changing phones and locations periodically. Who wants you dead and why?
Everyone was born without his or her own will and so shall our end be. I believe my life is not in the hands of people but God. Had they wanted to kill me, then the time I spent in prison was the best. Those who attacked me and sprayed bullets on me, more than 30, would have succeeded, but I saw God. I will die at God’s appointed time so death does not worry me.
Having survived many attempts on your life, how does it feel losing people who are very dear to you; your wife, for example?
It has not been easy. When I left prison, my wife had died three years earlier. It was very painful. Burying her three years later was not easy. Mortuary bill had piled up to Sh6 million. My friends helped me offset it and we buried her. I later remarried.
Sceptics doubt if Mr Odinga will get substantial votes in Mt Kenya. What’s your take?
Baba can climb the mountain and he will be very successful. When others climb it with wheelbarrows, he will be climbing it with a tractor. A tractor is a machine that goes on itself, but a wheelbarrow uses human strength. There is confusion amongst the youth because of the policies being sold to them.
We want the youth to know that they cannot just sit and wait for money. Whenever you ask the youth what they do, they just say they are hustling. Everyone in the world is hustling, so that is not an excuse, it is how life is. There is no way you can be born today and already have a mansion. Having a mansion takes time.
Where and when did you meet Raila?
I knew him some 20 years ago. We are neighbours in Karen. At times he visits me at my place and I also visit whenever he has parties. He came to see me when I got involved in that accident. He was the first one to come and support me. His son Fidel married Veronica and we would help each other. Even his other children, Junior and Winnie, are my friends.
How do you currently relate with the President and the Deputy President?
I have no problem with the President; he is doing his work. He is now in his last term. I also have no problem with his deputy. Our differences with Ruto are ideological. He is talking about hustlers and bottom-up, yet we can’t dwell on ‘wheelbarrownomics’. We want technology; that is what the youth want. We can’t go back to the stone age. You can’t say you have been working for 10 years then demand another 10. It is only sensible that both of them let others lead.
Some say you are one of the richest Kenyans, with more than 10 homes in different parts. How much is your net worth and do you have a family?
That is not true, I am the chief hustler. In fact, DP Ruto who calls himself a hustler should know I am the hustling master. If he says he is poor, then I am also poor. I know that I have a few farms, vehicles and some houses here and there and they sustain me. Those are enough.
My family is still there; they are doing well. My children are almost finishing university. I have a daughter studying law at Strathmore University, the other one is at USIU. They are doing well.
Are you at peace with yourself?
Yes, I am. To achieve peace with oneself, you must be deliberate about it. You have to pray and remember your creator. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 12: Remember your creator in the days of your youth before trouble comes when you will say, this life is not good for me. There is God in heaven and he answers our prayers.
What is your typical day like?
I wake up at 4 am, no matter what time I sleep, and spend about 30 minutes bathing, then pick the Bible, read a verse or two, do my prayers and do some exercise to refresh. I then have my breakfast. My days are busy, I have many visitors — women, youths, the elderly, chiefs, workers — and we have breakfast together. Not all days are the same.
After breakfast, I engage the people. If they have issues that need solutions, we tackle them. The main aim is to preach peace. By having peace in our families and with our neighbours, the entire country will have peace. On Sundays, I go to church. In most cases we have prayers here. We are also invited to other churches and have crusades. We are also invited by women’s groups and do community work.
How was your childhood?
I was born in Nyandarua. My parents worked at Kericho Tea Hotel. My father is Stephen Kamunyo Njoroge and his other name is Njenga. My late mom is Margaret Wangui Kamunyo. We are eight children, three boys and five girls.
I began my education at Olng’arua Primary School. Due to cold, we moved to Laikipia but we still have a home. My father was a peasant. We just celebrated his 98th birthday. I used to look after my father’s goats while growing here, I tilled the farm, just like the other children.
Do you drink?
I have never drunk alcohol and will never. I have seen the problems that come with alcoholism and drugs. The youth should avoid drugs and alcohol, especially those who want to be leaders. They must not drink because they will destroy their judgements. You cannot judge wisely when you are drinking. I only drink water.
How about smoking?
No, I don’t. I love being sober all the time. That is why if you call me anytime, I will respond.
Your parting shot?
Kenyans should know we need peace, all of us need peace and it is said if you want peace, prepare for war. There is war ahead of us and it is not physical. We must fight this war together.
We must all unite, starting with the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru communities, we must have one voice and believe in the leadership of Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta as he leaves office.
He is telling us to come together for the sake of peace and prosperity of this nation. We have to love each other. This country has many tribes and we must learn to live together.