The Nation (Nairobi)

7 January 2012

Kenya: Youths Joining Militia Groups Ahead of Polls

As the country readies for the General Election later this year, youths are forming groups to take advantage of opportunities provided by campaigns and voting.

The young people are organising themselves with the aim of making money from the large number of politicians who will be seeking various positions.

And keenly aware of the high stakes, particularly the key role they could play in determining the outcome of many races, the youths have resolved to raise their asking price.

A report detailing the motives of hundreds of youth groups formed over the past two years says most of them were created to profit from the vote-seeking frenzy.

"Some of the youth formations will turn into conduits for the needs of the politicians such as crowds for hire, security for the politicians, campaign managers, and thugs for hire among others," says the report by the National Youth Sector Alliance.

But perhaps the report's most disturbing finding is that a number of youths, especially the less educated, are being recruited into militia groups like Siafu and Disciples in Kibera, as well as Mungiki and the Saboat Land Defence Forces which are said to be re-branding.

Youths at the Coast are joining the outlawed Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) which is arguing marginalisation as it pushes for secession of the region.

According to the Waki report, youth unemployment and proliferation of militia groups were partially to blame for the 2008 post-election violence. (DOWNLOAD: The Waki Report)

The report to be launched next week says that Mungiki has camouflaged itself and is now using Christianity as a conduit for its clandestine political campaigns.

Members of the group are said to be using the church to distract government attention from their secret activities.

They are also said to be preparing their founder leader Maina Njenga for political office.

The group enjoys cult-like following among young people from central Kenya and parts of Rift Valley.

In Western Kenya, a number of unemployed youths have joined a group calling itself "The Undertakers".

The group is hired to dig graves and "provide security" for politicians. For their work, they are paid small amounts of money, food or given alcohol.

In Nairobi's Kibera slums, the Siafu militia group controls select houses, and they dictate who occupies them. The residents in the select houses must pay rent to the group.

However, the elite youth, mostly professionals, have already been lined up as campaign managers for politicians to win support from various targeted communities.

A survey of secretariats of leading politicians revealed that some youths have already been offered positions to draft political campaign strategies, fundraising strategies before rolling out a national campaign.

This techno-savvy group is said to be the force behind noisy campaigns for would-be presidential candidates as well as those for gubernatorial posts in social media such as Facebook, Twitter and in political blogs.

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