Kenyan sect strips and whips women over 'un-African' clothing

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of members of a shadowy Muslim sect that claims to have roots in the struggle against British colonialism have been arrested in Kenya after its followers were caught randomly assaulting women for wearing trousers.

Hundreds of members of a shadowy Muslim sect that claims to have roots in the struggle against British colonialism have been arrested in Kenya after its followers were caught randomly assaulting women for wearing trousers.

Followers of the Mungiki sect were shown on national television stripping naked and whipping six women in a Nairobi slum for "unAfrican" behaviour. Viewers were shocked to see the extremists, some women, triumphantly waving the offending clothing in the air. Police subsequently detained almost 800 people in a swoop on slum areas in Nairobi. A police uniform and 1,000 litres of illegal beer were confiscated; a man was killed by a mob as he attempted to flee the police. The incident was the latest clash between the Mungiki, who model themselves on the colonial-era Mau Mau rebels, and the Kenyan authorities.

In April a 700-strong mob attacked a police station with sticks, stones and farm tools to try to free comrades. Eight raiders were shot. Last month Mungiki followers tried to burn down Nairobi's Freemasons Hall, which they claimed was being used for devil worship. Police later raided the sect headquarters and found two guns and an assortment of crude weapons.

The growing popularity of the sect among impoverished Kenyans has alarmed the authorities. Joseph Kamotho, the Local Government Minister, recently described Mungiki as an "underground subversive movement" and ordered a police crackdown.

But little is known about Mungiki and its adherents. Its principal aim is to "spearhead African socialism", the national co-ordinator, Ibrahim Ndura Waruingi, recently told the Daily Nation newspaper, claiming four million followers. "The Mau Mau fought for land, freedom and religion and so do we," he said. But while the Mau Mau were a well-organised guerrilla force, the Mungiki is less well defined and is constantly in flux, according to the Rev Charlton Ocholo, a Nairobi cleric who studied the sect last year.

While it initially followed animist practices of the Kikuyu tribe - such as facing Mount Kenya while sleeping - its leadership recently converted to Islam and started advocating sharia (the Muslim code of religious law). "It's like a chameleon," Mr Ocholo said.

The sect has thrived on the misery of Kenya, whose people have to endure ever-harsher conditions in a crumbling economy. Mr Ocholo said: "The bottom line is that these are marginalised young people fighting for their rights but they cannot be supported if their protest is based on havoc."

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