One of our favorite scenes in The Godfather trilogy occurs near the beginning of the second installment, as Michael Corleone dances with his wife at a lavish party in honor of their son’s First Communion. Kay Corleone asks her hubby when, exactly, the family will go legit—something that Michael promised several years prior. “I’m trying, darling,” comes the reply, and the viewer isn’t sure what to think—is Michael being honest with his missus, or does he have no intentions of ever going completely straight?
A similar scenario is now playing out in Kenya, where a don of the Nairobi underworld has publicly turned his back on his former life in favor of the Church, the kids, and (perhaps) mainstream politics. Maina Njenga was one of the founders of the Mungiki, sort of the Kikuyu version of the Latin Kings—part self-help fraternal order, part violent street gang. (Okay, mostly the latter.) But after serving five years in prison, Njenga recently announced that he’s seen the light and accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. That conversion has made him a marked man in the underworld, since the Mungiki is tied together by a quasi-animist religion that views Christianity with great suspicion. (Njenga used to encourage his gangster followers to pray to Mount Kenya, for example.)
Yet is Njenga’s conversion sincere, or part of a master plan to compete for elected office in 2012? Check out this recent radio interview and decide for yourself:
Q. You’ve talked of bringing your members together for income generating activities, what is your source of revenue in this new venture?
A. I am going to work with church people and civil society organisations. I am also going to work with the government people. We are even planning to look for NGO’s to support us. I am even planning to start creating cities so that the youth can get jobs.
Q. Tell us more about these cities.
A. One way of creating jobs to these young men is to build cities. I want to build seven wonderful cities. I am starting with putting up a hotel here in Kitengela and later in other areas. You know if I put up a hotel. Someone else will come and put a shop, another person will put other facilities.
Q. You have also formed a political party, the Kenya National Youth Alliance, what do you aim to achieve? Does it have anything to do with the 2012 General Elections and your political ambitions?
A. Let us not talk about that at this point.
You can learn more about the Mungiki’s religious practices by watching this documentary; it includes an interview with Njenga during one of his less harmonious phases.