Gang leaders very slippery, making it hard to fight vice



In December last year, Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery outlawed 89 criminal gangs, many of which are based in Nairobi. Nairobi’s criminal gangs go back a long way and have changed with time. Originally composed of just a few well-known figures, the gangs have splintered and now even specialise in particular areas.

Armed gangs emerged sometime after independence, and mainly targeted financial institutions and  businesses. But as the country moved to develop security institutions, so did the criminals develop theirs. By the 1970s, the gangs had become daring, and would rob banks in broad daylight.

Interior CS Joseph Nkaissery says CCTV cameras with face recognition abilities have been mounted at strategic points in the city, making  it easy to identify those involved in crime.

He says  the government will provide basic CCTV infrastructure that will make it easy for building owners to tap into.

“Links will be provided to business owners and the same monitored by metropolitan police units. We shall also provide links to TV stations so that they can tell viewers what is happening on the roads in real time,” he adds.

By 1990, the stakes had become higher, with the city’s population having grown rapidly, especially in  the  informal settlements.

One of the most notorious gangsters in Nairobi in the 1970s, Mr John Kiriamiti, says the gangs are intricate, vicious, founded by elderly master planners as well as youthful minds, “hard like barbed wire, rough like army boots and young and smart.”

Mr Kiriamiti, who has written a book, My Life in Crime, adds: “Their motivation in this deadly game varies. Some are in it to escape the vicious circle of poverty ravaging many households in Kenya, others are in it simply because they want a social identity where they can be called conquerors, yet others are in it because their rich parents gave them little or no guidance and too much freedom and are out to peddle their families’ influence through street violence.”

Mr Simon Muraguri, the founder of Hood Unity Programme, an initiative that teaches youngsters in informal settlements the importance of always being on the right side of the law, says slums are a major factor in breeding criminals.

“You cannot have a mother who relies on prostitution, chang’aa brewing or drug peddling living in the same shack with her teens. The demand for privacy is instinctive,” he says, adding that as a result, many single mothers kick their teens out.


With no place to call home, the teens unite, and to fend for themselves, engage in petty crime, which later develops into serious crime.

He traces the beginning of criminal gangs to the 1970s, when land buying and selling outfits started being formed to help ordinary people develop Nairobi.

Mr Mwangi Thuita, the chairman of Embakasi Ranching Company Ltd,  a land buying and selling company, says slums came about when families were allocated land, but since it was later classified as commercial and not agricultural land, they had no means  of developing it.

“As more migrants came from the countryside in search of jobs, the need for housing kept growing as  the initial owners erected temporary structures,” he offers.

But Mr Mairura Omwenga, the chairman of the Town Planning Chapter of the Architectural Association of Kenya, says politicians are partly responsible for the proliferation of slums.

“We have slums that are exclusive vote zones for certain politicians, hence the resistance to demolishing them,” he says, adding that such slums act as crime cells since “the inhabitants are only housed but not given any means to survive  until the next election”.

“In such a scenario, the energetic youths in those slums end up becoming criminals since they eventually start families inside those shacks,” he says.

Indeed, in 2011 Embakasi MP, David Mwenje (deceased) admitted to owning 500 shacks in Nairobi, for which he charged a monthly rent of Sh200.

Mr Kiriamiti says Nairobi criminals are indoctrinated while still in primary or secondary school because children in this  age group are legally considered underage and not liable for prosecution, and can only be sent to an approved school, so they get off lightly even if caught.

Mr Peter Kioko, a former deputy principal of Dandora High School, had a nasty encounter with 15 just such students  on February 25, 2008, right in school.

“The boys raided my office armed with machetes, whips and iron bars after I suspended four of their colleagues for gross misconduct.  They burnt my car. I was rescued by police officers,” he says.

The suspended four, who had been caught molesting other students, defied summons to Mr Kioko’s office and instead ganged up with other boys and attacked the school.

In her brief to the anti-riot police who came to their rescue, the principal, Ms Lucy Mwangi, said: “These are no ordinary students. It is beyond student indiscipline. It is something more sinister.”

“It is common knowledge that we have boys and girls with criminal minds who later  become the ugly face of Nairobi’s insecurity, “ says Dandora resident Leonard Kiluta, adding that they also peddle drugs and run small arms in the neighbourhood.


“Others double up as makangas (touts)  at the matatu terminus,” he adds.

Mr Musa Yego, former head of the Flying Squad, a crack unit within the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, says armed gangs in Nairobi became more active in 1989 with the formation of the 42 Brothers gang in Dandora Estate .

“This is the mother of most gangs in Nairobi today. However, as they splinter, they develop different areas of specialisation, with the most recent being those that specialise in abductions for ransom,” he adds.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the police bosses DN2 interviewed said it was getting increasingly difficult to keep tabs on the groups because, while it is easy to nab those who actually participate in the crimes, the planners remain faceless.

“Some gangs are associated with prominent politicians in Nairobi. We have senior politicians bailing out capital offence criminals even from prison. We are hopelessly under the grip of politicians,” one lamented.


Sometime last year, another recounted, they nabbed the son of a senior policeman at night in a gang of six they believed were about to raid a shopping mall on Waiyaki Way.

“The young man was in a vehicle. We ordered him to come out of the car with his hands raised above his head but he just laughed,” the officer narrated. “Instead, he reached into the glove compartment and whippped out his father’s identification card.

“There was no mistaking the card. It was genuine. One of us called his father, who confirmed that the young man was, indeed, his son. He added that his firearm was missing. We asked his son whether he had the weapon and he said he did,” that officer added.  “Shockingly, he told us that he was in cahoots with the son of a senior politician, who was in a car parked outside the shopping mall.”

Defeated, the officers let them off. Some of the cops say there has been a lapse in security intelligence briefs.

“You see, it is one thing getting intelligence briefs/notes, but it is quite another getting actual information.  Intelligence is not information since we have to subject it to further tests to get actionable information,” his colleague elaborated.

Efforts to eradicate the street menace came in 2003, when the government launched a programme to rehabilitate street children.  But a senior police officer who requested anonymity says the programme flopped.


“The idea of rehabilitating criminals and later recruiting them into the police force has seen the same minds create another front – police criminals who are a nightmare to the very same force,” he said.

He noted that some of the street children who were recruited had been sacked “but they are now deadly civilians who are streetwise, and the government has taught  them how to use firearms.

Former Central Police Station Boss Remi Ngugi says the major challenge in taming crime is inaccessibility,

“Some areas in Nairobi, especially in the slums, are inaccessible. You would require the whole police force in Nairobi to make a significant impact,” he says, adding that criminals know that the police force is  overstretched  and, therefore, strike when they know they  are likely to encounter the least resistance.  “

That’s why in 2006 I came up with the satellite police stations initiative, which saw us place police cubicles in crime-prone areas of the city,” he says.

“But they were vandalised by the criminal networks as well as criminals redrawing their crime zones, leaving us running round in circles,” he adds.

Another challenge in  fighting crime is, paradoxically,  the new constitution, Section 49: 1 (h) of  which says:  “An arrested person has the right to be released on bond or bail on reasonable conditions pending a charge or trial, unless there are compelling reasons not to be released.”

Although section 123 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code denies a capital offender bail, the new constitution, in Section 2(4), states that any other law in conflict with it  is null and void.

Still the security authorities are determined to reduce crime.

“We are not slaves to the challenges in our work, we are masters of innovation and determination in dealing with our core mandate of protecting the people and their properties. In Nairobi, we are doing exactly that and we are one dangerous outfit against any form of crime,” says Nairobi police Boss Japheth Koome.

Interior CS Joseph Nkaissery says CCTV cameras with face recognition abilities have been mounted at strategic points in the city, making  it easy to identify those involved in crime.

He says  the government will provide basic CCTV infrastructure that will make it easy for building owners to tap into.

“Links will be provided to business owners and the same monitored by metropolitan police units. We shall also provide links to TV stations so that they can tell viewers what is happening on the roads in real time,” he adds.

SOURCE: Daily Nation




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