The inside story of slum gangs who rule the City.
At around 5:30 a.m. on April 22,2013, a matatu drove hooting wildlyinto the Dandora police station. It had been hijacked at Kariobangi South while heading to Dandora from town, but the driver defied the orders of the hijackers.
This stopped the nine hijackers who had earlier robbed all the passengers at gun point . They tried to escape.Shots rent the air. A middle aged woman lay dead on the ground. The passengers identified her as one of the hijackers.
This is the latest demonstration of the rise of slum gangs who terrorize the city.
A survey released recently by Da-vid Kimaiyo, inspector general of the police, reveals an alarming increase inthe level of armed robberies and violentcrimes in Nairobi. The survey, whichwas conducted by the Security, Researchand Information Centre, says, “City res-idents are worried by the rampant use of small arms like pistols, home-made gunsand toy guns in most of the crimes com-mitted.” The report says all the slums in Nairobi are hotspots and the problem iscomplicated with the lack of policing inthe slums. This has led to the emergenceof criminal gangs that have a lot of control there. One such gang is the Black Chineseg ang controls Mukuru Kwa Njenga slum. Armed with all manner of weapons guns, machetes and clubs the gangs have “demarcated” the sluminto what they call jimbos (regions)which have their own area leaders ap- pointed by the leader of the gang.The leader of the gang is wellknown to the locals. It took me four days to meet him. However he in-sisted that we only refer to him as John.
Life as a gangster
John is 37 years old. He owns an AK 47 rifle, six small arms and three bullet proof vests. Along the crowdedstreets of Mukuru, which says he con-trols, people fear him and rarely talk to him. A scar on his left cheek identifies him. He says he got it falling down while drunk.“By day I am a matatu driver on route 33. But my main source of income is renting out guns,” he says while dis- playing some of his arsenal. Renting an AK 47 for five hours costs Ksh 2,500.On a busy day he can rent out up to five weapons to fellow criminals who usethem for carjackings and armed robbery. While Kayole was identified as an area where many crimes occur, includ-ing kidnappings. Makadara and Mukurukwa Reuben slums were mapped out as areas famous for gun trade after dusk.An AK 47 costs 40,000 shillings whilea pistol ranges from 30,000 to 50,000depending on the type. Kariokor andMlango Kubwa in Starehe division were identified as places where gangsters in need of guns can easily hire them. His 50 member gang also offers “protection”in the third largest slum in the country.“Before the Black Chinese wasformed people around here used to com- plain a lot about the level of crime in thearea. There were a lot of kidnappings,rapes and other small crimes and for along time the police did nothing aboutit,” he says.“Every house pays us 100 shillings per month for our protection which isquite small compared to being robbed,”he insists. They also offer protection to politicians whenever they visit the slumat a fee.“The government has never mind-ed us. We can provide our own securityaround here. Just ask around, peoplehere are very happy,” says Mwangi.
However, on the streets of theslum, the residents are unhappy with theexistence of the Black Chinese. They say they have increased the level of crime instead of reducing it as the gang claims.“They came to my wholesale shop one evening and robbed my employee at gun point. They took all the money we had made on that day, which was roughly 30,000 shillings. They also took some mattresses that were on display outside the shop,” says Richard Muga pointingat a young man on the street who heclaims was part of the gang.He reported the matter to the police at Imara chief camp but the police said they are unable to deal with the gang because the community does not want to identify them.
Martin Njenga who is a taxi driver says he was almost carjacked but his in-stincts saved him. “Sometime in January, I started receiving threatening messages from unknown people who weretelling me that they wanted to use my car for a job,” he explains.“I became cautious and by 6 pm I was already at home. A neighbour of mine who also owns a taxi was not so lucky. He was kidnapped along Momba-sa road and was found the next morningat Pipeline Estate with his hands tied,”he explains.John takes me on a tour of the slum which ends up at their ganghouse. The house is conspicuous from other houses in Mukuru. Compared to the other houses which are made of mud and iron sheets, it is a permanent threeroomed house, compete with a toilet and a bathroom. The door has been fortified
with a metallic grill. One of the roomsacts as an armory and it does not have a bulb. “Only five people can access this room. This is to avoid people from knowing how many weapons we have and it is always dark for the same reason,” says Joyce. She is the only woman in the gang.
She joined the gang when she wasonly 13 years old after dropping out of school because of school fees. “SinceI was very young I was being used to ferry small fire arms for 2,000 shillings as the police cannot suspect a young girl of carrying a fire arm,” she explains.
“The boss also used to send me to Eastleigh to buy bullets. One bulletin in Eastleigh costs 1,500 and sometimes I could buy up to 50 bullets,” she adds while displaying her own pistol. The first person she robbed was her father who she accuses of neglecting them. “I knew he had money so I wanted to show him that there are other people who can keep the money for him if he is un-willing to take care of his family. I timed him one day on the street and robbed him at gun point,” she says.Joyce, who looks like a 20-year-old, also claims to have robbed a former member of Parliament for a constituency in Nairobi at gun point. “The MP wanted to come and campaign in our area and he wanted security. I met him at a top hotel along Mombasa road and after around of drinks, he wanted to sleep with me. He was quite drunk so on leaving, I pointed a gun at him and ordered him togive me money. We went to an ATM and he withdrew a hundred thousand.”The gang agrees to show me some of their weapons including an AK-47, a Czech Ceska 42-liber CZ 80 pistol and three revolvers. The gang house is their operation centre where they plan on robberies.
Criminal exchange program
They mainly target motorists inthe City Center, Industrial area, SouthB, Donholm and Embakasi areas. Theyhave spread terror in these areas for more than four years now. Four of their members were shot dead at Mukuru Kwa Rueben and the neighbouring South B Estate just a month ago.They maintain that they do not rob people within their area. A report,the Kenya Arms Survey done in 2012,says gangs operating in the slums are networked. “Those from Kibera will be facilitated by others elsewhere in Nairobi to commit crime there, and inreturn these accomplices will commit their crimes here in Kibera. It s a kind of criminal exchange program,” it says.The survey released recently by the police inspector general reveals aworrying trend where age of starting crime is getting lower with teenagers as young as 15 engaged in crime. In January this year, five gangsters were lynched by an angry mob along Karanja road in Kibera after they were caught stealing from residents who were going to work very early in the morning.Among them was a 17-year-old student of Olympic High School.His elder brother, Jonathan Kimani says he knew his brother was a criminaland he tried to take him out of it but his pleas fell on deaf ears. “Sometimes I feel guilty because he was my younger brother and I should have groomed him to be a nice person but I failed,” he says bitterly.“My mother also tried to talk him out of his criminal life a number of times but she was not successful. We knew he was walking with a fire arm and even took him to Kilimani Police Station but the next day he was free and he moved in with his friends,” he adds. Kisumu Ndogo, Lindi, Karanja Road, Kiandaa, Bombolulu Jungtion,Soweto East, South Line Saba, and Darajani (Kambimuru) are said to be the most dangerous places in Kibera. At Laine Saba and Darajani, armed robberies take place even during the day.A new form of crime is also picking up at Mlango Soko in Kawangware where gangs of four or five smartly
dressed men pick people’s pockets at the 102 sand 56 bus stops. They surround their victims and use big bags to conceal what they are doing from passers by and ask their victims to willinglygive out their possessions. Most of the victims are robbed of mobile phones,wallets and handbags.“We don’t have jobs. Where doyou expect us to get money? This is a slum and these things happen,” posed Brighton Omariba, one of the pickpocket-ets whom I approached after some one on the street identified him.
However all the gangsters agreethat they are always on the run. JohnKiriamiti, a reformed gangster and au-thor of My Life in Crime, says that agangster’s life is that of “always beingon the run and issuing hefty bribes to police officers to get protection.” “Crime does not pay. You work for women who hide you, police officers who are after you and rival hardened criminals. All gangsters die poor, either at the hands of the police, irate mobs,suicide, or in jail after being sentencedto long terms,” he says.