Return of thugs that terrorise, and ready to kill
They are ruthless and shrewd. Where they have resurfaced, they embark on an extortionist mission and instilling fear among residents.
Organised criminal gangs have sprung up, infiltrated various parts of the country, extorting Public Service Vehicle operators, traders and residents by demanding alleged protection fees.
They are so brazen and rustic in their operations that they rarely spare anybody who attempts to stand in their way.
Their appearance at any trading centre, matatu termini or village sends chills down people’s spines.
Last week, Interior Principal Secretary Dr Karanja Kibicho confirmed the re-emergence of dreaded criminal gangs, wreaking havoc across the country. The PS warned that the Government will wipe them out.
Speaking in Kisii after assessing the county’s preparedness to host this year’s Mashujaa Day celebrations, Kibicho also warned politicians against recruiting the youth for criminal purposes.
“We have clear instructions from the President and the National Security Advisory Committee to come up with a protocol determining when the red line has been crossed.
We are not going to allow small criminal gangs to reign terror on people, compromising their freedom and safety,” Kibicho warned.
And in June, Kibicho ordered security agencies to fight members of the prescribed Mungiki gang, which has resurfaced in various parts of Kirinyaga.
Police Spokesman Charles Owino, however, downplayed the issue, insisting they are only in isolated places.
“As far as we are concerned, these could be few isolated cases fuelled by the current economic challenges in the country.
But police are working round the clock to deter the re-emergence of such groupings.
We cannot allow the existence of a group that appears to threaten the peaceful co-existence of the society,” Owino warned.
But even as the police downplayed the issue, a two-week long survey conducted in rural areas and slums in major towns in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, painted a picture of a country slowly drifting into the grip of criminal gangs that seem to have taken charge of people’s daily lives, extorting and terrorising them at will.
From Nairobi’s Kayole and Kawangware, to Mombasa’s Mji wa Kale (Old Town) to Kisumu’s Obunga Slums, gang members are on the loose, instilling fear among residents as they strive to stamp their authority.
Their return has not only sent shock waves across various parts of the country, but has also left security agencies flat-footed.
They come in various forms, Mungiki in Central region, Sungu Sungu and amachuma in Kisii, Gaza in Nairobi’s Kayole, Baghdad boys in Kisumu and Wakali Wao in Mombasa as they reign terror on the public.
In Kiambu, residents have been gripped with fear due to the re-emergence of vigilante groups that have been on an extortionist mission at bus parks, various passengers drop off points, and in various towns under the guise of operating as touts.
Githurai, Juja, Witeithie and Thika towns are reported to have registered the highest number of the criminals, who have been masquerading as touts.
The groups are reported to have been operating in coded names away from the notorious Mungiki gang.
Businesspersons have expressed fear that the gangs have been terrorising them after they started demanding protection fees.
“Unlike in previous years since the crackdown on them by the late Minister John Michuki where they operated secretly, this time they are doing it brazenly.
They seem not to fear the police or government administrators on the ground,” one woman told us in Juja.
Among the hardest-hit are matatu operators, who claim to have been making losses as the gangs have been collecting money for every trip they make .
This way, every matatu operator is required to pay between Sh200 and Sh500 a day as protection fee, money shared by the gang members depending on their ranking.
The former chairman of a Sacco in Githurai was recently arrested for allegedly leading the cell that has reportedly been demanding money from matatu operators in Githurai, Ruiru constituency.
He is reported to have been using a group of youths to demand money from matatu operators plying Githurai-KU-Kimbo and Ruiru towns. He was last week released on police bond and is battling several extortionist charges in court.
Kiambu County Commissioner Wilson Wanyanga confirmed that the county has recently had serious security challenges especially in Juja constituency.
He said it was the responsibility of all stakeholders to deal with the challenge of terror groups citing among others Gaza and Mungiki. “They start as a joke but later become a major problem. We will, however, not spare them,” said Wanyanga.
A former gang leader, Audi Ogada, says most of its former members have since reformed and are currently engaged in income generating activities.
“Most of our former members are now engaged in income generating activities that have uplifted their living standards.
Though there are still some remnants, most of us no longer engage in criminal activities, “he says.
In Murang’a, a local gang has literally taken over the Kaharati-Kangari transport route in Kagumo where they have displaced several saccos that had hitherto been controlling the route.
For months, only vehicles from one sacco have been plying the route until late last year when others were allowed to operate following the intervention of the regional Commissioner Wilfred Nyangwanga.
Operators who had tried to gain access to the route claimed the gang could not allow them to operate unless they parted with exorbitant fees.
Matatu operators are usually charged between Sh200 and Sh300 for every trip.
“The members place themselves strategically in various points along the road to collect the money” he said.
He, however, says the extortion is not as much as it used to be in the previous years when the gang used to rein terror in the area.
In Kisumu, though most of former members of the killer gang, Baghdad boys have reformed, some few remnants are still causing fear at matatu stages and in slums where they brazenly extort from members of the public.