Wakali Kwanza: From soccer team to a dreaded gang
Murimi Mutiga and Sophie Njoka
The mention of Wakali Kwanza, a criminal gang that rained terror on Bamburi residents on Monday night, has a hair-raising effect on Mombasa residents.
But what’s the group’s origin? In 2014, a group of youths in Kisauni area formed a village football team, comprising young players aged between 12 and 20. The team train on different open grounds, including in schools and at the beach every evening and on weekends.
The team drew the best talents from Barsheba, Mwandoni, Mlaleo and Mtopanga and soon became a favourite of many a football fans in Kisauni. The team won almost all tournaments organised in the region and would be named Wakali Kwanza.
But six years later, the village football team has metamorphosed into a dreaded blood-thirsty criminal gang whose members have killed several people and maimed scores.
Still at large
In its latest attack on Monday night, the group seriously injured at least 15 people in Bamburi.
Police said yesterday six suspects had been arrested in connection with Monday ambush. Three of the suspects were identified as Jackson Okelo, 26, Ibrahim Mohammed Hamdan, 17, and Paul Ayub, 18.
Reports said after the attack, some gang members fled to Majengo, Kibokoni and Likoni areas which also harbour other notorious criminal gangs.
“We also have the names of other suspects who are still at large. We are also trying to establish if the recent crackdown and arrests of some of the drug barons could have led to the attack,” said Coast regional police commander Marcus Ochola.
Tension remained high in Bamburi following the attack, with some businesses closed for the better part of the day.
Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho condemned the attack and called on security agents to remain vigilant as the crackdown on perpetrators continues.
“I am asking members of the public to volunteer information that will lead to the arrest of gangs that have been terrorising people. We need to get to the bottom of the matter,” he said.
Wakali Kwanza is one of the two dreaded criminal gangs that have been unleashing terror on people in Kisauni and Nyali constituencies. The other, Wakali Wao, is a sister outlawed criminal group notorious for stabbing residents.
The gangs, which were believed to have laid low after terrorising people for the better part of last year, re-emerged in April and have been carrying out sporadic attacks and robbing businesses.
Police says the gang comprises youth aged between 12 and 24, who are suspected of using drugs especially before carrying out attacks.
The criminals keep on changing their tactics, catching security agents flatfooted in each ambush.
In 2017 and early 2018, the gang used to attack passengers in public service vehicles and rob them of valuables. They then abandoned the scheme after a number of gang members were killed by a special police squad.
This year, they started raiding business premises and passersby.
But they are not the only criminal gangs in the Coast region. Others are Wajukuu wa Bibi, Mawayo, Spiders, Chafu and Temeke and an all-women Wakware Babies. Others are Gaza, Spanish Spatter, Vietnam, Akili za Usiku, 64 Gang, Memory Gang, Watalia Gang, Crazy Boys, Kongo by Force, Yaung Tags and Wajukuu wa Mbwa.
HAKI Africa executive director Hussein Khalid narrated a brief origin of Wakali Kwanza, as he urged the government to deal with it “once and for all”.
He said as the one-time football team crew big and famous, it lacked proper leadership and sponsorship and members resorted to door-to-door fundraising for their activities.
“It is during this point that it lost focus. The youths wanted money to enable them continue as football club and also to fund their lifestyle,” said Khalid.
He said the idea of a football team was lost when some of the youths started engaging in drug abuse using the same money raised for the club’s activities.
“They would collect money and spend it on drugs. At this point, the group split down the middle and a breakaway group called Wakali Wao emerged,” he said.
From terrorising matatu operators to passengers and businessmen, police seem to bet their wits end to tame the youths.
This amid claims some politicians fund the gangs during election campaigns to terrorise their rivals.