Where teenagers morph into hard-core criminals
The spectacular glamour of windswept sandy beaches and the refreshing view of the turquoise Indian Ocean, offers a semblance of peace and serenity.
But behind the veneer of these allures are dens of crime where outlawed gangs, which have virtually taken over parts of Mombasa, are bred and nurtured.
In the wee hours of every morning, groups of young men, mostly in their early teens, are spotted practicing martial arts at some local beaches such as Jomo Kenyatta Public Beach, Bahari Club Beach and Manyani.
While they may appear innocent before the eye of the public, the gang members wait until dusk to unleash terror on innocent members of the public.
Armed with machetes, razor sharp daggers and cobbler needles, these criminals organise themselves into cells then strike.
Whenever there is an attack in Mombasa, it is the dreaded Wakali Kwanza - the most notorious of the gangs, that comes to mind first.
It is believed to have sprouted from a local soccer team composed of conglomeration of talents sourced from nearby Barsheba, Mwandoni, Bakarani, Frere Town and Bamburi in 2014.
According to various accounts, a group of youths in the Kisauni area formed a village football team, comprising young players aged between 12 and 20.
It is alleged the team would train at various open grounds, including in schools and beaches every evening and on weekends.
Somewhere along the way, according to Haki Afrika Executive director Hussein Khalid, the team members took to drug abuse before descending into the dark world of crime.
With time, other groups emerged with coded names such as Wajukuu Wa Bibi, Chafu za down and Temeke among others.
Juma Omar, 31, now a reformed member of the dreaded gangs from Kisauni, recalls how he descended into crime following his mother’s death in 2007.
That year, Omar was to sit for his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, but with his mother’s demise, he gradually turned to drugs and eventually became a full-time criminal gangster.
He is a former member of the Wakali kwanza. Machete was his main tool of trade.
“We used to operate in a gang, say of between four and eight. We would use machetes to mug people, rob them and use the money to buy drugs,” Omar explains.
“This life made me fierce; people would avoid me like leprosy. My profile was just dirty,” he recalls.
“I was there when my last friend died. He was sprayed with nine bullets. Seven on his chest and two on his head. But somehow I survived. That was the 15th time I had escaped death narrowly,” he recounts.
Omar is among tens of members of Mombasa juvenile gangs, who successfully transformed by abandoning criminal activities to start their own businesses following sensitisation and training on various entrepreneurship skills through a local Non-Governmental Organisation intervention.
In 2017, a local organisation –Dream Achievers Youth Organisation (DAYO), was on a community sensitisation campaign at his home area in Mwandoni. DAYO was helping criminal gang members reform and start businesses.
Cases of wanton attacks visited upon residents by gangs are not new in Mombasa.
Sources within the intelligence circles independently disclose to People Daily that the gangs are well connected, with most of them allegedly enjoying funding and protection from wealthy drug barons, who apparently hide behind faces of powerful local politicians.
A private investigator familiar with the operations of the killer gangs, disclosed that most of the gangs are used by barons and land grabbers to scare away and ‘silence their critics’.
A popular land broker, identified as Namba Saba, is believed to be among the organisers and masterminds of violence.
The suspect, according to detectives, operates in close quarters with drug barons.
Some of the gang’s financiers are reportedly highly linked to the county government with some seen to wield questionable influence in both the Executive and Assembly.
Although County Commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo argues that the crime rate in Mombasa is on a decline, he reveals the gangs have taken advantage of the use of face masks to hide their identities while they unleash terror on unsuspecting residents.
In recent days, Kitiyo observes that some of the criminals have been wearing facemasks, dark shades and caps at the same time to hide their faces
“We are aware of the tricks by the criminal gangs to use face masks thinking that they are hiding their identity.
But that is just a temporary measure for them…What they don’t know is that they can hide their faces but they cannot hide their entire bodies. We are equally creative and this is why we are able to nip their plans in the bud,” says
Coast Regional Coordinator in the Office of Public Prosecutor Alloys Kemo, on his part lamented that most cases, witnesses are afraid of testifying in various criminal and terrorism related cases because of lack of trust in the justice system.
“We are here to build trust so that we iron out some of these challenges and bring to an end the era of stagnating some of these cases because of witnesses refusing to testify,” says Kemo.
To amicably end radicalisation, Human rights lobby Haki Afrika Executive Director Hussein Khalid, says it is imperative to build trust in the justice system.
“We believe that if we respect human rights, rule of law and the due process is followed then we will build trust in the system and everyone will be willing to participate. We will then need not to worry about radicalisation,” Khalid says.