LETHAL DRINK, LETHAL WORK

Cops under siege in war illicit liquor in slums

Police officers face attacks by hooligans as they raid drinking dens and distilleries. They're lucky if they get away with bruises from hurled stones.

In Summary

• Police say many of them from various stations and posts within the slums have been assaulted, intimidated or threatened. They're despised by drinkers and brewers alike.

• Police sources blame the Judiciary for what the call empowering illicit liquor cartels to harass and endanger them — by granting low bail and handing down lenient sentences.

Police are under siege in the slums —  the Soweto police station was recently attacked —  in the raging war on illicit liquor.

Now police are appealing to well-wishers, local investors and leaders to raise money to build a perimeter wall around the Soweto station that thugs assailed two weeks ago. It was a attempt to free illicit liquor suspects.

We are working in a dangerous environment where the hunters become the hunted. Powerful cartels use all means to ensure that we do not get to them.
A senior police officer

Armed with crude weapons and stones, they pulled down the main gate but were repulsed by police gunfire. One officer was injured, three thugs were wounded. All were treated and discharged from Mama Lucy Hospital.

"That injured officer was part of a team that went on an operation in a known nearby chang'aa den," he said.

“We are working in a dangerous environment where the hunters become the hunted. Powerful cartels use all means to ensure that we do not get to them,” a senior police officer told the Star.

In fact, the Soweto chang’aa and busaa brewing dens were raided just a few metres from the Soweto station itself. The merchants of death are that brazen.

Liquor and ingredients were poured out and distilling equipment was destroyed. A cartel figure swore revenge and paid hooligans to attack the station.

The station was reinforced.

Police suffer physical injuries, face hostility and regular threats when they try to raid drinking dens or distilleries, forcing them to employ more protection.

Some of the chang'aa brewers, they claimed, are well connected and often 'muddy the waters' to cover their tracks leaving police intimidated as they attempt to uncover their operations.

 

This man has a group of youths on his payroll. He uses them to intimidate and harass people. They're intoxicated, paid and incited youths who attack our officers.
Embakas Central deputy county commissioner Kenneth Murungi

Embakas Central deputy county commissioner Kenneth Murungi said he himself was targeted by the same cartels for leading a crackdown on distilling dens. Three weeks later, Soweto was attacked. 

Murungi said he had partly incapacitated operations of the liquor maker known brewer as Daudi. "I destroyed their headquarters and left that place bare," he said.

He shifted operations.

"This man has a group of youths on his payroll. He uses them to intimidate and harass people. They are intoxicated, paid and incited youths who attack our officers," he said.

Any time police, chiefs, assistant chiefs try to raid a den or distillery, they are pelted with stones. Sometimes they are forced to retreat. Other times, they succeed.

A visit to police stations and posts revealed that most gates were guarded by heavily armed police officers.

"Nowadays, the gate is always locked and we ensure everyone is frisked before being allowed access," he said.

Another officer said they are despised by sellers and drinkers alike, though they are supported by much of the communities who want to get rid of potentially deadly drink.

“These people don’t care about our ranks, whether senior or junior — what they know is that a police officer is an enemy,” a policeman said.

Police sources blamed the Judiciary for granting low bail and bond and handing down lenient sentences to people engaging in the liquor business. Bail is often raised by suspects bosses and the walk free.

Some liquor traders are released on a bond of as little as Sh1,000 when presented in court.

"This has only served to encourage the trade. Those convicted should get hefty penalties like Sh500,000 cash bail — or at least a three-month jail term to discourage illicit brew trade," an officer said.

The officer said if the war is lost to the 'merchants of death', as President Uhuru Kenyatta labelled them, the country risks losing an entire generation.

“There are lots of assault cases in these slums," he said. "Locals have nothing. Most of them live in the dens where they have nothing to do but drink cheap liquor.”

(Edited by V. Graham)