The rising number of youths, including teenagers, in Nairobi criminal gangs, and their resilience despite police killings, has puzzled residents and police alike.
Traditionally, criminal gangs use weapons acquired illicitly through underworld deals for robberies targeted at civilians in most cases, and business premises occasionally.
But of late, hardcore criminals are turning to robbing police officers of their guns. And many officers are losing lives and weapons in hands of these daring robbers, mainly in Kayole and other Eastlands areas, which has also raised the extrajudicial killings of criminals by police.
The trend has put into question the National Police Service’s ability to tame the tide.
Most of the gangs are linked to renowned criminal and outlawed groups, including the once-dreaded Mungiki, which went under following a heavy crackdown by police that forced its adherents to limit their underworld operations to Nairobi.
The growth of these gangs has raised the state of insecurity in Nairobi. The gangs have also exported crime to neighbouring counties, terrorising residents and police equally.
COPS LOSING CRIME WAR?
But Nairobi police commander Japhet Koome denies police are losing the war on crime.
“We are equal to the task and will continue dealing with everyone armed and on a mission to rob and terrorise hardworking Kenyans,” he said.
“As the NPS, we have the responsibility of protecting Kenyans and we will do that at any cost but within the provisions of the law,” Koome said.
He said the NPS is doing very well in investigating, arresting and taking suspected criminals to courts, and the whole criminal justice system has no issues.
However, gangsters seem undaunted by killings of their accomplices by the police, and have persisted with their crimes.
More spectacular is their penchant for displaying their “criminal prowess and success” on social media, and incessant power struggles among the members, which has led to fatalities and betrayals.
In eastern Nairobi, the fast-rising Gaza has wreaked havoc in Dandora, Kariombangi, Kayole and Umoja estates.
This group has been targeting students and school dropouts for recruitment to its ranks.
Gaza specialises in extortion rackets, arms’ trade, robbery, rape and muggings.
On August 22, a man was arrested after he walked into a church in Ngong and confessed he was among four gangsters who killed two police officers in Kiambu a week earlier.
He surrendered to avoid being killed by police after he was informed cops had ransacked his house in Kayole, searching for him.
His accomplices, including the husband of a young woman said to be the “prettiest” gangster killed by police in May, had been killed in Juja.
On October 24, suspected gangsters ambushed police constable Titus Musyoka, the driver of Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu. They shot and wounded him before robbing him of his gun along Ngong Road in broad daylight.
Three days later, three suspected gangsters ambushed two policemen on patrol in Kayole, killed them and took away their guns.
They were traced through phones and found at Kenol trade centre in Murang’a county.
But the suspects did not give up the run easily and engaged regular police and Flying Squad officers in a four-hour shootout that brought activities to a standstill, before the elite Recce Unit officers arrived and killed them, ending the siege at a six-storey building.
A Cesca pistol and an AK47 were recovered in from the suspects’ rented room.
Identification documents belonging to one of the officers killed in Kayole the previous day were recovered.
The pistol had been stolen from the slain Kayole cops, while the AK 47 belonged to one of the officers killed in Kibichoi, Kiambu, in August.
The suspects in the DCJ’s driver’s shooting — John Mwaura 21, James Wachira, 26, and Erick Njuguna, 28 — were arrested and charged before the Kibera law courts with multiple robberies and murders in Kiambu.
In another incident, a Ceska pistol stolen from AP sergeant Lenny Langat on February 15, 2014, was recovered after police shot dead four robbery suspects in Donholm on November 20. Langat was attached to Justice Luka Kimaru’s security detail.
The two were cornered by police while robbing pedestrians at about 4.30pm.
WHY YOUTHS JOIN CRIME
Koome blamed the rise of youthful and teenage criminals on poor upbringing, greed and a get-rich-quick mentality in the society.
“There are young people who wake up one morning and decide they should become millionaires immediately. I want to tell you that wealth is made over a period of time and not in a single day. You must work hard for everything you want to own,” Koome said.
“I tell the young people that there is no short-cut to being rich. Crime has never paid and you are going to die miserably. If you want to take a gun and go out there terrorisIng hardworking Kenyans, robbing them of their hard-earned money and belongings, you will die along the way.”
Former deathrow convicts George Aguko and Festus Indimuli agree with Koome that wealth is a motive, but say it is not the only factor.
Indimuli says sometimes when parents cannot afford the basic needs of their children, the children could venture into crime in search of money to meet those needs.
He says he ventured into crime in search of school fees after enrolling for a diploma in electrical engineering at a city college, because his mother could not pay for his education.
“I worked as a tout at the 29/30 Mathare terminus, where I also learned driving, but I didn’t have a driving licence because I was young. There was a gang that used to steal cars and sell them, and they were impressed by my driving skills. They just requested me to drive them in one ‘deal’, and we were very successful. I felt the money in it was a lot,” he said.
“It is not always about greed and getting rich quick. When most of your friends are in crime and can afford things you can’t, you feel compelled to join them. When you get thousands of shillings in less than 30 minutes, you automatically get hooked to it. I could pay for my college fees and rent a house.
“But the life in crime went on, two or three times a week, until the fortieth day, when I found myself in the long arm of government and headed to court.”
Indimuli was convicted of robbery with violence in 2006 and handed a death sentence. He remained behind bars for seven years, until he won an appeal.
But he had another motivation — peer pressure and gang activity — where peers would want to be together doing the same things and competing. Indimuli says in certain places, being in crime is cool.
Aguko, who was also convicted for robbery with violence, says poverty and lack of basic needs and parental negligence leaves many city youths with crime as the only available option.
“My father died while I was young and in primary school. My mother was a housewife. Therefore, poverty kicked in and within a very short time, we had nothing,” Aguko said.
“I said if life pushes me to the wall and forces me into crime, it must be violent crime with the use of guns. It would be of no benefit to involve in burglaries stealing electronics and clothes. It had to be something that could help me, and that is how my life turned out.”
Hardened criminals began using him to sell phones acquired through robberies, and later, he joined them in the robberies.“But there is also a feeling of a little pride and heroism when you subdue someone and force them lie down in surrender in their nice suits. It serves as a motivation until you are arrested,” Aguko said.
The two run a not-for-profit organisation that weans youths out of crime.