• Crime has surged around the city, more so in the CBD, with schoolkids among culprits
• Some are ready to kill to take anything valuable from mostly defenceless Nairobians
The relaxed atmosphere of Sundays lures many Kenyans to the CBD for photo sessions and other leisure activities.
But beware, thugs find this the perfect time to strike. Many of them young enough to be in school, but armed crudely and ganging up on victims enough to be a threat.
James Mwambia was recently mugged outside Standard Building in broad daylight by a gang that was walking together.“I was staring at a group taking photos on the street when I was slapped and later surrounded by a gang that robbed me of all I had,” he said.
He did not bother to report the matter to police because he knew the thugs had escaped.
Abdi Mohamed was walking outside Ecobank Towers on a Sunday at about 4pm when he was surrounded by a group of about six men.
And before he could realise what was happening, he was on the ground with his trouser torn and his mobile phone and Sh3,000 gone.
“Some people who had witnessed tried to intervene but the group ran towards City Hall Way and joined Moi Avenue. Four months later, I have not recovered from the trauma,” he said.
A visit to three police stations in the CBD on a Sunday evening revealed a link between school closures and the rise in violent crimes.
The reality dawns on parents when they are summoned to the police stations. “This is the day we receive many complaints of violent crimes involving youngsters. These are their parents out to bail them out,” said one of the officers at the report office at the Kamukunji police station.
Another group of parents seeking to free their offspring is huddled at the nearby Central police station, which mans larger parts of the city.
The suspects were said to be on a mugging spree on the city streets for cash and valuables when police were called to arrest them.
According to victims, police and private security guards, this has been the norm for the past year, when the Covid-19 pandemic forced many facilities, including learning institutions, to close as part of ways to contain its spread.
The thugs walk in groups to attack unsuspecting Kenyans, making away with mobile phones, cash, shoes and other personal valuables. The situation worsens when it rains, at night and during weekends.
I was staring at a group taking photos on the street when I was slapped and later surrounded by a gang that robbed me of all I hadJames Mwambia
Mohamed Jamah, a frequent reveller at the Dream Bean House, Kaunda Street, said he witnesses such incidents every Sunday.“It is common here. We have joined guards in chasing the goons who attack pedestrians and rob them of their valuables. Some are armed with knives and crude weapons,” he said.
He said he has helped police arrest at least six attackers on different occasions. He blamed the surge in crime on school closures due to the pandemic.“Some of these thugs are just carried by peer pressure, while others are real ones. You realise the problem when they are arrested and parents are called to the stations for help.”
Jamah explained one of the tactics they use to steal from pedestrians in the confusion.“They can start fighting in broad daylight and in the process, they steal from other road users. We need more police patrols,” he said.
An officer assigned to patrol the streets said the crooks are ruthless. “They mug their targets in groups and repulse any form of resistance from either pedestrians or friends. Some instances have turned serious and left victims with injuries,” he said.
The streets most targeted include the service lanes of Kenyatta Avenue, Kaunda Street, Standard Street, Muindi Bingu Street, Banda Street and Taifa Road. Other worst-hit areas are Kirinyaga Road, Bus Station, Ambassadeur, Kencom, Nyamakima, Hilton area and Kimathi streets.
Some of the other hotspots for mugging, snatching and vehicle parts stealing include Uhuru Highway, Landhies Road and Muthurwa area.
The attackers are usually well organised and focused. This has forced authorities to increase the number of police on patrols on these streets to enhance security.
Private security guards’ numbers on the streets have also been increased because of fears of attacks on shops that have displays of various goods and services or are in operation.
This follows incidents where some shops were broken into and goods stolen by goons who pretended to be participating in the photo sessions.
A representative of the guards said they are also forced to put their response teams on standby on Sundays to respond to any scene that may need help.“They have even at times attacked guards on duty seen as a hindrance to their missions. This has forced companies to deploy more personnel to guard these premises,” said the guards’ union boss Isaac Andabwa.
He said most of the attackers are young and schoolchildren out to make quick money.
Officials at the Kamukunji and Central police stations said the facilities are usually full on Sundays with new suspects, most of whom are arrested from the operations on muggers.
The officers at the stations say it becomes problematic keeping the suspects in custody due to their ages and crowding amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Nairobi police boss Augustine Nthumbi said they are dealing with the surge through more deployments.
He said the affected streets have been mapped and properly deployed to deal with the menace.“We are in charge to ensure safety for all,” he said.
He said most parents usually do not know where their children are at the time and only learn of their activities when they are told they are in cells.
Apart from these groups harassing pedestrians and other road users, some city streets are experiencing sporadic violent crimes.
For instance, on May 11 at about 8pm at Kenya National Archives area, pedestrian Francis Osiemo reported to police he was attacked by a gang of five as he walked home and robbed of a laptop, two mobile phones and Sh6,200.
He was surrounded by the gang, which was armed with a pistol and threatened to shoot him if he raised alarm. They vanished into dark alleys after accomplishing their mission.
Police said they also received complaints from four other people over the same gang. There were concerns many other victims did not report the incidents.
Officials warn there are human beings in Nairobi who are ready to kill and injure to take anything valuable from mostly defenceless Nairobians.
There are areas within Nairobi where thugs roam freely and can rob from anyone at any time of the day.For instance on April 30, a gang of three attacked actor Ainea Ojiambo at about 4pm on Moi Avenue, forcing him to shoot and accidentally hit two people, which left one of them dead.
DEALING WITH ATTACKS
Police advise those affected to always cooperate. “You may be hurt while trying to resist. These are criminals attacking and it is good for one to cooperate and surrender when you can,” said an officer who added he had attended to serious injuries.
Other officials attributed some of the incidents to recent changes in the service. They said whenever there is a changeover of police officers in any station, they experience a surge in crime. There have been recent changes in police command in many stations in the city.
“Some of these thugs know when a particular officer is away or has been moved and strike at will,” an official said.
As part of the efforts to handle the menace, an anti-mugging squad was formed and dispatched to the streets to fight the gangs.
The squad, headed by a senior sergeant, has been patrolling major streets and alleys, looking for the gangs.
They are also deployed to bus stops, where they prey on the muggers and pickpockets harassing pedestrians and commuters.
Some are deployed on Uhuru Highway, Kipande Street and Haile Selassie Avenue to target those snatching valuables from motorists and motorcycle riders.
On a weekly basis, tens of the muggers are arrested but police usually find it hard to proceed with prosecuting them because there are no complainants and witnesses to sustain the case.“We encourage those affected to always report these incidents because they help in policy issues,” Nthumbi said.
Those involved in the operations say the squad has in the past months managed to deal with the menace by arresting some suspects, which forced the majority to escape from the CBD.
The menace has now spread to some city estates, which are reporting a surge.
Edited by T Jalio