NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 21- What is it that can make you put your life at risk?
Hundreds of school-going children in Kayole, a densely populated estate in Nairobi are risking it all in a bid to just afford a plate of chips, sausages and muguka- a stimulant whose green leaves are chewed to achieve similar effects as those of Khat or Miraa.
In this estate, mugging, breaking into people’s houses and peddling drugs among other crime-related activities has become a way of living for hundreds of teenagers, aged between 14 and 18 years.
As established by Capital News, it is the ‘boy child’ going the extra mile to impress their equally young girlfriends.
Late last year, a Form 2 student was burnt to death by agitated locals in the area, after he was caught in the action-stealing.
In August 2018, police said they had arrested 10 children from Dhawabu primary school who were said to have been engaging in group sex. The 10 were caught in the act in a hideout at about 7 pm, police said.
But what is the link between the uncontrolled ‘craving’ for chips, muguka, and sausages with insecurity?
Locals and authorities who spoke to Capital News said crime significantly shoot up whenever schools are closed.
Police even admit that they plan for school holidays the same way they do whenever the country is on an election campaign mode- when politics is highly volatile and youths are prone to misuse by various contenders.
The situation is so dire that it will require a holistic approach if the country will save a generation glaring to its own extinct, authorities and troubled parents said in multiple interviews with this reporter.
This is a story of how a toxic environment is swallowing Kenya’s future, as youths, young as school-going children, seek a celebrity like living through a painful risky route of crime.
-A sit-in with criminal gangs-
Streets with crater-like potholes, massive piles of garbage litter along the sewer line and crowded corridors lead to area B3.
Right at the place where two youthful boys accused to be terrorizing locals were shot dead over the weekend.
Their blood is yet to dry.
It is tucked in a secluded place, which locals simply refer to as ‘The Base’, where I met one of the gangs.
Prior to the meeting, I had been cautioned against carrying mobile phones or overly expensive stuff.
“You could be interviewing them only for them to turn against you,” a member of the gang, who guided me through the streets warned.
And I obliged.
While I expected to see youths, they were even much younger.
It was a group of 18 members, all aged between 14 and 23 years, while their leader was aged 27.
While I was the interviewer, they asked more questions.
“If Uhuru is a prince, Raila is a prince, why do they still work hard, to look for money?” their leader Marcus posed, as the rest nodded in unison.
This was a response to the question on why they have chosen crime as a way of life, instead of pursuing other alternatives, that don’t put their lives or that of their victims at risk.
Marcus proceeded with more questions “Did you have breakfast today? Or simply, have you ever spent two days without food?”
All this time, he was trying to justify why they have chosen a dark path to make ends meet.
Impatient to wait for his turn, Alonso interjected with an explanation.
“We have needs too whether we are in school or not. My girlfriend needs to be treated like a queen and this is the only way I can get money,” he says confidently.
The rest of the group joined and explained how they have to spend cash either to win their target girls or simply impress those they are dating.
A character trait harboured by Gaza gang, one of the most lethal groups in Nairobi, whose pain has been felt beyond Kayole.
While the ‘mbogi’ (slang name for group) I was interviewing declined to have any links with the cult-like criminal gang, their lifestyle is like Siamese twins.
Both are in crime to quench their thirst to live large, as they often brag on social media while holding huge bundles of notes- apparently stolen- with golden and silver chains on their necks.
“But why do you guys kill then, if all you want is money?” I posed, to a group busy sniffing snuff – smokeless tobacco made from pulverised tobacco leaves- while Marcus was smoking a roll of bhang.
“Kama unamea, tunakupeleka na rieng,” Jackson, a member of the gang said which loosely translates “if you become violent, we respond with equal force.”
Pushing for answers revealed a worrying reality of youths whose meaning for life is blurred by the urge for a ‘good’ life.
But to what end?
Killing won’t stop crime
Their biggest enemies, they said are police, whose code names are Manjege, mabeng’a or mabeast.
They have lost count for the number of their colleagues shot dead by police, but this has not deterred them.
“We only become bitter and at times revenge,” Marcus said, to a unison ‘eeeh baana’ response from the group, to mean they shared his sentiments.
In 2018, more than 30 suspected criminals, all youth, were killed by police raising a public outcry from rights groups like the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU).
This year alone, tens have been killed in Kayole, Dandora and Mathare slum.
Rights groups say killing is counterproductive and only act as a catalyst.
“You can force the devil to go to heaven,” an officer based in Kayole for more than 5 years told Capital News.
On April 13, 2018, President Uhuru Kenyatta assented to the Prevention of Torture Bill 2017.
The law provides a clear platform to actualize several fundamental articles in the Constitution of Kenya 2010, including Article 25 with regards to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or Punishment, Article 28 on respect and protection of human dignity and Article 29 on freedom and security of a person.
It also seeks to bring to account all state agencies and officials from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and provides clear penalties for such atrocities.
The country also has a National Coroners Service Act 2017 which establishes a legal framework for reporting, investigating and documenting unnatural deaths.
The Bomb squad speaks out
I proceeded to area B5 within Kayole to meet the ‘Bomb squad’ which a group of about 300 youths according to their leader.
Those ready to be interviewed were 10 as the rest were out “hustling.”
Unlike Gaza or the B3 gang, the ‘bomb squad’ engages in productive activities like selling water and washing cars.
But there is a similarity between the two.
Their end game is to have money, in a bid to improve their lifestyles and impress their girlfriends- with lunch dates of chips, sausages, and muguka- no long-term plans.
Most are school dropouts while others did not proceed with their studies after they sat for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations-largely due to lack of means.
During holidays, several students join them.
“We are busy looking for cash, but police are our worst nightmare,” one of them nicknamed Zulu said.
Their base is just a few metres from a police post.
According to Zulu, “unemployment is our biggest challenge. We are all living a hand to mouth life.”
The 30-year-old father of three said even some of the squad members have resulted to join crime due to desperation.
“This is Nairobi where you cannot go farming to get money,” wearing a faint smile, he said.
Unlike the B3 gang, the bomb squad just want the Government to provide job opportunities for the growing youth population in Kayole and across the country.
The group, he said, is most active during the electioneering period, when they are hired by politicians.
“We are like a tissue paper, used and dumped for convenience,” he said.
Visibly, most of the group members were drunk or under the influence of other intoxicants.
-Crime link to family disputes and divorces-
As established by Capital News, most of the youths in the criminal gangs’ hail from troubled families, where a rocky relationship exists between their parents or has simply ceased to exist.
For example, Zulu has since parted ways with his 26-year-old mother of three.
“I remained with two children while she is with the last born,” a drunk Zulu said.
I interviewed the Officer Commanding Mugendi police-post Samuel Orapidi, over the worrying situation in Kayole.
From police statistics, he said, the area has high cases of teenage pregnancies, family break ups coupled with domestic violence.
“See outside the chief’s office, most of these people are here to report their partners,” he said while pointing the office, which is located within the same compound.
“They even come to ask the chief to assist them to divide their property.”
This is partly blamed for the increased cases of young people joining crime, he said.
And as intimated by other sources including locals, he agreed that crime rises every time school close for holiday.
“They are joining crime over petty issues, but their actions are not,” he said.
Some use knives to attack their targets while in a few cases, some are armed with a real or homemade pistol.
“Police are doing all they can, but we cannot win this war alone,” he asserted.
Man stabbed during the interview
But even before I could conclude the interview, two people came running to report real-time incidents.
A man in his mid 20’s had been stabbed while there was a group attacking people in adjacent streets.
As all this was happening concurrently, the officers and the local chief had to make a quick decision.
One group was dispatched to pursue those who were attacking residents, with a motive to steal, while Orapidi, the area chief and two armed civilian police officers attended to the stabbing incident.
From the main road to narrow dusty corridors eventually, we reached the scene of the stabbing.
The victim, who was also the attacker, had fled, in the company of his brother.
“They were attacking the butcher. He grabbed the knife and as the butcher struggled to disarm him, he was stabbed on his shoulder and slightly in the face,” one of the witnesses said.
Crowds of onlooker’s majority children had formed to see what will transpire.
“Kuna mtu atakufa (there is someone who will die),” I overheard someone shouting from the crowd.
At some point, Inspector Orapidi and another officer were forced to board a boda-boda to catch up with the two brothers- one was stabbed.
“I want to die, shoot me,” the man with the stab wound angrily dared the police.
All this time, he was bleeding profusely.
After push and pull, he agreed to be taken to Kayole hospital for medication, before police can establish what transpired and take action.
What would have been a few metres journey ended up being the longest, since he would stand, cry for minutes, before agreeing to proceed.
The police were patient.
“Ngai (God), why did they stab me?” he would rhetorically ask.
He and his brother were both drunk and under the influence of drugs, police said.
Drama ensued at Kayole hospital, as the stabbed man in his mid-twenties refused to receive medication.
“I will only be treated if the police pay for my bills. My brother and other family members will not pay,” he said, wiping tears.
Often, he would threaten to leave and when stopped, he would dare police to shoot him.
Eventually, still with a bleeding wound, he outsmarted the medics and police and escaped.
The whole drama was witnessed by young children, mostly aged between 3 and 6 years, who followed at a close distance.
“This is the toxic environment I was talking about,” the officer said.
“Our children are exposed to such violence and other crime that they cannot make the right decision unless guided.”
Preliminary investigations revealed that the Tuesday incident resulted from a quarrel over a cup of soup.
The butcher had insisted that the cup should be left once the stabbed man consumed his soup.
But the man was angry with the request and grabbed the knife, ready to stab the butcher, but he was instead hurt.
Apart from ‘normal’ crime, Kayole is home to tens of criminal gangs who prey on the thousands of residents.
But a bigger problem lies with the teenage gangs, the local administrators said.