Inside story of Kenya's killer gangs
Saturday’s shooting of PS Kinuthia Murugu is the latest demonstration of a resurgence of gun crimes in the country, especially in Nairobi.
- Security experts say weapons are being smuggled in from war-torn Somalia
Saturday’s shooting of permanent secretary Kinuthia Murugu is the latest demonstration of a resurgence of gun crimes in the country, especially in Nairobi.
Other high-profile cases in the past week include the killing of a university lecturer and the shooting dead of three people in the city’s Eastlands, on suspicion of being police informers.
Prof Peter Kenya was shot dead on Wednesday night in Zimmerman estate as he frantically hooted. Earlier, a top police investigator in Nyeri, Jonah Nzau, was killed in an incident which has been linked to organised crime involving fellow officers.
Then there was the carjacking of Khwisero MP Evans Akula outside his house on Rhapta Road as he waited for his gate to be opened at 10.30 p.m. He was held hostage by the gangsters until 2.30 a.m. after being driven through city estates and being robbed.
The incidents have once again put the spotlight on the proliferation of illegal firearms, especially in Nairobi. Investigations by the Sunday Nation have found that illegal guns are easily available across the country. Their prices have dropped drastically.
Among the small arms, which can be hired on an hourly basis by crooks, include the Ceska pistol, Smith & Wesson pistol and AK47 rifle. Though admired by criminals for its lethal fire power, the G3 rifle is not popular because of its size but it is occasionally hired during major missions such as bank robberies.
One supplier in Eastleigh is reported to even offer grenades which criminals refer to as mahindi (maize). According to our investigations and interviews with some “reformed” gangsters, the cost ranges from Sh3,000 to Sh15,000 an hour for a Ceska pistol or AK47 rifle.
One can also hire the same for a day with the option of buying it. A bullet, christened msumari (nail), goes for Sh500.
The AK47 rifle comes in three versions -- wooden, plastic and metallic -- and goes for Sh15,000, Sh12,000 and Sh10,000 respectively. The wooden one is the most popular as it is said to be accurate and comfortable to handle. Bullets for an AK47 are priced at between Sh1,000 and Sh1,500 each.
The older models of pistols can be hired for less, as they are not considered as reliable as the Ceska, which is now a pistol of choice for police officers. Also on hire at Sh20,000 are bullet-proof vests usually snatched from security firms and police officers.
While Eastleigh and Dandora are the key areas where guns for hire are available, Kibera has joined the trade since the post-election violence. But our source said Kibera is not very popular for the business because the residents of the expansive slum “talk too much”.
According to our informers, who would not reveal their identities for fear that they would be targeted by police officers, urban crime has undergone major changes, with criminals elaborately plotting their moves.
“Police know where each of the gangs operate from, hence when an incident is reported they demand to know the number of thugs involved,” one source said. In cases where a substantial sum of money is involved, there is usually no shooting, as the criminals would rather plot with employees of banks, forex bureaux or supermarkets, our sources noted.
Bank heists involving a shoot-out are no longer popular in the criminal world.
Our source said they are aware police in plain clothes roam around banks and forex bureaux before they open, so raiding them is no longer advisable unless one is sure that they will pull off a major job.
Carjackings have been left to the “amateurs”, usually aged between 15 and 22 years.
“These are guys who are just getting into crime, are panicky and trigger-happy,” another source said.
This corroborates the Khwisero MP’s description of his assailants as “young boys below the age of 22 years”.
Our source confided that these are the gangs that terrorise people in Doonholm, Fedha, South B, South C, Westlands, Kileleshwa and Lavington, among other estates in Nairobi.
He warned that Eastlands is most dangerous between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. because many of the robbers who operate there live with their parents “and have to be back home by 10 p.m.”
Another gang of criminals operates in the Central Business District between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., targeting revellers who visit Automated Teller Machines to withdraw money either after a night of fun or upon arrival from upcountry.
Others target people in parking lots at entertainment spots and drag them into waiting vehicles only to demand ransom from their families.
Taking us through the operations in the underworld, the former crooks said gangs had mapped out the city to ensure that they do not trespass into one another’s territory.
Each gang has its “boss” who works out details of the raid and gives instructions. The “boss” is responsible for hiring weapons needed for each assignment, as guns are strictly hired out on trust basis.
“They need to protect themselves so that they are not exposed to detectives or get conned,” our source added.
New entrants in the “business” must have a “guarantor” before any gun is hired out to them. For those who have an “assignment” they negotiate for a gun to hire by giving details of the planned raid.
For fear of being arrested, those who hire out guns usually deliver them to an agreed place. They also agree where the weapons will be delivered after use.
“Some of them have cars which are known to police so they are never searched,” our source said.
The gangs that target shops in the Nairobi CBD attack between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., just before traders do their afternoon banking.
“You will never have an attack in the morning because nobody has made any sales,” our source noted. The gang that used to terrorise traders on Kaunda Street, Biashara Street and Kenyatta Avenue early this year was under the command of one man simply known as Oti.
Our source said the raids in Machakos district last year were conducted by gangs from Nairobi, specifically those based in South ‘B’.
After each raid, those involved meet at a specific place where the booty is shared out according to agreed terms.
The “finish area”, as it is known in underworld parlance, is normally an apartment or house rented for that purpose. The booty might include money, jewellery, mobile phones or even weapons snatched from police officers.
At the “finish area,” the robbers enter the “operation room” naked except for the boss, who is allowed to be armed together with his bodyguards.
Once the booty is shared out and the weapons returned, the “boss” is the first one to leave.
This is aimed at ensuring there is no armed confrontation during the sharing of the proceeds as it happened early this week in Shauri Moyo, where one gang member was killed.
Deputy police spokesman Charles Owino Wakhong’o says that the recent incidents are “normal crime” that do not necessarily indicate an upsurge in attacks.
The spokesman said police suspect that these crimes are being committed by one gang that is interested in valuables and not vehicles. He says there is always an upsurge in crime after intensive police patrols.
However, security expert and director of the East African School of Security Studies Captain (rtd) Simiyu Werunga says there is a need for the country’s security agents to work in tandem to crackdown on violent crime, especially at a time when criminals are getting weapons from war-torn Somalia.
He says that unlike years gone by, when criminals operated individually or with two accomplices, the current trend involves organised criminal gangs which are more difficult to tackle.
“We have a demoralised police force and bickering politicians who do not seem to realise that the common citizen is suffering. Violent crime is becoming common and should be addressed before it gets out of hand. People should stop politicising security issues and deal with organised criminal gangs,” Capt Werunga says.
The Kenya Police Crime Report and Data for 2008 shows that armed crime has gone up by 37 per cent and is attributable to a high number of illegal arms in civilian hands.