In the good old days, Kivumbini, Kaloleni, Flamingo, Paul Machanga, Baharini and Ojuka estates in Nakuru town were the most sought after residential areas for low income earners.
This was for a good reason.
Unlike other estates, these had all the amenities including round-the-clock water supply at a subsidised cost and a consistent supply of electricity.
Garbage collection was done weekly, making the estates some of the cleanest in Nakuru town, perhaps one of the reasons why it was regarded the cleanest in the region.
In addition, the houses were repainted at least twice a year and security was guaranteed with massive street lights strategically placed.
Residents of the golden 1980s and early 1990s era also remember well-maintained playgrounds for their children.
Over time, however, heaps of garbage started to appear and today, they have the areas an eyesore.
The estates are now a case study of poor planning and the social and economic implications have made life more difficult for residents.
Thanks to a booming population that has eaten up all the open spaces once reserved for backdoor gardening, makeshift iron sheet structures are a common sighting as some youths live in cubicles away from the parents they shared bedsitters with.
In the estates have arisen some of the deadliest gangs in Nakuru town, including one known as ‘Confirm’, whose members have turned some of the cubicles into their dens.
For many residents and visitors to the town, the estates are now no-go zones.
Save for a few cobblers and people roasting maize along roads, the once vibrant shopping centres at Kivumbini and Flamingo estates are lifeless.
“The more disheartening thing is that no investors can put their money here because of the gangs. They will demand a protection fee and there is nothing you can do about it,” said a resident who operated a kiosk in one of the estates.
Other residents, who also refused to be named, blamed security agents and politicians for the increase in crime.
“More worrisome is the nonchalant attitude of security agents in dealing with the criminals, who reign supreme,” said a resident of Flamingo.
“Some politicians offer to pay bonds for criminal gangs and storm police stations demanding for their release,” said a resident of Kivumbini.
“Some bad elements in the police service have turned the gang into A cash cow. Once they arrest them they demand bribes and later release them,’ said a resident of Bondeni.
Nakuru County Commissioner Erustus Mbui Mwenda absolved security agents from blame and cited frustration in their efforts to nail politicians and the criminals involved.
“There is a case in court against a politician who wanted to burn a petrol station. The matter is still pending even though police did their work. You can’t blame police for justice delayed or denied,” said Mr Mbui.
During a recent county engagement forum organised by Midrift Human Rights Network, to discuss how to prevent and counter violent extremism among the youth, Mr Mbui said the government was aware of all of the gangs’ tricks.
The administrator said members of the “Confirm” gang were using drones to disrupt law enforcement but noted that security agencies were taking the matter seriously.
As authorities seek solutions, residents continue to live in fear that their children will join the gangs.
“You can imagine the mental and psychological trauma most parents face, seeing their children being recruited into these gangs,” said Mr James Kanyotu, a resident of Flamingo Estate.
He said that with the Covid-19 pandemic, and the suspension of learning and other activities, many pupils were being targeted.
“This is a trying time for parents. With the reopening of schools pushed to next year, many are bound to join the gangs,” said Ms Jennifer Achieng’.
Authorities have expressed concerns that primary schools neighbouring the estates, such as Bondeni, St Theresa, Kisulisuli, Flamingo, Kimathi, St Paul’s, Bondeni and Baharini, are easy targets for radicalisation.
A boy in Kaloleni, who identified himself only as Tony, said the inconsistency in county and national government policies surrounding the matter and lack of political goodwill contribute to increased crime in the region.
“Nearly all these estates were constructed before independence and have outlived their usefulness due to a bursting population, but you only hear the government talking big from a distance about expanding affordable housing for the poor. On the ground things are different,” he said.
Another youth said, “These ‘Confirm’ gangsters are smart and well educated youth who cannot even access the Kazi Kwa Vijana initiative because of corruption. This forces them to look for alternative means of survival. The only readily available ones are through criminal gangs.”
Midrift Executive Director Joseph Omondi said that to make Nakuru safe and tame crime, the county must implement the action plan for preventing and countering violent extremism.
“These criminal gangs whose membership increases by the day is a ticking time bomb that will explode if no action is taken, particularly as we hit the homestretch to the 2022 General Election,” he said.