If you do not feel safe, no matter where you live, you will not be a happy tenant. Even if you live in a leafy neighbourhood that has running water all day-long, has a sewerage system that works, or is near amenities such as schools, hospitals and one-stop malls, if you do not feel secure when you go to sleep at night, you will be a dissatisfied homeowner.
Several years ago, residents of Ngei Phase II in Nairobi’s Lang’ata area lived in apprehension. Robbery and theft, even in broad daylight, was common until the residents came together, pooled resources and took deliberate measures to ensure that they and their families were safe.
The chairperson of the residents’ association, Mr Paul Murwithania, offers lessons on how residents can improve the safety in their neighbourhoods. Mr Murwithania is a security expert and a former senior criminal investigations officer who currently works for an international organisation in charge of security and safety.
The estate, he explains, is made up of a church, several schools and 298 main houses. Many of these houses also include extensions and servant quarters.
The chair, who moved into the estate in 2006, says that the estate was once a hotbed of crime. Burglaries and car break-ins, he says, were especially common.
“You would park your car at your front gate and get into your house, but on getting out a while later, you would find a wheel or other accessories missing,” he says, adding that incidents of crime are now unheard of.
From experience, he says that the first step in combating neighbourhood crime is to get every resident’s support. “Keeping our estate safe is an undertaking that required a lot of money as well as goodwill from the residents. While every resident agreed that security was important, it was not easy to convince them to dutifully contribute the monthly membership fees we had agreed on,” he reveals.
Rose Mwangi, a resident of the estate since 2007, says that the executive committee of the estate, which is tasked with running the neighbourhood’s affairs had to prove to the residents that the money collected would be put to good use.
“We implemented a strategy whereby we release quarterly financial reports to show our members how their money was spent. We also introduced digital payment to make tracking of payments easier. This has greatly increased compliance,” says Ms Mwangi, who serves as the secretary to the estate’s executive committee.
Having seen the ways in which their money has been utilised, some members of the estate now go an extra mile and volunteer their time resources to keep the neighbourhood safer.
Says Murwithania, “Sometime back, part of the estate’s fence was damaged, and people that don’t live here began to sneak into the main playground to, ostensibly, play football, but were actually peddling drugs such as bhang in the estate. We raised money and put up a fence, which immediately dealt with this problem,” he says, adding that any outsiders hiring the ground for events are duly vetted.
Ensuring that the residents follow the rule of the law, no matter their status in the estate, was another critical step in bringing security to Ngei Phase II.
For example, residents are prohibited from ordering deliveries past 10pm, and all are required to have their vehicles inspected by security personnel. Also, no resident is allowed to put up an unapproved structure as had been the norm before, a factor that led to formation of informal settlements around the area.
Ms Mwangi explains that earlier on, private developers had grabbed land that was supposed to be used by the residents as a playground.
“Informal kiosks had been built on our playground and a slum had formed right inside the neighbourhood. This posed a great security risk. When we finally gathered the courage to demolish the slum, the dwellers simply put up new shanties along the fences of our estate. It took a lot of push and pull, but we finally managed to keep the shanties away,” she says.
Although hiring and training security guards came at an extra cost to the residents, Murwithania says that it was a worthy investment.
“We have a number of guards who man our two gates to make sure that only bonafide residents and their visitors are granted access into the compound. All registration numbers of vehicles entering the estate are recorded, and visitor’s particulars taken down with all daily casual workers required to leave their identity cards at the entry points and collect them after their visit. Keeping idlers away from the estate is a crucial step in ensuring that residents feel safe. The guards also patrol the compound at random intervals,” he explains.
But just hiring security personnel is not enough. The guards need to be in uniform, but above all, well paid and have their welfare taken care of. A happy security guard, Murwithania says, does his job with enthusiasm and is more diligence. The estate has also built the day and night guards offices and living and relaxation areas.
A strong relationship with the police has certainly helped matters. The chair says that they work closely with Langata Police Station, and their officers carry out night patrols in the estate. The property, being located near Lang'ata Barracks, is home to several senior police officers and members of the armed forces, who volunteer their expertise in keeping the neighbourhood safe.
“We are also beneficiaries of a CCTV camera project installed last year by Safaricom in partnership with Kenya Alliance of Residents Association. I can now monitor what is happening within the estate on my mobile phone and supervise the guards even when I’m out of town,” Murwithania says.
Keeping your streets well lit at night is another important step in enhancing security.
“Three years ago, the World Bank and the Nairobi City County installed security lights all around the estate. Residents are no longer afraid of staying up late, in fact, we feel so safe, once in a while we have night-parties along the well-lit sidewalk,” says Murwithania.
Creating social bonds among the residents has also led to a more secure environment since neighbours know each other and feel motivated to look out for each other.
“I try my best to bring the residents together so that they can bond and develop trust among one another. We, for instance, encourage zonal courts to host regular parties where they can sit down together and exchange ideas on how to improve our neighbourhood. We also have WhatsApp groups in which we share our security concerns,” he says.
This is not all. In the future, the estate plans to build a clubhouse that will host a gym and a shopping complex that will also serve as a meeting point for the residents.
There are also plans to put a car washing bay for the youth in the estate, a business from which they can earn money and also spend their time constructively.
There are a couple of challenges that the estate is grappling with, however. One is dilapidated roads that were last rehabilitated in the 1970s. Water, too, is a pressing issue with residents sometimes receiving water only once a week.
“We have done our part and taken care of security, besides lobbying the Nairobi County government to look into these issues, there is little else we can do,” he says, hoping that the matter will be sorted out soon.