Criminals have infiltrated the boda boda business and are using it as a cover to commit serious crimes, including murder and robbery.
The trend has caused alarm within security agencies, as the gangsters use the fast and easily manoeuvrable motorcycles to escape from crime scenes.
“Gangsters on motorbikes” has now become a common element of accounts of crime incidents in Nairobi and other towns, with businesses such as fuel stations and retail outlets being the main targets.
One of the most recent incidents was reported on Thursday in Nairobi’s Kangemi estate.
Three men on a motorcycle without number plates were spotted in the area at 9am.
Minutes later, they were seen loading gunny bags into a small car, arousing suspicion among traders, who alerted the police.
“Administration Police officers from Kangemi camp responded and when they challenged them to surrender, they started firing, prompting a shoot-out. One was fatally shot and two others were arrested. Another one who was waiting in the car escaped,” said a police report.
Clothes and shoes believed to have been stolen earlier from a shop they had broken into were recovered.
Police say gangsters posing as boda boda operators often scout for potential victims or look for premises with valuables to rob.
Nairobi police boss Japheth Koome says he has instructed his officers to be on the lookout for armed gangs, particularly those on motorbikes as they have proved to be the most elusive.
“Gangsters riding on motorbikes are of particular concern because it is easier for them to escape (from crime scenes). For instance, in Nairobi, where most roads experience heavy traffic, thugs on motorbikes are able to escape by making use of narrow spaces between vehicles,” said Mr Koome.
Pursuing a gang on a motorbike is a big challenge for policemen using a car. This is because motorbikes are easy to manoeuvre through back lanes and alleys, which are too narrow for vehicles.
Another challenge lies in identifying the thugs whenever they are arrested.
HARD TO IDENTIFY
“It is tricky for victims to identify the perpetrators when they are later arrested. This is because riders wear helmets, meaning their faces are covered and they cannot be identified,” he adds.
Besides easy mobility, gangsters also prefer motorcycles because, unlike vehicles, they are easy to acquire as they are cheap.
This was not the case until five years ago, when the government waived duty on new motorcycles and their spare parts, causing an influx of new units. It is now possible to own a functional machine for as little as Sh30,000.
Most of the motorbikes used in robberies are either stolen or bought cheaply in the second-hand market, say police.
In most cases, the gangsters operate in threes — the driver and two others who pose as passengers but are armed with pistols.
One of the most shocking motorbike gang attacks was one in which Mr James Karanja Mwangi, an audit manager at Nakumatt Supermarkets, was killed in May.
OTHER SHOOTING INCIDENTS
He was driving his BMW car from the office on a narrow road off Mombasa Road when a motorcycle carrying three men drew close. One of them shot three times as they sped past, killing him.
His mobile phone and wallet were not taken, suggesting the killers were not out to rob him.
Five people, including a police officer and a Nakumatt employee, were charged with the murder two months later.
Students at Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Karen, Nairobi, have also on numerous occasions reported being robbed by gangsters on motorbikes. The latest incident was reported on Thursday night.
Mr Josephat Wanyoike Kibe and Mr Zacharia Chege, both directors of the Kihiu Mwiri land-buying company in Murang’a County, were also shot dead by gunmen on motorcycles at the Kabati Trading Centre earlier this year.
And barely two weeks ago in Kitengela, Kajiado County, a large group of residents held protests and demanded that police vet all motorcycle riders before allowing them to operate. The residents claimed that a good number of the operators belonged to the outlawed Mungiki sect and were behind crimes in the town.
The reports on insecurity continue on Tuesday.