Life is becoming brutish and short for Kenyans as armed robbers call the shots

Tuesday January 14 2014

Armed police officers stand guard outside the shop at Total petrol station in Naivasha after armed gangsters killed five workers and stole more than Sh1 million on January 13, 2014. PHOTO | MACHARIA MWANGI

Armed police officers stand guard outside the shop at Total petrol station in Naivasha after armed gangsters killed five workers and stole more than Sh1 million on January 13, 2014. PHOTO | MACHARIA MWANGI NATION MEDIA GROUP

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Life, it would appear, is increasingly becoming nasty, brutish and short for business people and their employees given the increase in the number of armed robberies targeting them.

And although police statistics indicate that crime has been on the decline year on year, anecdotal evidence appears to suggest otherwise.

These days, the number of people who have been attacked by armed robbers after making huge withdrawals from banks appears to be too high, raising suspicions that some of these cases are well-planned with the connivance of someone with knowledge of the victim’s financial transactions.

Business owners have also fallen victim at their premises especially when they withdraw money or are about to make huge deposits.

And in many cases, the attackers come riding on motorcycles, whip out their guns and brandish them in the faces of their victims before robbing them and disappearing into thin air. In the more serious cases, those who resist are shot.

Not long ago, an acquaintance reported on Facebook that her father had been robbed just after walking out of a bank. He had gone to withdraw money with which to pay workers at a construction site where he was a supervisor.

Either the workers were privy of his transactions or a rogue bank employee connived with the gangsters. It is highly unlikely that such incidents are purely coincidental and there is a need for those who work in public safety and security agencies to find ways of preventing such crimes.

Now, a new trend is emerging in which robbers brazenly target petrol stations, particularly on Monday mornings or Sunday nights because, invariably, they know that the weekend sales are stashed somewhere as the owners wait to deposit the cash when banks open for business.

This is most likely what happened in Naivasha, where five people were killed when gangsters engaged in two hours of killing and robbing.

One would be forgiven for thinking that Naivasha is the middle of a lawless jungle without police, mobile phones and security response services.

The incident sends all the wrong signals considering that it occurred right off the highway, which raises questions about the safety of travellers who stop to fuel their vehicles, take a snack, or a break in unfamiliar environments under the false belief that they are safe.

What is worrying about the emerging armed crimes trend is that too often, security agencies take too long to respond even when they are alerted on time. It could be that they face logistical problems that make them less efficient than the public expects them to be. But they have a duty to identify these weaknesses and find ways of overcoming them.

For instance, the police must be required to improve their response time whenever they receive distress calls. As it is, they often come hours after the incident and usually, they have no capacity to collect evidence, track down the attackers or gather preliminary information that could help them solve the cases faster.

Some of these things will require serious investment in equipment, but most only require greater initiative and diligence by the officers.
Unfortunately, it has become practice for the government to act only when the public resorts to civil disobedience.

Not so long ago, businessmen in Kisumu had to hold a demonstrations to demand security. They even threatened to close down their enterprises and move out of town if the government failed to stop the gangs targeting them, Why must it take a threat for the public to get security?

This laxity has led to the belief that lynching is the best way to deal with suspects. The result has been that in one or two cases, innocent people have been killed by mobs on the strength of an unfounded suspicion as happened in Nakuru when a clergyman was mistaken for a thief.

True, the public can partner with the police to reduce crime. But the police cannot expect general information. Their inquiries must be direct, empirical and targeted if they are to obtain useful leads. Blanket appeals for information are unlikely to yield much.

Lastly, police must find a way of dealing with the supply of illegal guns. The number of armed robberies involving guns has been growing.

The public does not expect the police to tell them where the guns are coming from. All they expect is for the Force to ensure that fewer guns end up in the hands of criminals.