By Joseph Muraya
Nairobi — It is a case of untold suffering for residents of Kayole under the hands of ruthless criminal gang called Gaza, whose ideology is cult-like and draws inspiration from a jailed Jamaican artist Vybz Kartel, who is serving a life sentence for killing his associate.
From women to children and even security agencies, no person has been spared from the wrath of the youthful gang members, who are usually armed and will pull the trigger at any slight provocation.
You are not guaranteed of safety whether you cooperate or not, it’s all at their mercy.
And this could explain the reaction of a section of the public, who applauded an officer who publicly executed a criminal suspect, believed to be a member of the Eastleigh-based Super Power gang, in what human rights groups termed as an outright case of extra-judicial killing.
Though police say they are slowly adopting new ways to mask their identity, the Gaza gang members are identified through body tattoos – a dragon or the name Gaza, a tattoo of a tear drop on the face or three cuts on one of the eyebrow.
Capital FM sought to understand the extent of the menace wrecked by organised criminal gangs in Eastleigh and Kayole areas of Nairobi as well as their structures.
The Capital FM investigative team first interviewee was with a senior detective based in Kayole, who gave a breakdown of the several gangs in Kayole, their target and their modus operandi.
In Kayole, Gaza is the lead gang and has several other smaller affiliates, all of them with a distinct mandate but whose ultimate goal causes pain to innocent members of the public and to some extent has led to the loss of lives or left others with hefty bills to settle in the hospital.
According to a detective who’s worked in the area for more than 16 years, the Gaza gang operates like the dreaded Mungiki and are armed with guns – real and homemade – and swords.
Their latest stock according to the detective is a Jerico 941 pistol which they stole from a police officer they killed.
Boniface Oketch was based at Soweto Police Station and was killed by gunmen believed to be from the gang he was pursuing together with a colleague.
“They are targeting police officers so that they can restock the armoury; we have managed to recover a number of guns from them,” he told Capital FM News.
Oketch was killed the day another officer, still from Kayole was being buried.
On the same day they killed Oketch, the gang killed three other people still within Kayole, among them a security guard.
The second officer was ambushed by the gang as he was going to have dinner at a local restaurant.
“They have profiled us … being a cop in Kayole you must be brave otherwise you will call it quits,” the office said on condition of anonymity. “Do you know how it is painful to lose a colleague?… he was a young officer and very effective.”
During a recent raid in one of the gang’s residence, he said, officers recovered 15 boxes of ammunition.
“We have a suspect whom we believe has been supplying them with ammunition,” the officer said without giving more details on who he was.
Under Gaza, there is also an affiliate gang called 42 brothers which according to police is usually armed with knives and their operating ground is dark routes and bus stations.
They also break into houses.
“Those we have arrested usually have a bunch of master keys. Most of their breakings happen on Sundays when the majority of residents are away,” the detective said.
Then there is Yakuza, another affiliate gang with youthful members.
Their inspiration is drawn from a Japan-based gang by that name, a transnational crime syndicate.
The third affiliate group is called Smarter, which largely consists of youths controlling various dumping sites.
Capital FM News also interviewed an undercover detective, who cannot be named due to the nature of his job, who drew a worrying picture of what has been termed as a mere criminal gang.
He had a training book, that was recovered during one of the recent raids, “on how to kill a cop” and other materials.
The officer, who also missed death by a whisker during a recent encounter with them says members are being radicalised and even receiving specialised training on how to use firearms.
“During my attack, the small boy (thug) jumped into a speeding vehicle where he started exchanging fire with me… I was hit on my ankle. I’m still undergoing treatment,” he said.
“Vijana wameiva (the boys are good)… as a cop I can easily tell going with my encounter with them. The boy who attacked me had someone to provide cover for him,” he said as he proceeded to produce several photos of some of the most wanted members.
“This is the boy who almost killed me,” he said, this time pointing one of the gang members.
According to him, they all range between 12 and 25 years.
The majority of gang members according to police are women, whose role includes carrying firearms and ‘intelligence’ sharing.
Gaza’s main target is financial points like M-PESA shops, hospitals and at times churches.
In case they have targeted an M-PESA shop, women members are required to arrive earlier on location to offer required information as well as transport the firearm(s) to be used.
“It is not easy to detect a lady carrying a gun. It can be in her handbag or somewhere else within her body,” the undercover officer said.
According to him, they have also acquired motorbikes which they use as soon as they are done with their mission as has captured in several CCTV footages.
“They are smart since they will ensure the motorbike has all safety gears so that they minimise any contact or attention from the authorities,” he said.
In one incident, the gang raided a church in Kayole during a fundraiser and made away with Sh1 million, the officer said.
“They are that confident and daring,” he said.
Detectives in Kayole are probing the activities of the group, in a bid to establish its structures.
Police, however, say politicians have been financing the group and at times using it to either cause havoc during political events or cause tension.
This year being an election year, police say the gangs are expected to be very active more so during the nominations stage, a do or die activity for several politicians hoping to clinch or retain certain positions.
Already, two aspiring Members of County Assembly have been killed in Kayole by suspected members of the Gaza gang.
On February 24, some members of the gang were ‘hired’ to go and fence some disputed land in Athi River, which belongs to the East Africa Portland Cement Company.
Three of them were killed instantly by a rival gang in Athi River, which was manning the land while two succumbed to injuries while undergoing treatment in hospital.
There are tens of victims, some of whom have been stabbed, robbed and even raped, but the majority do not make a report and if they do, they are not willing to testify in court.
Most of the victims fear victimisation and have resigned to their fate.
One of the victims is Jane Njoki, who despite knowing the person who broke into her house and stole all the electronics, has decided to let it go.
“I don’t want to be killed,” she told Capital FM News on Monday. “I will be profiled as a snitch. Police hawatakuwa na wewe kila wakati (the police will not be with you all the time).”
Another was stabbed and nearly lost his life but despite police assurance that he will be protected, he refused to testify in court.
The suspect in the case is still in custody after he failed to raise cash bail.
SUPER POWER GANG
In Eastleigh, another gang is emerging, though it doesn’t have any operational structures as established by Capital FM News.
They operate in crowded streets of the populous estate armed with knives.
Those who spoke to Capital FM News from the area says the gang, just like Gaza in Kayole, draws its membership from jobless youths some of whom have been deported from Europe.
They have no ideology other than a lavish life financed from their plunder.
Largely, according to locals and police, their money is used to buy drugs and on women.
“They used to rob us while going to the mosque early in the morning and late in the evening. I support the good work police are doing, that is justice for us,” Hussein Aden a resident of Eastleigh said.
“They do not care about your safety provided you give them money to sustain their lifestyle.”
EXECUTE OR OBSERVE HUMAN RIGHTS
Debate has risen over whether these criminal gangs should be executed or arrested and taken to court, as is enshrined in the Constitution.
But does the policy of innocent until proven guilty work?
Nairobi Police boss Japheth Koome told Capital FM News that he, “will be ruthless with them. Tell them that I will not watch them kill my officers. We will be ruthless on armed thugs killing Kenyans.”
His sentiments are supported by many other Kenyans like lawyer Donald Kipkorir, who says that, “when one decides to be a terrorist, by joining Al Shabaab or being a cattle rustler or a gangster, he operates outside of the law and cannot seek refuge in the law.”
“Justified and targeted killings of terrorists is underpinned in sound law. The doctrine of necessitas facit licitum quod alias non est licitum basically indicates the necessity of making lawful that otherwise would have been unlawful. It is why we have pre-emptive strikes. It is why we have just wars (jus ad bellum). Israel, a great democracy is a practitioner of pre-emptive and targeted killings.”
The lawyer added that “those wanting us to read the Bill of Rights to terrorists, gangsters and cattle rustlers, need to speak to the parents and friends of Westgate and Garissa University attacks, survivors of robbery and rape and people who have been left destitute and orphans by cattle rustling”
But Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar says nothing justifies extra-judicial killings.
“I shall not fight crime with official crime. A travesty on one of us is a travesty on all of us. Though you and I are not them, the criminals. We stand on a higher calling and pedestal of duty and responsibility. It is the law that they offend with callous brutality that we seek to uphold with compassion, values and steadfastness. As a Kenyan people, we are not them, no matter how desperate the situation appears or is made to appear,” the legislator said.
“And yes I have been carjacked and robbed, mugged on the streets of Nairobi, lost valuables and people close and known to me through crime. I have felt the anger and pain and desired to shoot dead all criminals, but I am not them.”
“Angry as we might be as a nation, desperate and helpless as we might seem, our values and the Constitution remains strong and binding. I believe in a peaceful and secure Kenya that rests firmly on the pillars of the Constitution. Angry and in pain, I am not desperate.”
It remains the work of police to crackdown on the menace which continues by addressing the underlying issues according to the law.