Matatu crews in fear as extortion gangs re-emerge

Matatu owners and operators in Nairobi are living in fear after a vicious gang of youths aided by local politicians have taken charge of the transport sector as they extort, issue threats and maim those opposed to them.

And with the police and County government officials appearing to turn a blind eye to their re-emergence, the gang members have literally taken over the management and operations of the matatu sector in the city in a manner only reminiscent of the dreaded Mungiki days.

Investigations by the People Daily established that groups of gangs that have taken over various matatu termini and routes as they brazenly extort money from the operators.

According to Kenneth Munyui, the Secretary of the Matatu Owners Association, the gang of youths have been extorting from their members, threatening those who fail to remit a daily set amount of money with dire consequences.

“We have received these complaints from our members from all corners. And it is not only in Nairobi but several towns. The numbers of these complaints are growing each day. The sad reality is that these gangs seem to be connected to powerful people that police officers cannot dare arrest. Police would rather arrest a well-dressed conductor with a license while leaving members of the gang to continue extorting,” said Munyui.

Munyui says members of the gang, who seem to enjoy the protection of Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) and some members of the National Assembly have strategically positioned themselves at various pickup and drop-off points from where they collect levies forcing the matatu operators to surrender a significant portion of their daily earnings to the gang.

For instance, matatus operating under the Manmo Sacco, that normally ply Town-Ngara-City Centre route are required to part with Sh320 to the gang for every trip made. The route has 24 minibuses, meaning that the gangs collect Sh30,720 in a day  if all the vehicles made four trips.

But despite the outcry from matatu owners and operators, Nairobi regional police boss Adamson Bungei refuted claims of the re-emergence of gangs controlling the matatu sector.

“My officers on the ground have firm instructions to ruthlessly deal with any gang found extorting from members of the public. Besides, we have not received any complaint, be it from matatu operators or owners, about any group of persons extorting money from them,” Bungei told the People Daily.

Hiring hooligans

The Nairobi regional police boss however laid blame on some matatu operators, whom he said are fond of hiring some hooligans in order to start operating from some routes.

“Some of the operators and owners enter into a deal with hooligans to offer them protection in order to operate from certain routes, but they soon start complaining of extortion, once they have settled. But if there is anybody with information about the re-emergence of these extortion gangs, let them volunteer the information to me,” Bungei implored.

But after a week of investigations, the People Daily can authoritatively report that these gangs have become a nightmare to Matatu operators.

“Matatu business is the most difficult work. This is becoming a very dangerous business for us. These young men not only carry guns but they have sharp knives that in case of a quarrel they just draw them out. We have tried to raise these complaints to the relevant authorities but they have never been addressed. It is obvious the boys have a backing from top leaders in Nairobi,” said Stanley Kamau, a driver plying route 23. Kamau says anytime they are at a bus stop they usually have to give the young men about Sh200.

“These young men are so dangerous that if you refuse to give them money they even stop you from ferrying passengers to their destinations. Sometimes they even do so in the presence of traffic officers who seem to be helpless,” says Kamau.

Another operator, James Munyeki who plies the Jogoo Road- Muthurwa route says members of the gang sometimes board the vehicles and refuse to pay fare. Some of the gangs operate under the name of Taliban while gang members go by the tags Siafu, Usiku and Kamjesh.

A source who spoke on condition of anonymity  for fear of reprisal said the gang members are so ruthless because they get protection from some of Nairobi County assembly ward reps, who are always on hand in the event they are arrested by police. The most affected routes are Umoja, Kangundo Road, Huruma, Kayole, Mathare North, Githurai, Dagoretti, Lucky Summer, Baba Ndogo, Ruai, Mwiki, Kariobangi and Dandora, among others.

Speaking to People Daily Kayole Central MCA Jeremiah Karani said there could be a resurgence of the gangs but said the matter was still under investigation.

“I have received numerous reports about these gangs but I cannot confirm if they are fully back. As we all know life is getting difficult with each passing day and some of our young men can easily be tempted to go back to crime,” he said.

But Umoja 2 MCA Joseph Mdonji, a former tout, denied the resurgence of the gangs saying that the transport sector has been operating orderly.

“There are no gangs. If they were there everyone out here including the police could have already taken serious action. The sector is clean and people should let our young people do their businesses without interruptions,” said Ndonji

However, a ward rep from Dandora who spoke on condition of anonymity admitted that the gangs were back, saying that the ongoing harsh economic times have forced young men to engage in criminal activities.The ward rep also confessed that he cannot do anything that would directly deny members of the gang their daily bread saying that they are his campaigners.

“I can’t support any attempts to have these young men eliminated. I actually protect them, they have nowhere to go. If I had jobs to give them, I would support them,” he said.

Though they have a similarity with Mungiki, these gangs operate independently as they have different ring leaders.

“Mungiki members operate very independently from these new gangs. They have their representatives on the ground. Though they are rough on us, they understand sometimes when we tell them we don’t have money as opposed to these other gangs,” said Munyeki.

Perminus Kariuki a matatu owner in Kikuyu, who is the chairman of a matatu sacco said they were fed up with members of the gangs, which he accused of “going overboard”. He claimed bus and matatu operators were being forced to pay Sh1,000 and Sh800, respectively, every week.

People Daily caught up with Dennis Masai, an operator based at Nairobi Bus Station working with Forward Travellers Sacco. Masai revealed that the gangs have been so ruthless to a point that they determine which sacco to operate on which route and termini.

“For your sacco to get space to operate you must pay these gangs. For the stage they request between Sh300,000- Sh 500,000. If you fail to give them, they frustrate you to a point that they can even kill you,” said Masai.

Source: People Daily Kenya

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