It is shortly before 10pm on a Friday night when Mr Jacob Muchiri alights from bus number 19-60, named “Prime East”, at the Kioi stage in Kayole in Nairobi’s Eastlands.
He is carrying his laptop bag and a few clothes while his phone is safely in his pocket. Two young boys also alight and follow him.
About 20 metres away, he encounters three boys walking in the opposite direction. As he is about to pass them, one of the boys grabs his hand and demands his laptop and watch.
Before he can react, another boy interjects, “Na hiyo simu yako utaniwahi (and I will have your phone).
Thinking they are joking, Mr Muchiri retorts, “Wacheni ujinga. Nyinyi endeni zenu.” (Stop that nonsense. Be gone).” Big mistake.
DICING WITH DEATH
One of the boys grabs his other hand, twists it, and points a gun at him with the warning, “Wewe ndio nitalipua hiyo ujinga yako. Toa haraka…jinga (It’s your stupidity that I will blast. Give me the items quickly… stupid).”
In an operation that lasts just about a minute, the youngsters relieve Mr Muchiri of his personal belongings and some Sh4,000 in cash.
What Mr Muchiri apparently did not know was that alighting at any stage in Kayole after 9pm is dicing with death. The area is under the control of a criminal gang of teenagers known as the Gaza Boys.
For the past two years, the Gaza Boys, most of whom are known to be students in local schools, have been roaming the sprawling estate, terrorising residents at will.
Afraid of reprisals, residents talk about their activities in hushed tones. “I’d say they were about 16 or 17, people who do not even have identity cards yet,” Mr Muchiri told DN2 at his Saba Saba home last month.
Investigations by DN2 found out where the operation bases of the gang are located, whom they target, where they go to school, and the new ways they have adopted to kill their victims even as local police continue to hunt them.
The group, which was formed and originally operated in Dandora, moved to Kayole much later. Today, they have makeshift headquarters in the Riverbank area, although they mainly operate in the Kioi, Masimba, Rasta, Saba Saba, and Nyando areas.
According to Mr Dan Mac Owino, a youth leader, the Gaza Boys gang was formed around the Dandora garbage collection zones after the service was privatised. With no source of income, the group, then comprising about 15 boys, resorted to crime to survive.
PRODUCTS OF NEGLECT
“Most of them are either Standard Eight leavers or in secondary school,” he says. Interestingly, not all of them are driven by desperation, as one might expect.
“Those who are not remnants of the waste-collection industry are the children of local landlords who have been neglected by their parents,” Mr Owino says.
Steve Kamau, 18, is one such young man. He agrees to an interview at a secret location in Nyando, and arrives dressed in blue jeans, a white vest, and white sports shoes.
Kamau, who has taken to sniffing stuff, confides, “Madhe anatukazianga tu sana. Humpati, hakupatii... yeye ana shughuli zake tu za manyumba” (My mother is very mean. She is never around and doesn’t give us much money. She is too busy with her rental houses).
However, Kamau’s mother, who owns several single-room houses in Kayole, disagrees, saying Kamau is a wayward child.
Her exasperation is obvious. “I don’t want to discuss that boy. He has refused to go to school and all he wants is money. I have left him to his own devices. Akipatikana na serikali, shauri yake, (If he lands in the hands of the police, too bad).
Kamau could not give a plausible explanation for dropping out of a city secondary school last year to join the Gaza Boys. A neighbour tells us the boys’ gang of 10 colludes with matatu crews to rob unsuspecting passengers.
“The matatu crew monitors passengers with big-denomination notes and expensive phones or those browsing on their phones and relay the information to the Gaza Boys. The boys then waylay and attack the hapless victims,” he explains.
Another tactic they use is provoking potential matatu passengers. “They announce that the fare from town to Kayole is Sh40 but demand Sh60 once the passengers have boarded the vehicle. Of course the passengers will protest.
“In the ensuing arguments, some will be relieved of their items as they are frisked when being thrown out. So be careful when complaining about hiked fares,” says Ms Lucy Akinyi, a local resident.
Mr Muchoki Mwangi, a boxing coach, reveals yet another strategy the boys use: Baiting unsuspecting victims with young girls. “The girls hit on you and tease you and if you fall for their ruse, the boys attack you,” he explains.
He says one of the boys will claim to be the girl’s boyfriend and insist that you were seducing his girl. “The young girl will start crying, pleading for forgiveness and claiming that she was rejecting your advances.
“Before you know it, you will be pleading to be released at a negotiated fee, and perhaps after receiving a few slaps as well,” Mr Mwangi explained.
The Gaza Boys sometimes meet to plan their operations in an unfenced field also used by Mwangaza Secondary School near the Masimba stage.
They attack those who alight at the stage and disappear into the unlit school field. The road linking Mwangaza Primary School and Mwangaza Secondary School is particularly dangerous because commercial sex workers, who work in cahoots with the boys, use it to solicit clients after dark.
Here, the boys have ready victims in the men enticed by the twilight girls. According to Mr Johannes Osoro, a local resident and elder, many men have fallen into this trap.