21 November 2012

Kenya: Criminal Gangs Take Over Eastleigh

She woke up on Monday morning to attend to a customer she had not finished with on Sunday after an explosion outside her shop.

Sarah Kiarie, a salonist, had unfinished business with her client and they had agreed to meet early as she would be travelling to Nakuru later in the day.

"The explosion on Sunday could not allow us to continue as chaos broke out in the whole estate," she recalls. "We had to close our shops."

Riots rocked sections of Eastleigh Section One for the second day on Monday as hundreds of young men took to the streets, attacking people and looting business premises.

The violence erupted after five people were killed when an explosion ripped apart a matatu on Eastleigh's 2nd Avenue.

The fierce battle between two groups forced police to call for reinforcements from the General Service Unit.

A mob from Mathare started attacking Somalis and Somali shops in Eastleigh soon after the bomb went off on the bus on Sunday at 4pm.

Many people were injured and rushed to various hospitals as the angry mob attacked people of Somali origin, blaming them for the explosion.

This resulted in a fight between the two sides - one armed with stones and the other with pangas, swords and metal bars. When one group surged forward the other retreated after being hit by stones.

Interviews by the Star showed that there are criminal gangs in Eastleigh which took advantage of the situation to loot. Superpowers is one of the gangs, which local residents say has police protection.

The group is armed with pangas, machetes and guns and even rob residents during broad daylight. Their most lucrative time is when skirmishes break in the area - they take advantage of the situation to unleash their criminal activities.

As the fight intensified, young thugs made a kill by looting shops and robbing pedestrians on Juja Road especially the stretch between St Teresa's and Mathare No 10. The mobs broke into several business premises and carried away goods including water tanks and food.

Police had a hard time controlling the groups as the looters moved from one street to another. "This is no longer as a result of the grenade attack that occurred on Sunday," said Stephen Kinoti whose hardware shop was also looted. "I am not a Somali and they have attacked my shop. They are criminals."

Sarah, who is a mother of three, has not opened her salon for the past three days. "I don't know what my children will eat if this chaos is not stopped soon," she says. "In a day, I get between Sh1,500 and Sh3,000."

She accuses the provincial administration in the area of supporting criminal gangs. "Most of these young people fighting here are not from our neighbourhood. They are new faces and they have just come to loot," Sarah says.

The locals say the criminals are protected by Administration Police officers at the Chief's Camp who release them every time they are arrested.

"We are tired of the APs at the Chief's Camp. We have reported the cases many times but nothing is being done," said Kinoti. "Whenever they are arrested, they don't even spend a night at the police station. They are released the same day."

Mike Nyangweso, who lives in Mathare 4A, says he heard of the skirmishes in Eastleigh through the radio. "When such things occur, some of us who are jobless often go there to try our luck. I was late. When I arrived the police were already there, so I did not manage to get anything."

Leonard Wafula, a painter in Eastleigh, said Superpowers is making life difficult for local residents. "They are well known and the government is doing nothing about it. Police know them well and they are released soon after being arrested," he says.

Ahmed Shariff, a Somali businessman, says gangs from Mathare used the Sunday explosion as an excuse to attack their businesses.

Shariff, who is a miraa trader, blames the mob for attacking innocent Somali people.

"We are Kenyans and how we became Somalis nobody has the answer other than God," he said. "Some of us were born here and we know these people as our brothers. Most Kenyan Somalis are not al Shabaab sympathisers as many people think. We are peace-loving Kenyans."

He says closing his businesses for days has cost him big. He says he has lost close to Sh1 million. "I have thought of relocating from Eastleigh but I have to be sincere, business is very good here," he says. "I hope something will be done to correct the situation."

As the two groups engaged in running battles around 2pm on Monday, police who seemed to be exhausted parked their trucks along First Avenue, Second Avenue and Juja Road while two GSU trucks and two anti-riot squad Land Rovers patrolled and engaged the rioters in running battles. Stone throwing had also started along Malawa Road.

Police officers interviewed said the scene had turned 'normal'. "Eastleigh is like this and we know it. They will cool down if we don't engage them," said a police officer who sought anonymity.

Muslim leaders from Eastleigh said nine women had been raped and several people injured during the attacks on Somalis. "People are looking at Somalis with suspicion but it is not right. We were born and bred here and the terrorists don't represent us," said Sheikh Abdulrashid Ali Noor.

Hassan Guleid, the chairman of Eastleigh Business District Association, condemned the Sunday grenade attack and asked the residents to come together and address the issue soberly.

"This is a criminal issue and there is no criminal who is a Muslim or a Christian.They should be viewed only as criminals," he said, adding that businesses in the area have been greatly affected.

Three young men were critically injured by youth armed with pangas protecting houses belonging to Somalis. The young men were attacked near Mlango Kubwa.

Nairobi police chief Moses Ombati said police will be deployed to the area until calm returns. Caroline Kanyiri, a fruit vendor, wishes calm returns soon since her bananas and watermelons could go to waste. And for the third day yesterday, her fruits worth Sh7,000 continued to rot as calm was yet to return.

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