Nairobi — After being the victim of three robberies that threatened to shutter his business -- the last of which made him scared for his life -- 52-year-old Machakos businessman Alex Muasya said he was relieved to see an improvement in the security situation in recent months.
Muasya, who now operates two wholesale cereal outlets, said criminals raided his first warehouse at night in 2008 and 2009, taking off with all of his goods and supplies.
While Muasya was able to get back on his feet after the first two robberies, his business was targeted again in July 2013 after he opened a second outlet in the town.
Muasya said he opened the second store despite the risks in order to create a secondary and alternative source of income. "I had to dig further in my personal savings to restart the business," he said. "The idea for me to set up a second outlet was informed by the need to have a backup plan, so in case one shop is robbed I am not driven out of business."
Thankfully no one was physically hurt during any of the robberies, he said. However, he said he was particularly shaken by the last incident in which thieves armed with guns tied him up along with two employees and four customers who were shopping at the time, before they raided the premise, stealing inventory and robbing everyone of their personal belongings.
"This was the most chilling attempt on my life and business and it happened at daytime," Muasya told Sabahi.
"After robbing us, the thieves strolled away slowly, entered their cars and drove off," he said. "We reported it to the police, but they turned up thirty minutes later [making it] impossible for them to put up a chase to apprehend [the thieves]."
Muasya said similar raids were frequent in the town in the last few years, even forcing some businesses to shut down.
"But this picture of daring robberies is slowly changing thanks to the new security arrangements that have been initiated by the county government," he said.
Machakos people now feel safer, governor says:
Since the launch of county-wide comprehensive security programme on January 30th, business owners and county officials say they have noticed a tremendous improvement in the security of Machakos town.
The new security programme includes more than 120 new police patrol cars fitted with mobile two-way radios and gun detectors, Governor Alfred Mutua told Sabahi. He said the cars were distributed to police throughout the county, and he promised to double the number of cars in the next financial year.
"The programme was launched to supplement the national government's efforts of enhancing security in the country," Mutua said. "[Since its launch], the security of this county has transformed tremendously and I can confidently say that people of Machakos feel much safer today going about their businesses in any village of this county than they did three months ago."
Mutua said the programme had also seen the establishment of a call centre in Machakos where all security dispatches and information-sharing is co-ordinated. The call centre also acts as a logistical station where the closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras fitted along major roads are controlled.
"We have also instructed as a way of policy that every upcoming major commercial building within the county must be fitted with CCTV [cameras] which will be connected to the county network," he said.
He said the enhanced security measures were enabling an environment for 24-hour business operations in the county, which will translate into increased investment, thereby creating jobs and wealth.
Machakos County police boss Gideon Amala said the new police cars, CCTV cameras and the call centre had improved police co-ordination and operations. "With the cars and good co-ordination from the call centre we are now able to respond instantly to incidents," he said.
"We have foiled many attempted criminal activities and even arrested a number of suspects before they can strike, which is a good thing," he told Sabahi, declining to specify how many crimes have been prevented since the launch.
The provision of 40 sniffer dogs and gun detectors for each new police vehicle by the county government have also helped police become more efficient in search and rescue operations, he said.
To boost police morale so they can better serve the people of Machakos, Mutua said the county plans to set aside 300 million shillings ($3.5 million) in the next financial year to build homes for police officers. Planning for the housing units is still at the initial stage and more details will be made available at a later date, he said.
"[In addition], plans are at advanced stage to put up a forensic lab -- the first of its kind in the region -- complete with DNA profiling capabilities to be operational by March next year that will be a landmark in the fight against crime," Mutua said.
Mutua shares best practices with other counties:
Samson Wanjala, 35, owner of an electronics store in Nairobi, said the Machakos security programme should be emulated by all the other county governors.
"The major threat to business in Kenya is insecurity and if governors can copy what Mutua is doing, I think the entire country will be safer and provide a conducive business environment for us to invest [in] and generate wealth for our people," he told Sabahi.
Mutua said he was open to sharing their experiences and plans with other county governments. "Already some governors have paid me visits for benchmarking purposes and I am happy about that," he said.
Bungoma Governor Ken Lusaka, who visited Mutua last week, said he was impressed by Mutua's efforts in Machakos and inspired by the security operation initiated there. "We will borrow whatever we can as long as it can make my people of Bungoma safer as it has [done for the] Machakos people," he told Sabahi.
However, Machakos Senator Johnstone Muthama cautioned against using the same security programmes in every county. "I believe every county is unique and should chart its own home-grown solutions to insecurity because copying and pasting programmes can be counterproductive," he told Sabahi.