Kenya: Inside Soweto Slum in Kasarani, the Home of Illicit Brew and Hard Drugs

Photo: Capital FM
Soweto slum in Nairobi.
11 September 2019
opinion

Nairobi — Soweto slum in Kasarani constituency is an island of secrets.

It is a tiny slum where hard drugs and illicit brew is sold openly in food kiosks.

This is a slum that harbours the mysteries of a nation; where more than 60 percent of households engage in brewing Chang'aa and Busaa-the traditional illicit brews also common in rural areas, a majority of youths are unemployed and engaged in crime, selling drugs or both, while law enforcement agencies have turned a blind eye on the vices. At a fee.

Spread over a land of approximately 50 acres, the slum is also a den of thugs and according to locals, there are more litres of Chang'aa as there is of water.

While it is profiled as a crime hotspot by police, the slum is lately on the spot after a police officer's stray bullet killed a 3-year-old baby, during a confrontation sparked by a disagreement over a Sh100 bribe.

In this dilapidated slum, you will find walking zombies--some as young as 15 years, any time of the day or night.

This is a story of Soweto, as told by a section of the elderly residents, worried that their children risk extinction unless something drastic is done really quick.

It is a story that paints desperation amid scavenging by law enforcers, who have placed their get rich quick appetite ahead of anything else, including the future of Soweto-the children and youth.

-In Soweto, there are no rules-

On Tuesday, I made what was to be a second visit to the densely populated slum, on the request of a section of the residents, who wants the rot exposed.

"I am tired of seeing young kids die due to Chang'aa and drugs," Jecinta Wambui said, at the start of the interview, inside her two-bedroom shanty.

It is the death of baby Dan Githinji that has triggered her will to speak out, amid fear of violence and intimidation.

To silence those who speak out against the vices, criminals burn their houses using petrol, she said.

On Tuesday, two houses were torched within the slums under unclear circumstances.

"It is a common phenomenon," Wambui said, revealing that a section of locals have resulted in seeking divine intervention, as a survival tact.

"We rarely have police patrolling Soweto. They only come to collect bribes."

While there, Capital News crew witnessed tens of youths injecting themselves with unknown substances which locals believe are hard drugs, openly smoking bhang, as others consumed the crisp-clear Chang'aa like coffee, on a cold morning in London.

"I am speaking out since I fear losing my son to Chang'aa. He cannot bathe, he cannot eat... " Wambui said, staring at the sagging ceiling of her house.

Her teary eyes had turned red.

-My son quit her managerial job due to Chang'aa-

His son John sleeps on the corridor of their house, and to shield him from rain, they have built a cover.

This year alone, he has been admitted five times in hospital; one at the Kenyatta National Hospital and the rest at the Kiambu Level Four hospital.

"The latest he was admitted was in June. I spent over Sh20,000 on his medication," Wambui said of his 37-year-old son.

The second born in a family of seven, and once a beacon of hope in their financially challenged family.

Now a Chang'aa addict and a divorced father of two.

His story is a secret only known to family members, but one harboured on a light flowery, dirty mattress, stashed on the corridors - where he sleeps after a long day, wasting away.

"I don't want to lose him," Wambui said as if pleading with unknown forces.

-Failed community policing-

We caught up with Margaret (not her real name), who is one of the Nyumba Kumi representatives in the area. She seems to know what ails the slum.

"It is the hard drugs coming from Ruiru that are destroying the youth," Margaret said.

She told of a recent incident when two rival groups fought over drugs in broad daylight.

"They resulted to burn them since they could not agree how they will share the proceeds," she claimed of the incident, which she claims is well known to security officers at the nearby Maziwa Police post.

Her concerns over drugs, Chang'aa, and other vices seem all genuine until we arrived in her residence.

Capital FM Crew 'accidentally' bumped into her worker's packaging chang'aa into 5 litres jerricans. In one of the rooms, there were more than 20 jerricans, all with the killer brew.

A shaken and embarrassed Margaret aborted the interview and escaped into thin air. Other members of the community policing approached by Capital News declined to grant us an interview.

With such people acting as the eyes of Soweto, the future is blurred.

-Chang'aa is our cash crop-

In Soweto, one is likely to step on flowing chang'aa than a raw sewer, despite the area having wanting drainage systems.

"It is our cash crop," George Waigwa, a resident said.

According to Waigwa, Soweto "is the industry of the brew" which is circulated in Githurai, Kamai and Ruiru areas.

Those behind the business don't drink, Waigwa said.

From our spot, we could see a Toyota Harrier car being loaded with jerricans of the illicit brew.

"This will be transported to various parts in the city. No one can suspect that such a car can ferry chang'aa," he said.

Staggering men in tattered clothes were seen ferrying the jerricans from one household to the car as others waited for motorcycles.

They are paid back with two glasses of Chang'aa at the end of the job, one local told us.

A glass goes for Sh20, while a 200 litre-tank is sold between Sh3,000 and Sh5,000, according to locals.

Its effects are all over since one could see tens of men idling or lying along a railway line that cuts across the slum.

As it is in other parts of informal settlements in Nairobi, youthful criminal gangs are slowly taking charge of the slums, according to locals.

If they are not breaking into houses, they are targeting people who are new in the area.

"They are our children. The aged criminals only sleep here but they are mostly in Kayole," Wambui said, pointing to a house she claimed hosts a group he described as 'hardened criminals' from Kayole.

One of the thugs was recently killed by his accomplices after publicly denouncing his dark past and returned a gun he had been using.

Another local, who was a member of a criminal gang based in Kayole, was killed by his counterparts early this month after he came out as a reformed person.

Also observed was the high rate of births in the area, mostly by young girls as young as 14 years.

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