By Jeckonia Otieno
Gun shots rang out on Tom Mboya Street shattering the morning peace. Then followed screams as pedestrians scrambled for safety.
After the dust had settled, two women lay bleeding on the asphalt, shot dead by police as they attempted to steal a side mirror from a car that was stuck in the traffic jam.
The theft of side mirrors, wheel caps, wind visors and car lights have become commonplace. Recently, the Nairobi County Police Commander, Benson Kibui, set up a 150-member team of undercover police officers to deal with this menace. This action has elicited a sigh of relief in many quarters because today, there are some roads that motorists venture into at their peril.
Peter Mwangi says he has lost two side mirrors in broad daylight to vicious thieves carrying knives and firearms.
Mwangi has felt the helplessness of hundreds of thousands of motorists, many who now disfigure their vehicle by securing their side mirrors with chains and using rivets to protect their wind visors by the windows.
Thieves mostly target cars manufactured in Japan for their accessories which they sell as spare parts to repair dealers, says Mwangi.
“It is quite rare to see a mirror secured to a Mercedes Benz or a Jaguar perhaps because the spares of these cars do not have a ready markert,” says Mwangi.
Police say spare parts thefts are most common along the Globe Cinema roundabout in Nairobi’s CBD. Juja Road, Outering Road, Machakos Country Bus Station and the Githurai roundabout are also unsafe and rising crime has prompted the police to act.
“We want to clean this city completely. We will arrest and take the criminals to court, but if any of them is armed and defies orders to surrender, my officers are under instructions to shoot,” said Kibui while announcing the existence of the undercover squad.
He says some of the criminals are armed and dangerous and so officers have had to respond by using force. Most robbers target women who they view as harmless and helpless.
With the perennial traffic jams in Nairobi, drivers are forced to keep their windows closed, even when it is steaming outside.
“If you don’t roll up your windows, you are likely to lose your valuables from marauding thieves, yet when you lock yourself inside the car, you are still likely to lose your side mirrors or wheel caps,” says Fred Ndolo, whose side mirror was stolen along the Machakos Country Bus Station.
The criminals are emboldened by the weapons they have. A report by the Security Research and Information Centre points to an increase in illegal firearms in the country. The report states that in just 10 months, police were able to recover 128 rifles, 60 pistols, 10 toy pistols and 36,458 rounds of ammunition in regular police operations.
These excluded the 1,064 firearms and 3,078 rounds of ammunitions recovered from a disarmament operation in the same period. In 2011, 368 firearms and 16,388 rounds of ammunition were recovered, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) says.
This probably means that more firearms are in the wrong hands remotely translating into why even petty thieves are armed to the teeth.
The report lists the crime hotspots in Nairobi’s Dagoretti area, particularly Sokomjinga, Muslim, Stage 2, Magethodia and Waithaka kwa Ng’ang’a. In the Zion area of Dagoretti, criminals with guns pretend to be members of street families who roam the alleys.
In Starehe, areas such as Ngara, Kariakor, Mlango Kubwa, No. 10, Huruma, Kiamaiko and Mathare have been identified as crime hot spots. Juja Road, a few metres from the Mathare slums, is notorious for snatch thefts mainly when traffic is heavy.