By Austine Okande

The distraught woman screams for help as she watches two young men vanish into the crowd with her belongings. Dazed, Jane Rotich holds her newborn baby tightly while her three-year-old son hangs onto her. Tears of helplessness flow.

“I have just lost a 10kg sack of maize. My clothes are gone, my phone and a purse with all my cash,” a tearful Rotich tells The Standard.

Rotich’s encounter with the thieves took less than a minute but it was so profound that she thought it took an eternity.

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It is not, however, a strange thing at this busy Machakos Bus Station in Nairobi. Hundreds of passengers lose their luggage or are mugged every other minute.

Their screams for help are drowned by the loud music and rowdy touts shouting for customers. The cry for help does not seem to reach the police officers on patrol near the station.

One of them told The Standard that the ‘normal’ thuggery associated with any busy place has mutated in recent times to become a flourishing organised crime.

Interviews with passengers and some business people here revealed that the outlawed Mungiki could be taking root at the station. But no one was ready to say this aloud, or point out a member — instead they spoke in whispers, fear written all over their faces.

Move in swiftly

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After targetting their quarry, the criminals move in swiftly and within seconds, the robbery is completed and the thugs vanish, the officer added.

Some passengers, who often use the station, say they have been victims or have witnessed a daylight robbery. One said he was robbed while police were watching and the officers didn’t do anything.

“Once you are here, you must know you are on your own. You have to take care of your luggage knowing that it can disappear any time,” he said.

Job Mai, a preacher at the terminus says, “I earn a decent living by preaching. I loathe it when I see commuters harassed by thugs and the police turn a blind eye.” 

Ironically, the station’s location is supposedly a secure place as Muthurwa Police Station is across the road and Kamukunji Police Station is just a stone throw away.

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It is the busiest upcountry commuter terminus in the capital estimated to serve more than 10,000 commuters daily. And the numbers are swelling as the year comes to an end and many city residents travel upcountryto spend December festivities with family.

Quick money

With such huge numbers, thugs obviously see an easy target to make quick money.

There are alternatives to travelling upcountry through safer means such as eleven-seater shuttles, but most prefer these vehicles because the fares are pocket friendly — one can pay half the price shuttles charge.

Being a busy station, Machakos is host to hundreds of idle youth, street urchins and homeless families.

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It is also the business hub for many serious merchants and small-scale businesses as well as a source of employment to many individuals. The Government also collects millions of shillings from the station on daily basis.

There are also other vices that thrive in this station. You can get all types of outlawed drugs, fake currency and chang’aa.

In a telephone interview, Robinson Mboloi, OCPD Nairobi Central, says: “We have received complaints from residents but only mild ones about the criminal activities at the terminus. We would be glad to respond in haste if furnished with any information regarding such allegations.”

When we visited the Kamukunji Police Station to inquire about the increased criminal activities at the bus terminus, two officers at the OB confirmed that there has been an increase in reported incidents in the recent past.

Vigilant

“We urge the public to give us information that will lead to the arrest of these criminals. Commuters should also be more vigilant more so during the night when travelling upcountry especially during the approaching festive season,” said one of the officers.

A ground nut seller at the market says the criminals are so ruthless that those with businesses at the terminus have to pay Sh150 weekly to ‘faceless’ people. They suspect Mungiki is slowly taking over the station.

“If you don’t, you are doomed as your goods get destroyed. The fear of the unknown make most of us shy away from reporting to the police, as the thugs get released as soon as they are arrested,” he said.

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