|Mechanics at work in a Kisumu city garage. [Photo: Collins Oduor/Standard]|
By Protus Onyango
Kisumu, Kenya: They lie in wait as hungry lions do for unsuspecting prey. Once they spot their kill, they make quick and well-calculated moves and before you know it, you are ‘dead meat’.
Their swift and well-choreographed actions have left many puzzled.
Many vehicles, especially private cars, have been left without essential components after the owners fell victim to the the wiles of these sham mechanics plying their scam in the lakeside city of Kisumu.
A car glides into a garage and, in a matter of seconds, it has been divested of its most expensive parts, leaving nothing but bitter memories.
And the thugs masquerading as mechanics along Otieno Oyoo Road in the city’s Central Business District (CBD) have a flair for luring unsuspecting motorists into their trap.
Investigations by The Standard have revealed that the rogue mechanics chose this stretch because it – strategically – has more than three filling stations.
Other than the petrol stations, the road is also dotted with jua kali sheds and a genuine garage, christened Kamas/Uganda garage,where bona fide mechanics ply their trade.
About twenty metres from the garage is Obote Road, which leads to the Kisumu International Airport.
Along both sides of the road are men in blue overalls who, once they spot a potential victim, run towards the car and make the driver believe that the tyres of his car are wobbling and almost coming off.
And once the driver slows down, he or she is directed to Makasembo Road where the ‘mechanics’ remove the tyre as soon as the car stops.
The driver is then courteously directed to a seat as they work on the car. It is here that the nightmare starts!
Gilbert Wesonga, an employee of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) recounts the ordeal he went through at the hands of the ‘mechanics’.
“I was with my family when I pulled up at one of the petrol stations to refuel. When we left the station, a group of men rushed to my car, indicating that one of the tyres was coming off,” recounted Mr Wesonga.
“They directed me to a makeshift garage. When I got out of the car, one of them was already holding the ‘faulty’ tyre. I was given a seat and three of them opened the car bonnet.”
Before he knew it, one ‘mechanic’ had already pulled out some parts of the engine, which he said he would take to a specific workshop, where there supposedly was an expert in that make of engines.
“I was shocked when he came back and demanded that I pay Sh30,000 for the service. I had to go to the bank to withdraw the money because they were threatening to detain my car. I was embarrassed in front of my family,” Wesonga narrated. A Briton doing research with a non-governmental organisation in Kisumu also fell prey to the thugs.
He underwent the same experience as Wesonga and given that he could not speak Kiswahili, he was an easy victim as he could not understand what the thugs were saying.
“They stopped and directed me to a shed. Then they yanked my doors open and said my car had many mechanical problems and advised I wait as they worked on it,” he said.
He had to wait for four hours as one of them had left with the carburetor, saying it was defective and had to be fixed elsewhere.
“He returned after four hours and demanded that I pay Sh20,000. To my surprise, I also learnt that my laptop, Ipad, two mobile phones and 500 US Dollars were missing. All the mechanics had mysteriously disappeared,” the researcher said.
A driver with the Kenya Revenue Authority at Customs House in Kisumu almost lost his job when he handed over his designated car to his boss to use.
“I took the car to a garage a day earlier and handed it to my boss to use the following day. The fake mechanics told him the car was defective,” he said. “My boss called and asked why I had given him a car with mechanical problems. He threatened me with disciplinary action. But I told him to proceed with the journey and in case of any trouble, I would take responsibility. The car was okay,” he added.
The fake mechanics are said to milk more money from people who cannot speak Dholuo. Once they convince you that your car has a problem, the minimum you will pay is Sh15,000.
If you refuse, they become rowdy and threaten to beat you up. Some of them will even take whatever they can lay their hands on and within minutes, disappear.
Kisumu OCPD Joe Lekuta said the police are aware of the activities of the ‘mechanics’.
“We have received complaints from members of the public and arrested six suspects. They are in custody awaiting arraignment in court,” Mr Lekuta said.
He added: “We have intensified night and day patrols in the affected areas. I urge motorists to repair their vehicles at designated garages to avoid falling prey to the goons.”