Stem rise of extortion gangs within counties

High drama usually escorts public arrests in Kenya, the magnitude of the perceived offence notwithstanding. What comes out is a study in barbarism that often results in misuse of guns, handcuffs, excessive force, etcetera.

Hence, it was no surprise when Busia Governor Sospeter Ojaamong was handcuffed, in the full glare of journalists, by mean-looking men, armed to the teeth, after he presented himself to the arresting authorities. Opposition leaning tycoon Jimmy Wanjigi had gone through similar drama earlier, yet simple common sense showed there was nil chance of the high profile personalities attempting to escape.

Handcuffs in particular are so misused in Kenya that they have become convenient tools of extortion by real and pseudo law enforcers. What I recently witnessed in Kisumu props my argument.

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While it is cheeky and indecorous to urinate in public places, arrests must not be bullish, barbaric or humiliating, more so in a city like Kisumu where public toilets are scarce.

Pressed to relieve his bladder, a young man was about to do his natural thing against a bushy hedge off the dual Kondele and Mamboleo carriageway, currently under construction, when an ordinary looking 14-seater matatu pulled over close by. Out of the blue, a burly man seated with the driver shouted expletives at him in Dholuo, prompting the lad to stop his appointment with nature, dumbfounded.

The chap, towering and stocky with trousers pulled above his navel and secured on his belly jumped out of the matatu. Another man joined him shortly.

Together, they confronted the disoriented young man, vociferously barking orders at him to get into the matatu as he was under arrest for being a public nuisance, dirtying the city. When the lad hesitated, out of confusion, the second man flushed out what looked like handcuffs, and said; tim piyo koso agoyi opingo (be fast or else I handcuff you). The matatu passengers remained calm, but the driver was curiously restive and harsh to the hapless lad.

But this was no ordinary matatu, and the uncomplaining passengers were, like the young man, under arrest by the overzealous trio in plainclothes passing off as county law enforcers. The harsh driver was one of them, edgily crouched over the steering, having forcibly taken control from the legitimate driver.

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The duo bundled the young man into the matatu and sped off towards Kondele. Curiosity took the better of me and I followed them on a motorbike, eager to know how the drama would end.

The matatu abruptly detoured into a side road off Kibuye open-air market and stopped by the roadside moments later. The young man jumped out, looking distraught and disturbed. He had parted with Sh500 to buy his freedom.

Describing the trio as extortionists, the young man said they had demanded Sh1,000 from him, but he pleaded with them to take Sh500. They wanted Sh10,000 from the matatu crew who were adamant that they did not have the money amid exhortations from the masqueraders that they call their boss for the money or else face a hefty fine in a city court.

The Kisumu episode is but the tip of the iceberg in illegal taxation that is in vogue in county governments across the country. Nairobi’s notoriety as the hub of uncouth council askaris is well documented.

Hawkers will tell you that they are still beaten even if they part with money daily that goes to line up private pockets. Askaris, commonly known as kanjo, many of them outright thugs, subject citizens to humiliation and extortion in the guise of enforcing bylaws.

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Abuse and exaction to defraud the public effervesces without demur alongside grand corruption. From exaggerated billings for water and other basics to parking lots where money changes hands without official receipts, the trend is the same.

As garbage piles up under the noses of lethargic workers eyeing instant money, clumping of vehicles is done with alacrity because resultant towing generates easy cash for park attendants, police officers and city mandarins who own the bulk of the recovery vehicles.

It is the same story at bus and matatu termini, at markets -everywhere!  Like traffic police who have brazenly converted roadblocks into unofficial toll stations to fill their cavernous midriffs, unscrupulous individuals in the Counties are using threats to reap where they have not sown.

It is the height of moral decay, as has happened in Kenya, when God’s hallowed name is used to extort from the innocent faithful.

The collared crooks have been known to exploit poverty to fulfil their greed. Hungry elements in the flock are identified and paid peanuts to mislead unsuspecting faithful into believing that true miracles are happening with the aim of minting money.

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Remember the woman who testified to twisting her mouth to one side throughout a sermon for pay that the pastor failed to honour? The lame and the blind that have been purported to miraculously walk and see?

And mobile money transfer services have been turned into a con cog, not only by prisoners in maximum-security facilities, but by preachers as well. Remember Pastor Victor Kanyari and his plant a seed regime? Take care!

Mr Ombuor is a Senior Writer with The [email protected]

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