Recent incidents in Central Kenya have raised fears that violent gangs-for-hire may be making a comeback.
Last week, a gang descended on Murang’a Water and Sanitation Company (Muwasco) headquarters and vandalised CCTV cameras placed in strategic places in the compound.
They then proceeded to vandalise the firm's property in full view of police, smashing windows, breaking doors and carting away files.
The incident has sparked fear that hired gangs could be making a come-back in Central Kenya.
A month ago, there was another incident in Kirinyaga that went largely unnoticed.
About 10 men forced their way into Kerugoya Level 5 Hospital and left with a patient, who had been admitted a few hours earlier with injuries sustained from a road accident.
The gang roughed up the guards who tried to prevent them from accessing the wards, shoved away the doctors and nurses who were treating the patient and drove off with him in a convoy of vehicles.
The patient, who was admitted with multiple fractures, was yet to receive any treatment.
In Kiambu, a former county executive for roads was assaulted by a group of men. John Mugwe was part of a group of residents who were delivering a petition to Governor Ferdinand Waititu at Kiambu town.
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A group of men drove into the compound in three Land Rovers and descended on the protesters with kicks and blows in an area guarded by armed officers.
Waititu was in his office as the assault ensued right below his window.
The Governor denied that he sent the men to attack the protesting residents or that the men responsible were county enforcement officers.
He said the group was attacked by people who were queuing to see him after the former attempted to jump the queue.
"I did not send anyone to beat up Mugwe and his group. They tried to jump the queue and the people became furious, attacked and threw them out of the office," Waititu responded when asked about the incident during an interview by a vernacular station.
In almost all the incidents, no action has been taken against those culpable, even when they were known to the public.
In the Murang'a incident, some youth attacked employees of Muwasco, who were picketing against the county administration, accusing it of plotting to take over water provision.
Although police later intervened and calmed the situation, the gang had by then done extensive damage to property. The youth confronted the protesters with sticks and stones, leaving some injured.
Eston Gathima, a victim of last week's incident, is still nursing his injuries and claims that he has also been denied services at public health facilities in Murang'a.
Fear of victimisation
Yesterday, Gathima said those who assaulted him were known to him and that his attempts to obtain a P3 form in public health facilities locally had been thwarted by officials who feared to be victimised.
"The assailants are well known. This is not the first time they are committing such heinous crimes," said Gathima.
One of those attacked was a new mother who, according to reports, had just returned from maternity leave.
Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs Chief Administrative Secretary Rachel Shebesh and a host of women leaders from Murang'a County went to the county after the incident.
"I heard that the woman we saw on television being assaulted had just reported back from maternity leave and she was beaten at her place of work. She needs to record a statement and the law must take it's course," Mrs Shebesh said.
Murang'a Woman MP Sabina Chege and MPs Alice Wahome (Kandara), Mary Waithera (Maragua) and Ruth Mwaniki (Kigumo) said there was need to check the rise of violence in the county.
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The leaders called for respect of the rule of law and an end to violent confrontations. They were particularly upset by the assault on the woman and called for action.
Waithera asked police to arrest culprits caught on camera assaulting the woman.
"It's regrettable that the dispute was extended to employees who were in their place of work. The Director of Public Prosecution should order arrest of these culprits," she said.
Murang'a Governor Mwangi wa Iria, however, denied having a hand in the violence and accused the lawmakers of trying to shield people who had been ripping off the public.
The governor said he was determined to serve the citizens and ensure they got water at affordable tariffs. Water, he said, was a devolved function.
"I deal directly with a lady called Wanjiku, who voted for me, and that is why I'm fighting for her," he said.
The chaos over water is one among the incidents reported in Central Kenya recently, but with little being done to bring to book those responsible.
In January, a fight broke out among ward representatives from Murang'a during a meeting at a hotel in Kiambu.
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Unconfirmed reports indicated that some ward representatives hired a gang to attack their rivals.
The entire incident was captured on camera but no decisive action has been taken against those responsible.
While denying existence of the organised criminal gangs, new Central Region Directorate of Criminal Investigations boss Danson Diru said he could not comment on previous incidents but police were already following the Murang'a case.
Mr Diru blamed victims for not reporting to the police.
"We cannot let impunity persist. If the cases are reported to us we do everything we can. In the Murang'a case, we have already arrested suspects and they are in court. But in some of the other incidences we are powerless since no one complained," said Diru.
Some police officers who did not want to be named confessed that they were afraid of responding to some incidents due to local politics.
"We have seen what has happened to some of our colleagues who dared to question the status quo. They were either transferred or disciplined on flimsy grounds," said the officer.
Murang'a County Commissioner John Elung'ata dismissed claims of hired gangs.
[Additional reporting by Boniface Gikandi]