On Monday morning, as business pick up at the noisy, crowded and humid market in Mombasa’s Majengo slums, tens of young men and women idly stroll up and down the streets, some walking alone and others in pairs and groups, evidence of what locals term as high unemployment rates in the county. It is these high rates of joblessness among the youth that residents say are fuelling crime and insecurity in the region.
Outside the Coast General Hospital, minutes away from Majengo, a few residents talk in muffled, fearful voices of recent week’s attack in Bamburi, which left 18 people injured.
Since November 2018, the residents say, marauding gangs, comprising boys as young as 12 to young men in their 20s and 30s who command the younger ones, have been defiantly roaming the streets of Mombasa in daylight, armed with knives and machetes and terrorizing anyone they run into.
The boys, whom residents say are often on drugs, brandish their weapons openly, without fear.
“They are small boys that we have seen grow up. Their parents and members of the community know they are part of the gangs but choose to protect them,” a resident told Standard.
From robbing and attacking pedestrians to conducting break-ins in residences and businesses, the residents say, the gangs have created a high-risk environment and instilled fear among the hundreds that reside in the city.
“They cut my neighbor’s arm as he was walking home last year. He had to spend three months in hospital,” reveals one woman, who opted to remain anonymous.
The gangs, she says, hunt down anyone who speaks out against them, stating, “If you attack one of them, the whole gang will come for you”.
Violence and insecurity are issues that have long characterised Mombasa. Religious leaders, under the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya’s Mombasa County Dialogue Reference Group (DRG) have been seeking to address these.
“We started national dialogue in September 2017, comprising around 600 people from all counties to deliberate on issues affecting the common Kenyan. We moved down to county dialogue conferences so Kenyans can deliberate on issues affecting the county and the nation as a whole,” says Reverend Martin Kivuva, chair of IRCK’s Dialogue Reference Group.
Rev. Kivuva reflects on the causes of violence and insecurity in the county, stating, “As we see in Coast, despite having beaches, hotels, the port, education is still lagging. We lead from the bottom. The problem is that many have not stressed on education, not because they don’t want to, but because there are many distractions. Tourism and the port both have their benefits and disadvantages,” he says.
Ms. Hamisa Maalim, a Momabsa resident and the Secretary General of the dialogue group in Mombasa, says dialogue instituted by the IRCK has been instrumental in promoting security and peace.
“Muslims and Christians did not get along. Muslims blamed Christians for radicalisation and terrorism, while locals blamed Kenyans from other regions for taking their jobs. The county dialogues have helped us learn that the stereotypes we had of each other were wrong,” Ms. Maalim adds.
Aside from intervening in issues affecting Mombasa County, the DRG has also held dialogues in 34 other counties, aiming to bring solutions to problems facing Kenyans not just at national level, but also in the counties.
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