Building castles in Nairobi's corrupted air

Bags of cement in arranged in a row on the palace in the shed. [File, Standard]
Again and again, the House of Prayer watched as lonely figures paced up and down in front of the mabati gate. The script was always the same.

A truck would approach the gate, either from the tunnel branching off the Mombasa Road to Ole Sereni Hotel or occasionally from South C direction.

On each occasion, the occupants would spill out, as if to stretch their legs. One man would peel off from the group congregating outside the gate opposite a church made of iron sheet. In their hurried exit towards Mombasa Road, they leave behind optimistic gazes and go ostensibly to fetch a key or document from a tough-talking boss.

Minutes would turn into hours. Patience would wear thin as scowling faces sweat, as gate banging interspersed with sessions of expletive-letting and dirty swearing. And as victims flapped their hands helpless as they jingled a bunch of useless keys and papers, tempers would flare.

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Then the watchman behind the gate who has witnessed similar explosions had mastered the art of swinging his baton as he shoos away the uninvited visitors, counseling them to go lodge their complaints with the police. 

Loaded steel

The edge of the Southern By-pass has become a spectacle where the line between the Nairobi National Park with ever diminishing beasts and the concrete jungle where the underworld kings reign in blurred.

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An eye-catching skyscraper has been turned into a bait that criminals use to mint millions from unsuspecting developers. 

No rules in the concrete jungle

Sometimes in May, Peter Mwangi***, a  Thika based transporter-cum-property developer had a nasty encounter with the villains. “My friend thought he had struck a deal when he was approached by a scout in one of the properties he was constructing. The scout promised cheap steel bars,” John Maina**  added.

On the appointed day, Maina drove to Mombasa Road and held a brief meeting with an Asian man who introduced himself as the constructor in charge of the multi-million shilling project.

“Immediately he parted with Sh200,000 ostensibly to buy some steel bars, the mastermind of the racket directed a hireling to go and ensure all the steel was loaded on Mwangi’s truck,” Maina recalled.

The transaction was sealed at a food court in Nextgen Mall, where the money was handed to the bogus contractor in cash. It was not counted.

However, when they reached the building used as the bait, the hireling pretended that he was going to look for some youths to help in loading and handed over a bunch of keys to the store and some papers supposed to facilitate the movement of the consignment.

Fleeing criminal

When Mwangi spotted the man crossing Mombasa Road, intuition told him that something was wrong. He sprinted after the con man who had now safely crossed the dangerous highway.

He shot in the air to scare the fleeing criminal, attracting police officers who helped subdue the suspect. Mwangi got his money back.

But David Kioko was not as lucky. He was scouted from Chokaaa in Machakos County by a man who visited his construction site and befriended him.

The scout, who pretended that he hailed from Chokaa won Kioko’s confidence and intimated that he was employed by a company that had just completed a 15 storey building along Mombasa Road next to Next Gen Mall.

He claimed his employer had overestimated some of the building materials and that he was saddled with thousands of cement bags he had no use for.

He offered Kioko an irresistible deal. He would convince his boss to sell Kioko cement at a discounted price of Sh400 per bag instead of the market rate of Sh600. This meant substantive saving and Kioko swallowed the bait.

Kioko was taken to see the project and introduced to the scout’s boss at Next Gen Mall. Circumstances were such that they could not enter the store where the cement was because the boss was in a hurry and had not carried the keys to the store.

A deal was struck and on the appointed day, Kioko arranged for transport and paid Sh800,000 to the masquerader, planning to take home 2,000 bags of cement.

However, just as he had packed his lorries next to The Curve, waiting to be ushered into the compound to load his cargo, his host excused himself exclaiming he had forgotten to pick keys.

The scout quickly handed over a bunch of keys which he explained were to open the gate and dashed back to Next Gen Mall to fetch the right key from his boss. An hour later the host had not come back and his mobile phone was not going through.

After waiting in vain for hours Kioko ultimately reported the case at nearby police post. The matter is still pending but the perpetrators appear to have vanished into the misty air of Nairobi.

When the Saturday Standard visited Akila Police post in South C, officers intimated receiving numerous cases since 2017. “We have received many cases in the last two years. I will need some time to get all the data because the cases are scattered in different Occurrence Books dating back to 2017,” said a police officer who cannot be quoted since he is not authorised to talk to media.  

A senior DCI officer in Nairobi said there has been an alarming number of cases emanating from the same building.

He said Lang’ata Police Station has been receiving as many as five cases a day, especially weekends.

When we contacted Spartan Developers Limited with reports that their signature project has been used as a bait by criminals, the officer we talked to, was horrified.

“Oh My God, why are people so evil. We had no idea that this project has been used to con people. We have not received any complaints since the project started in 2017,” said the employee.

He added, “What can we do to save Kenyans from being exploited? I think we will put up a sign warning people that we are not selling any materials.”

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Mombasa RoadBuilding materialsNairobi constructors