An extortion gang has seized control of Kaharate-Kangare road in Kigumo Sub-county in Murang’a forcing all matatus plying route to pay a daily fee.
Gang members have set up multiple toll stations along the 41-kilometre route where each of the estimated 170 matatus is required to pay Sh200 to use the road.
Reports indicate that the extortion racket collects up to Sh1 million every month from random toll stations situated at Kaharate, Heho, Jikaze, Ha Kirore, Kwa Geoffrey, Muthithi (a few metres from Muthithi Police Station) and Gakira.
According to Kigumo Touts Welfare Group, the gang also charges a Sh175,000 'registration fee' for all new matatus plying the route.
Newly recruited drivers must part with Sh5,000 to be allowed to operate on the route while touts pay Sh2,500.
Those who do not pay up are assaulted by the gang.
The gang operates with such brazen impunity that not even the threat of a government crackdown will deter it from extorting matatus.
“We only take orders from those who have surrendered their matatus to us for management,” retorted one member of the gang at Kaharate Trading Centre
The gang of about 20 youths claims to verify route rights and collect rates.
According to Kigumo Commuters Association (KCA) Secretary Elias Mwangi, the Sh200 fee charged by the group is meant meant lock out competitors from the route.
“The money is meant to pay the youths to keep off business competition from other matatu saccos,” said Mwangi.
According to sources inside the cartel, the gang is bankrolled by those keen to monopolise the matatu business along the route.
The gang’s activities are said to have hit property markets on the route as potential investors shun the area citing insecurity.
“No investor is willing to risk their capital along this route. Our shopping centres cannot attract investments since this gang also executes robberies," said Mwangi.
The commuters association official accused police of laxity for failing to rein in the gang.
"Our security officers have this information yet they are not concerned,” said Mwangi.
He said every time there there were public protests against the gang, area security agents stage road patrols that eventually fizzle out.
Recently, a number of road users, matatu touts and drivers who have been locked out of the route by the gang staged took to the street in protest.
“We are tired of this gang’s influence. Anyone who refuses to part with the protection fee ends up being waylaid and assaulted," said Steve Irungu, who heads Kigumo Touts Welfare Group.
“They show up from on the road and flag us down. The arrangement is that when you are flagged down, you drop the money on the road and drive on," he said.
He claimed that the gang has been know to kidnap matatu crews that refuse to play along, and that this kidnappings have led to killings.
Murang’a County Commissioner Mohammed Barre concedes that there has been a public outcry against the gang and that a team has been assembled to address the issue.
“I do not want to make the strategy public, but I am calling on all matatus with licenses to operate on that route to bring a copy to my office. I will then seek to know who is this person that can deny someone with a government licence to operate,” he said.
He said so far he has received licences from Kenya Mpya fleets, Muna, Namu, NTK and Inter County Saccos.
He said the gang was a creation of entrenched corruption, impunity and abdication of duty by those entrusted to enforce the rule of law.
Sources said more than 10 matatu Saccos have applied to the Transport and Licensing Board to ply the route but fear beginning operations because of the gang.
Last month, Kigumo Assistant County Commissioner Margaret Muiruri declared war against the gang, warning it to brace for a bruising battle.
A month down the road, this has remained an empty threat.