NAIROBI, KENYA; Phone thieves are on the prowl on city streets and they strike when their victims least expect it. This happens mainly in the evening when it gets darker and particularly when there is heavy traffic. The most affected are those using public transport.
About a month ago, Vincent Muturi almost lost his phone in the city. “I was in a matatu heading home and when we reached Accra Road, I took out my phone to browse. Just when I was getting engrossed in the phone, a hand suddenly got in through the window and the phone dropped on the vehicle’s floor. The snatcher scratched my hand and went away,” he says.
Muturi is lucky not to have lost his phone. The phone snatchers are common on Ronald Ngala Street, Odeon area, and Tom Mboya Street. They reportedly operate at supersonic speed such that a phone vanishes in seconds. They strike on passengers mostly seated next to bus and matatu windows. Those who leave the windows open are the main targets even though the thieves sometimes skillfully slide open closed windows.
The most worrying part is that even when alarm is raised and the phone snatcher is identified, no one is willing to apprehend them. Winrose Mueni witnessed one such incident, which left her convinced that the thieves steal blatantly knowing that they can easily get away with it.
“A certain lady’s phone was snatched and when she called on passers-by to help her catch the thief who was on the run, no one bothered and everyone went about their business as the thief disappeared,” she says.
Nixon, a hawker, says it is unfortunate that in the city, you can be mugged and nobody comes to your rescue despite the heinous act happening even in the open. “I suspect that either we no longer care about the well-being of others or we fear being attacked by the perpetrators,” he says, noting some of the muggers and phone snatchers carry daggers for protection.
Many motorists roll up their car windows when in traffic jams. Matatu operators who have have witnessed many such cases say they often warn their passengers to close the windows and be alert and cognisant of the fact that a phone snatcher could be lurking around.
Henry Murunga, who has witnessed such thefts in broad daylight, says stringent measures should be put in place to arrest such incidents. “When people steal and nothing seems to happen to them, they easily graduate to serious cases of robbery,” he says.