NAIROBI, KENYA: It is dangerous to be a young man in Kayole. Youths claim that police arrest them at the slightest opportunity and accuse them of being members of the criminal gang known as Gaza. To stay safe, they remain indoors.
Charles Kamau, 24, works as a mason in the jua kali sector. He narrated how he lost a contract to act in a play last month after spending a weekend in jail.
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He was arrested for defending a parcel of public land that was allegedly grabbed.
Youths in Matopeni claim that land they had planned to use as a market was taken by a private developer. When Mr Kamau heard about it, he went to find out what was happening. However, he and his friend ended up being arrested. He said many of them had spent nights in police cells because of the parcel of land.
“I received a call from a friend that the place where we had planned to set up our market was being taken away from us,” Kamau said.
He had just got an acting role for a programme that would feature the matatu culture and life in the ghetto.
“Aside from my acting skills, I got the contract because I had dreadlocks. Unfortunately, when I got arrested, the police shaved my hair and I ended up losing the contract.”
Kamau said he and his friends had been arrested many times and that the police cells had become like a second home.
It does not matter whether men or women, day or night, when they are spotted in groups of two or three, all of them are arrested.
Before, he said, people were accused of robbery and causing a disturbance. But now they are accused of being members of the Gaza gang and every youth is a suspect.
Ivy Wangui, 19, said even dressing well is enough to make you suspected of being a member of the gang.
“I cannot just decide to wear my jeans and a nice blouse. When you do this, you stand out and this attracts the police,” said Ms Wangui.
In January last year, the youths came together and registered a 50-member self-help group that saw them venture into poultry farming and making ice cream. Through Bidii Youth Pioneer Group, some have started small businesses to sustain themselves and their families.
The members contribute Sh200 every week, which they use to boost one another’s businesses. But even then, the police suspect them of mischief and will harass them at every opportunity, they claim.
Isaac Wanjiru, the chairman of the group, said it would take time for the police to accept them as genuine businessmen. He narrated how one evening, police stormed their business premises just to see what they were doing.
“It was around 9pm and we were about to close when they came and threatened to shoot if we did not open. They stormed in and could not believe that we were were capable of engaging in something positive. We even gave them ice cream for free,” Wanjiru said.
But Kayole OCPD Joseph Gichangi denied claims of targeting youths and dismissed the incidents as isolated cases.
“I have not received any claims on the cases. If I did I would address them promptly,” he added.