Mombasa locals living in fear after dreaded youthful gangs strike again

Police officers display items recovered from gangsters in Diani, Kwale County. May 11, 2024. [Omondi Onyango, Stanandard]

Deadly juvenile gangs are slowly creeping back in Mombasa and Kwale counties where they are terrorising locals and tourists in broad daylight and at night with impunity.   

The resurgence of the gangs, with members aged as young as 13 years, has swept Kwale's Diani area and Mombasa's central business district, Kisauni, Likoni, Changamwe, and Nyali. 

A fortnight ago, a CCTV footage from Haile Selassie Avenue capturing a crowd of criminal gang robbing unsuspected locals went viral, catching security officers unawares.

Mombasa County Commissioner Mohammed Noor said he has ordered a crackdown on the gangs in Kisauni, Nyali, Jomvu, and Mvita, adding that so far 177 suspects have been arrested.

“A large number of those arrested are below 18 years,” said Noor while briefing the media on the ongoing crackdown against the juvenile gangs in Mombasa. The security officers told Sunday Standard that most of those arrested may be set free because most victims fear coming forward.

Alice Nkirote, her husband James Njilu, and their two children lost all their belongings after their house and business were torched by a gang on April 3, 2024.

“They were just kids with machetes. All they wanted was money and food. We lost everything but we thank God we are alive,” Nkirote told the media after the incident at Mjambera, Kisauni.

Meanwhile, in Kwale about 26 suspects have been arrested but security agents admit that many of them were still at large.

Diani has been voted the best beach in Africa five years in a row, but beneath this, there are heart-wrenching stories of insecurity.

We caught up with two gang members aged 16 and 17 years calling themselves Mujaheeden who gave an account of their activities which involved waylaying, attacking with machetes mostly at night, and robbing residents of money and valuables.

They have maimed and even killed some in their ill-conceived mission that has frightened many residents.

In mid-March, the juvenile gang armed with machetes, clubs, and stones accosted and injured a man who had just closed his business and was heading home at about 9 pm. He later died.

On March 8, 2024, Rose Awuor, a student at the Technical University of Mombasa Kwale campus was attacked by the same juvenile gangs and left for dead. She showed stitches on her head as proof of the harrowing experience she underwent at the hands of the menacing youths.

She explained that they were four students riding on a boda boda motorcycle from a prayer meeting at Kona Ya Musa in Diani when they were attacked by a youthful gang at 7.30 pm as they headed towards Mbuwani.

A gang of about 50 people walked towards them as one of the students rode the motorbike.

“As we passed Shamu towards the Mbuwani area, we saw a group of about 50 people. They were walking towards us. The rider then slowed down the motorbike and we were ordered to stop,” she explained.

She added: “Before we could stop they started throwing stones at us and this forced the other students who were all men to flee. As the only female, I tried to run away but they stoned me and I fell. Then around 20 of them surrounded me as they laid on my stomach,” she narrated.

She was then hit with a machete on the head before they took away her bag. Even the screams could not scare them.

The most notorious areas were identified as Shamu, Mbuwani and Mabokoni on the outskirts of Diani.

“I walked up to a nearby mosque and collapsed because I had no strength as I was bleeding profusely,” she added. 

Josiah Pindu, the rider, and student, said the gang aimed to kill and that Awour survived by sheer luck.

“I saw them take my motorbike because I was still in the area hiding somewhere in the bush after they had stopped following me. They wanted aim to attack and kill. I don’t know how they showed mercy to our lady because they could have killed her,” she said.

Another student Chrispine Odhiambo said the gang is daring and attacks with precision. “These youths attack people as if they have undergone military training,” he noted.

 Irene Mumo, a student, said the most dangerous spot is Mbuwani and urged the government to set up a police post to beef up security.

“This woman was seriously injured and had to go all the way to Msambweni hospital for treatment. She was unconscious when she arrived at the hospital. She almost died and we could be today lighting candles,” Mumo said.

The business people say it has been hard to operate as the juvenile gang maim, attacks, destroy and kill.

“About 40 youths came to my barber shop armed with pangas, clubs and stones. They stormed in and slapped my hands, and legs and destroyed all my things in the shop. They did not steal but destroyed everything,” said Collins Mwashi.

An MPesa agent Sammy Ruwa said what was happening does not give them peace as they run their businesses.

“I have to close my business early for fear of being attacked,” he said.

Msambwebi sub-county police commander Francis Gacholi however, said that few cases of insecurity have been reported.

“Of late, we have been receiving reports that there is insecurity in Diani but our statistics show that there are few cases reported,” he said.

A gang member said they have joined the groups because of a lack of jobs and neglect by their parents. He revealed their operation is mostly at night between 9 pm and 3 pm at weddings, parties, and on the way.

Before the operation, they use drugs first. He blames his parents whom he claimed have never even bought him inner clothes.

The director of Teens Watch Rehabilitation Center in Diani, Cosmas Maina claimed there are certain drugs that the gang members use.

“These machete-wielding gang members are drug users. They chew Mogoka to remain awake and other drugs. This is what makes them so charged and daring. They will not remember what they did the previous day,” he explained.

As mitigation, some youths have come up with programmes to address the problem caused by fellow youths.

The Change Youth Transform Centre (CYTC) targets both perpetrators and reformed ones. They use every means including skits, performances, and talks to urge the youths to keep off crime.

“We mobilise resourceful youth to empower others in conflict with the law, commit the crime, and are vulnerable. We have skills to rehabilitate and counsel the youth in crime or are reforming,” said CYTC) director Idd Salim.

But Mkwakwani village elder in Diani Nyawa Bakari noted that even with such efforts upbringing of children plays a big role.

“I go to houses where youth have been a problem, especially those from single mothers and try to speak to them to change their behaviour,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kwale governor Ms Fatum Achani has cautioned youths against engaging in crimes saying the law will finally catch up with them.

She told the youths who use machetes to attack and rob villagers in Diani, Waa, and Ng’ombeni areas to change their ways or face the law.

"I am really surprised that a lot of you here are youths who should be making a difference in society," she noted. Prison authorities said out of the 442 inmates, 80 percent are youths aged between 16 and 35 years.

Kwale Prison Deputy Commander Superintendent John Wainaina said that more than 80 per cent of the prisoners were aged between 16 to 35 saying that the majority were part of the juvenile criminal gangs.

"Most of our clients here are young men with many years to live ahead of them. Of the 442 occupants, more than 80 per cent are between 16 to 35 years old," he explained.

Kwale County Police Commander Stephen Ng'etich reiterated the police's commitment to ensuring a safe and secure region warning that they will deal ruthlessly with the juvenile gangs.