Alarm as country in the grip of 326 gangs

More than 300 criminal gangs have been formed in the past seven years, a new Government report has revealed.

The report titled Borderland-related Crimes and Security Threats, was released by the National Crime Research Centre, a State agency under the Interior ministry.

It says the number of gangs has risen from 33 in 2010 to 326 by 2017, which is an exponential growth of 897 per cent within seven years, or 128 per cent growth each year.

The number of the gangs nationwide, however, could be much higher given the study covered 21 border counties, where there have been frequent outbursts of violence in the last two years.

The criminals, sponsored by politicians and wealthy businessmen in collaboration with corrupt Government officials, engage in maiming, kidnapping for ransom and killing of innocent civilians.

They also traffic in explosives that are used in terrorist attacks.

The report warns that the gangs’ grip on the country will continue tightening and that their attacks could become bolder unless those who bankroll the criminal enterprises are exposed and prosecuted.

Mombasa, Bungoma, Kisumu and Kwale counties are listed as having the highest number of gang members. Early this week, residents of Bamburi in Mombasa witnessed an unprecedented orgy of violence when tens of residents were hacked in a three-hour night attack.

Interior CS Fred Matiang’i blamed the resurgence of criminal gangs on political mobilisation.

“We know that political mobilisation is the cause of the revival of criminal gangs in the country, not just in Central Kenya, but also at the Coast. Any attempts to revive criminal gang activity will be dealt with in a firm and decisive manner. I will personally visit the Coast soon to see what is going on there,” Dr Matiang’i said in Nyeri yesterday. (See separate story)

There are 42 gangs in Mombasa, including Wakali Wao, which is said to have staged Monday’s ruthless attack that left 14 people injured and locals terrified.

There are 23 gangs in Bungoma, which experienced a wave of macabre killings early this year. Kisumu residents have been living in fear of 19 gangs while peace and security in Kwale is threatened by 15 criminal groups.

The gangs are heavily funded by politicians and business people, which explains their growth despite the Government ban and crackdown.

Corrupt State officials are also in a spot for being complicit in the gangs’ resurgence by allowing the criminals to operate freely after being bribed by their kingpins.

The surge in gang numbers can also be linked to the 2017 General Election, because politicians have always used the groups to run violent campaigns against opponents.

According to the report tabled in the National Assembly, the gangs are so brutal that county locals fear acknowledging that they exist.

The groups have devised ways of evading detection by changing their names to defeat monitoring efforts by security agencies.

Smuggle firearms

The report further indicted Immigration officers on claims of receiving bribes to allow the gangs to smuggle in firearms from neighbouring countries of Somalia, South Sudan and Ethiopia.

“Other studies have established the existence of organised criminal gangs in all counties in Kenya, some of which, like the Al-Shabaab, take advantage of border porosity.

“These organised criminal gangs have been found to engage in criminal activities that include armed robbery, illicit drug trafficking, vehicle theft and trafficking, extortion, kidnapping for ransom, money laundering, livestock theft, firearm smuggling, theft of antiques and jewellery, counterfeiting, illegal trafficking of explosives and environmental crimes,” reads the report.

It also found that there was a link between the menace of criminal gangs and security threats occasioned by porous borders. Border officers were also discovered to have facilitated the illicit smuggling of goods, including firearms and drugs, by receiving bribes from criminals.

“Rogue public officials perpetrated borderland-related crimes and security threats by taking bribes and allowing illegal items to cross the border, with 63.6 per cent taking no action even in the case of reported security issues, while 19.9 per cent were involved in smuggling of illegal goods.”

Some officials were also said to collude with criminals by working as their informants to beat security checks.

The National Crime Research Centre recommends that those found culpable should be named, arrested and prosecuted before the security threats spiral out of control.

It says that it is only by taking drastic measures such as parading the financiers that the leadership of the criminal networks can be destabilised.

“Therefore, the effective identification, arrest, prosecution and sentencing of organised crime kingpins, politicians, business people and wayward and corrupt Government officials who support or collaborate with organised criminal groups would, to a large extent, destabalise organisational leadership and network structures of the groups,” the report reads.

The report further recommends that public security management agencies in counties harbouring organised criminal groups should give special focus to proliferation of groups in their respective regions.

Risk factors

“Further, the risk factors around the emergence, spread and crimes of organised criminal gangs must be effectively addressed,” it adds.

It also recommends that the Interior ministry and other relevant agencies in the criminal justice system give special attention to improved identification and targeting of terrorists, along with their weapons.

The report further says there should be a routine publication of names of criminal gangs, organised crime kingpins, politicians, business people and wayward Government officials who support the groups, as well as continuous and effective mapping and surveillance of organised criminal group hot spots.

The report reveals that the youth were the most likely to engage in criminal activities.

“Findings of the study indicated that the majority (54.8 per cent) of the perpetrators of the borderland-related crimes and security threats were aged between 15 and 30, followed by 31 to 45 at 31.7 per cent,” says the report.

Children were also found to be involved in criminal undertakings such as surveying, spying and smuggling and transporting illegal items.