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Gang banned years ago returns to Likoni bridge

KENYA
By Weldon Kipkemoi | April 8th 2021

It is estimated that over 300,000 commuters use the bridge daily and most of them arrive by matatus and bodabodas. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

An extortion gang dismantled by the late Cabinet minister John Michuki 16 years ago is back at the Likoni ferry in Mombasa.

Targeting Public Service Vehicles (PSVs) and boda boda riders dropping passengers using the floating bridge, the gang members are now using different names in their efforts to re-establish themselves in the region.

The gang operating in six groups and answerable to an overall gang dubbed ‘Liwatoni Floating Bridge Association’, is said to be demanding cash from the bridge’s users. This, sources say, has driven some PSVs that have been plying the Likoni route out of business.

The group operates in the full glare of security agents tasked to protect pedestrians crossing between the island to Likoni mainland.

A spot check by The Standard shows the gang issues receipts for the illegal levies every day.

According to the copies of receipts in our possession, boba boda riders dropping and picking up passengers at the bridge are forced to pay Sh100 per day. Their number plates are recorded in a book as soon as they pay.

The chairman of South Coast Matatu Workers Association Abdallah Kandi said they had been forced to withdraw vehicles from the route because of the extortion.

A 14-seater matatu is charged Sh200 per day, while 32-seater buses are forced to part with Sh200 in the morning and a similar amount in the evening.

It is estimated that thousands of commuters use the bridge daily and most of them arrive by matatus and boda bodas. This means each gang collects an estimated Sh60,000 every day.

“We withdrew our 200 PSVs from the route. We reported to the police, but nothing is being done to stop this extortion,” said Kandi.

Likoni Deputy Commissioner Francis Kazungu confirmed the presence of two factions fighting to be in charge of the bus terminus at the floating bridge.

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“There are two factions fighting for the control of the terminus. The police have a full report on the matter,” said Mr Kazungu. The administrator could not however explain why the gang was still operating.  

Fatuma Kadzo, a resident of Ukunda, Kwale County said most pedestrians are scared of using the floating bridge due to the manner in which boda boda riders and matatu drivers dropping them in the area are treated.

“It is scary and some of the bodaboda riders or even matatus are forced to drop passengers with their luggage far from the bridge,” she said.

Yesterday, the groups’ chairman Rashid Msomali defended their action saying they were levying motorists a fee for keeping law and order in the area claiming their business wasn’t illegal. 

“We are not criminal gangs. The money we collect is legal and even the local administration officials are aware. We have been operating in this area for the last four months,” said Msomali.

According to the groups’ secretary Ms Mwanahamisi Bakari, the group has 100 registered members, and the money collected daily is used for maintenance activities such as ensuring the bridge is clean. 

“Most of our youth are jobless and have to benefit from this bridge,” said Bakari, adding that the police and other security agencies were aware of their existence.

Yesterday, Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), that has seconded its officers to operate the bridge, said it was not aware that motorists were being charged for using the facility.

“We aren’t aware about any group collecting levies at the bridge,’’ said KPA Corporate Affairs manager Benard Osero.

Kenya Ferry Services communications officer Francis Mugomati said he was aware of the existence of the groups but the bridge was under KPA’s management. 

On Monday, police arrested 18 suspects, among them eight female members of the extortion gang at the bridge. The suspects were later released after Senator Mohamed Faki intervened.

“Yes, I bailed them out. The area has only two police officers and it is not a mistake for them to charge for offering security and cleaning services,” said Faki.

Yesterday, Likoni police boss Jectone Otieno had promised to give a comprehensive report on the situation before afternoon, but when we called him later, he said he was held up in a meeting at the regional police headquarters.

One of the group’s members, Mohammed Abdallah, said they paid a Sh30,000 bond to have their members released, but could not produce any form of evidence to prove his claim. 

He said the police questioned them for several hours before they were freed and directed to follow the right channel in taxing the motorists.

“Our members were released after paying Sh30,000. Police directed us that we should follow the right channel and some of our officials have gone to seek the governor’s audience on the same,” he said. 

Commission for Human Rights and Justice Executive officer Julius Ogogo said it was clear the gang was being protected by someone senior in the county government.  

“The government agencies cannot look the other way as gangs extort people openly. They even wear reflector jackets and issue receipts. If this is the way to go, then there will be chaos all over. We are a country governed by laws,” said Ogogoh.

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