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Yes, it’s this easy to buy a firearm in Nairobi slums

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By JECKONIA OTIENO | Feb 15th 2014 | 4 min read
                                             Buying  firearms has become very easy  in Kenya               PHOTO: COURTESY

By JECKONIA OTIENO

The increasing rate of crime in the country has been blamed on the high number of unlicenced guns held by civilians.

Cases of robberies, carjackings and thefts in a number of towns are a common feature in the news.

Most of the weapons used to commit these crimes are small arms, which are easy to buy and stash away from public glare and knowledge of the authorities.

But does the government know just how easy — but dangerous — it is to acquire a gun?

In the slums of Huruma, Kiamaiko and Korogocho in Nairobi, trade in pistols thrives. Acquiring such weapons is not difficult if one knows the correct channels to follow and who is who in the underworld.

The trade goes on as if there is nobody to keep it in check. In Huruma, the trade in firearms is sometimes so open it only needs police vigilance to stop it.

My journey to the underworld of light weapons trade starts at Huruma Corner where I meet Jemo, who has contacts he says can sell us guns. But he has a warning: “You have to write a will because in this world you trust nobody.”

Just before we begin our mission, he asks what type of weapon I want and I say a Browning, the first make that comes to mind.

Jemo shakes his head and says that is an old model. He suggests a .45 or an SMG, which, he says, are a bit more expensive. I tell him I want a small gun because I have a small job to do. He advises that I bring with me Sh25,000.

However, after much haggling, we settle on Sh20,000. He laments that there will be nothing in it for him as he will be doing it for me “as a friend”.

His initial warning remains: “Prepare for anything”.

In a short session, Jemo offers me rudimentary lessons on how to identify and evade the cops in the sprawling estate once I have the firearm with me. But I tell him I know the routes too well.

On the appointed day, Jemo and his friend — who he only introduces as Mwas — meet me at Huruma Corner and we start our journey to the dilapidated Huruma Stadium.

We perch on one of the walls and wait. Then a man, probably a 25-year-old, joins us.

After sizing me up, he asks if I am not one of them (a police officer). He is assured by Jemo that I am a sincere buyer and he introduces himself as Addo. After small talk, we get down to business and the stage is set for a week later at the same venue.

We are to come with the money.

On the appointed day, however, I only carry Sh10,000 to test the waters. I show Jemo the cash and tell him the rest is with me.

He asks me to give Mwas Sh10,000 and keep the rest with me.

Escape routes

The plan set, we are to take different positions in the stadium, just in case there is need to escape.

There entire transaction is dangerous. The middlemen will either con the buyer of his money or one gets shot in the process.

“We have to maintain a distance of about 100 metres apart,” insists Jemo.

The transaction begins at midmorning, and when we are set and happy all the escape routes are safely mastered, we wait.

An hour later Addo is not back. Another half hour and Jemo is convinced that nothing is going to happen. We leave Huruma disappointed. “Seems like Addo did not trust you,” says Jemo.

But a week later, we are at it again, this time in Korogocho, where Addo has promised he will get us the gun. As usual, we divide the money amongst us.

We take vantage positions one late evening on the advice of Jemo, who disappears into one of the alleys with Addo to collect the weapon. After a few minutes of waiting, Jemo comes back running and signals us to escape. I see Addo in hot pursuit. I can tell he is armed.

I do not wait around any longer. We get to Huruma Corner and I safely get my money back, tip Jemo and Mwas and leave, of course with a promise to be back.

Booming trade

This is what goes on everyday in Huruma, Kiamaiko and Korogocho, I am told. The number of illegal immigrants in this area cannot be accounted for, hence the booming firearms trade.

In Kiamaiko, for example, it is hard to determine who among the firearms dealers is a Kenyan and who is not. Those we spoke to say the arms might be coming on board the trucks that ferry live animals from North Eastern Kenya to the abattoirs in the slum.

When he was in charge at Kenya National Focal Point on Small Arms and Light Weapons, David Kimaiyo — now Inspector General of Police — said: “We are a signatory of international instruments and we have put in necessary measures. We have been in the UN programme to combat and eradicate the proliferation of arms”.

It remains to be seen if Mr Kimaiyo will eradicate these weapons now that he is at the helm of the Kenya Police Service.

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