By BONIFACE GIKANDI
MURANGA, COUNTY: From a distance, the buildings look like a thriving empire that is raking in millions of shillings annually. Their lustre is betrayed by the rusty roofs, which tell the story of a derelict investment that has been fighting a losing battle against the elements.
Sixteen years ago, the 15 identical houses were the talk of the sleepy Kaganjo village in Murang’a County, as village wags bragged about one of their own who had mysteriously struck it rich.
But even as the villagers talked about the windfall, crimebusters visited the area unannounced and in pursuit of the homegrown Robin Hood, Benard Matheri, son of Thuo, the man the country knew as Rasta.
The passage of time and the change of fortunes for the gangster’s family have not dissolved the mystique that surrounded the iconic thug whose exploits still send shivers down the spines of many. His name still elicits stern looks from villagers who fear repercussions from Government agents.
The three-acre compound where the incomplete housing estate started by the “enterprising” Rasta sits continues to gather cobwebs as little activity goes on. Government security operatives declared Rasta Kenya’s most wanted and dreaded outlaw and placed a price tag on his head.
In their dramatic chases, punctuated by a liberal exchange of fire, the police combed the length and breadth of Murang’a, Nairobi and other neighbouring counties.
Many villagers’ lives were turned upside down as the police sought their prey.
Despite the collective sigh of relief by security agents following the dramatic elimination of Rasta in September 1997, there are some who miss the man who was hunted down like a wild animal.
Dorcas Nyambura, a mother of six, says she is yet to come to terms with death of her beloved husband Rasta.
We traced the widow to her home, where she shared the loneliness she has experienced since her husband’s demise.
The 15 incomplete houses, each with three self-contained rooms, she explained, were supposed to be a residential estate.
“Since my husband’s death, I have lived without friends. Sometimes I went without even salt in my house. I had no one to turn to as I was branded a criminal. The situation has since improved and I am happier,” says Nyambura, who now sells potatoes from a shed at Kiriaini market as she cannot afford to complete the structures, which could have assured her of rental income.
Rasta is alleged to have been involved in major crimes in conjunction with two other notorious colleagues – Anthony Ngugi Kanagi alias Wacucu and Gerald Wambugu Munyeria also known as Wanugu – who were also felled by police bullets.
The trio’s activities in the 1990s had led the police to form a special squad to track down and kill the dreaded gangsters whose de facto leader was Rasta.
It took more that 50 elite police officers many months and misses to nail down the fearless criminal.
He was so ingenious that at some point he was said to have infiltrated the special squad, Alpha Romeo, to get intelligence on the progress of his hunt.
Today, Rasta’s incomplete estate is leased to a church.
“I had to lease it to get rid of the silence in this compound that once attracted many visitors and relatives in the 1990s.”
Rasta’s reputation as a no-nonsense gangster has in a way served his family well as it has safeguarded some of the property he had acquired.
“I was left with this land by Matheri as he had warned his relatives that his children owned the land and that is how I have retained it. People fear going against him even when he is in his grave,” she said.