By JOE KIARIE
Nairobi, Kenya: For decades, private space has characterised the lives of most residents in Kenya’s high-end neighbourhoods.
With bungalows set in the heart of expansive land, only the respective families, their guests, workers and guards know what happens behind the high walls.
Unlike in the lower level settlements where socialisation helps curb crime, some residents in the exclusive suburbs admit to not knowing their neighbours despite being separated by a fence for years.
But this is about to change as armed criminals increasingly turn these suburbs into their playgrounds. Robbers have been exploiting this isolation of residents to break into homes, rob and terrorise families for hours with no alarm raised.
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In Muthaiga, traditionally one of Kenya’s most secure zones, residents have agreed to adopt a communal approach to dealing with insecurity after several crime incidents.
“Every family must now obtain their neighbour’s mobile telephone number so that it becomes easy to raise the alarm in the event of an attack,” reveals Joseph Theuri, the Muthaiga North Residents’ Association chairman. “We will also increase our interconnection so that we can know easily who enters and who leaves the area.”
Residents have also agreed to install security systems and alarms in each home to facilitate rapid response.
Mr Theuri says cases of burglary and carjacking have reached alarming levels in Muthaiga, a situation he says could get worse if drastic action is not taken.
In January, an Administration Police officer guarding the home of High Court judge Lydia Achode in New Muthaiga Estate was shot dead by gangsters in a robbery attempt. More recently, a woman broke her leg after she jumped from a first floor balcony when robbers struck her home.
In Runda, the local association advises residents to keep all doors locked and alarms switched on when retiring to bed. Residents are also urged to vet domestic workers and ensure they obtain certificates of good conduct from the local police station.
While nearly every up-market suburb has recorded an upsurge in crime, it is Karen and Lang’ata that have been worst hit.
Last weekend, residents of the two areas turned out in large numbers for an inaugural security meeting attended by senior police officers, administrators and heads of various private security firms.
At the meeting organised by the Karen and Lang’ata District Association (KLDA), the residents not only vented their anger over an unprecedented vulnerability to thugs but also vowed to adopt community policing fashioned alongside the Nyumba Kumi initiative among other strategies to contain crime.
They agreed to socialise more and share contact details with at least five neighbours and acquire interconnected alarm systems for guards. They will also now work closely with police officers from Karen and Hardy police stations, who have circulated their personal phone numbers to all residents.
In a bid to facilitate round-the-clock patrols and swift response, the community, through KLDA, will on March 19 hand over a brand new Toyota Land Cruiser to the police.
Use of boda boda taxis in the area will also be regulated, with all licensed operators expected to register with the police.
With most of the crimes in the area linked to inside jobs facilitated by domestic workers and guards, the National Security Intelligence Service will henceforth help vet employees to track their background.
KLDA Chairman Erastus Mwongera, says social interaction among residents is not optional.
“There are clear signs that our comfort zone has been invaded; criminals are taking advantage of our inability to open up to our neighbours,” he says. “If divided, we shall continue to be harassed by criminals. We also have to engage security and administration officers more.”
While crime levels are on the rise nationally, Mr Mwongera says without adequate security, high-end suburbs attract criminals.
“The criminals believe that by going to up-market areas, they must get valuables. They think anyone who lives here is a bank,” he states.
Nairobi Deputy County Commissioner in charge of Lang’ata, John Elung’ata, admits that crime has gone down in middle and low-income suburbs and gone up in up-market areas.
Surrounded by slums
With Karen and Hardy areas inhabited by the wealthy but also surrounded by slums such as Kuwinda and Bangladesh, Mr Elungata says gangsters seem to have invented ways to sneak in and capitalise on the residents’ love for space and privacy.
“These areas have a very private society. With a single farm sitting on five acres, it is very difficult for your neighbours to know when you are attacked,”he says, adding, “People around here also do not like much interaction with the police.”
But he is confident that the situation will improve with increased police presence, patrols and information sharing.
The Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (Kara) notes that if well embraced in a localised formula, the Nyumba Kumi initiative could be the answer to insecurity in high-end neighbourhoods.
“People in up-market areas are more aloof when it comes to socialising and knowing who is in the neighbourhood. But they now need strong resident associations to help them know each other and manage issues such as security,” says Henry Ochieng, the Kara programmes officer.
He cites the example of the Loresho North Residents’ Association, which has overseen the installation of an interconnected alarm system that alerts every household and contracted private security firms in case of a security threat.
“Loresho is a success story as the security system is extremely tight and well managed,” he states.
Ochieng says Karen and Lang’ata are too vast to be served by one association, hence the need for multiple neighbourhood associations in the area.
He notes most Karen residents have also got it wrong by hiring private guards individually.
“They need to review this and harmonise the hiring of guards. They need guards from one strong firm that they can hold accountable in case of crime,” Ochieng advises, albeit blaming the police for failing in their cardinal duty to protect Kenyans.