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‘Normal carjacking’ a sign of growing insecurity

By | June 22nd 2009

By Chris Wamalwa in Delaware USA

The Citi Hoppa bus I was riding from Nairobi to Satelite was car-jacked and commandeered by gun-totting youth soon after we boarded. This was a month and a half ago during my recent trip home. The experience has haunted me ever since, and maybe writing about it in this blog will help the healing process.

This is how it went. Thursday, April 30, 2009. I had spent much of the afternoon at I&M building paying ‘courtesy’ calls to my friends and colleagues at the Standard and KTN. As the shadows lengthened and the sun went down to sleep, my friends and I slowly made our way to Ranalo Restaurant for dinner before heading home. For me, home was my kid brother’s crib somewhere in Satelite.

Before I narrate to you the three-hour ordeal in the hands of more than seven gun welding youth, I’ll tell you what happens when you stay away from Kenya for a long period of time. One, you get very excited and at times carried away by just being back home and walking on the streets you once knew so well. It always happens to me whenever I went back to Nairobi. I don’t mind walking into people, brushing shoulders and rubbing bodies while struggling to put one foot forward in the crowded streets of the ‘City in the Sun’. It is part of my homecoming experience that gives me something to talk about when I’m back in the US of A.

The second thing that happens is that, you become careless. You easily let your guards down. For all its flaws, America or most parts of America are very safe. I live in Delaware but I work in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I drive 90 miles every day to and from Philadelphia international airport. Most of the time I get back home way past midnight. I rarely lock my car either at home or in the parking lot at work.

During the Obama campaigns, I hosted two of my colleagues from Nairobi and they really used to be amused by the fact that I never used to lock my car. In fact one of them warned me that I should never come home and forget for a moment that I’m in Kenya.

So, this is precisely what happened. Nine thirty and I’m not yet at the house. My kid brothers panic and so they frantically raise me on the phone and ask whether they could come and pick me up. I tell them it won’t be necessary and insist I’ll just walk to Ken-com and catch a bus. Ten thirty, we are on the bus headed towards Kawangware and just after the stop light at the State House NSSF junction, several men jump up pistols in hand and tell us, Kichwa chini gari imekajakiwa’.

Our ordeal is a familiar story to many people in Kenya so I won’t go into great details other than to say that after three hours of being huddled together in the back of the bus and systematically stripped off everything- money, wireless phones, jewelry, wallets, we were at long last dumped somewhere in Kariokor to find our way home.

Since the incidence, I’ve been haunted by several things. One, the reactions by some passengers with whom we were carjacked. Two, the reactions by the police when we went there to report the incident and three, the reactions my brothers when they heard about my ordeal.

After the thugs abandoned us, some of the ladies on the bus broke out in prayers thanking God loudly for making the thugs spare our lives. They didn’t care about the violation, humiliation, and mental torture that we were subjected to let alone the loss of money and other valuables. I lost all my documents and had to cancel my flight back.

One of the ladies told me that she has been in such a situation not just once or twice but four times. On one occasion, she said, they were driven to Karura forest where women were raped the whole night. On two occasions, they were driven around town and escorted one by one to the ATM machines to take out money.

The Kilimani police where we went to report the incident were disturbingly too casual about the whole thing. Later, one of the cops wondered aloud why I was making a big deal out of it when none of us had been shot dead. My brothers told me carjacking in Nairobi had become a normal thing. I just can’t get over such!

All these indicated to me that law and order has ‘left the premises’ in Kenya and people are slowly accepting that as a way of life. It tells me that the so-called Coalition government has completely failed to guarantee people their security and people in turn are learning to live with it. This scares the hell out of me. My question is, when the government fails in its cardinal obligation of guaranteeing safely to its citizens, then what is the role of that government? And, what should the citizens do to change the situation? Kenyans must answer these questions.

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