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Robbers take control of busy highway

By | April 18th 2012

By Antony Gitonga

On a normal day the Naivasha-Mai Mahiu Road, just like many other roads in the country, is busy serving all manner of motorists.

Heavy commercial vehicles carrying cargo destined for Western Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda use this road after being diverted from the Nairobi-Nakuru Highway as per the law.

Every day, stalled lorries are spotted on the 35km stretch and in some cases vehicles involved in accidents or those that have broken down by the roadside.

Many more vehicles are parked in the small upcoming centres on the highway where drivers are busy siphoning fuel for sale.

Mr Joel Mwathi, a transport expert acknowledges that this is one of the busiest roads in the country.

"Goods weighing thousands of tonnes are ferried on this road daily and towns like Mai Mahiu have thrived because of these goods and trucks," he notes.

He says over 300 lorry drivers and their conductors spend the nights in Naivasha and Mai Mahiu town on daily basis.

crime den

But it is now emerging that the Mai Mahiu-Naivasha Road is turning into a crime den. It is illegally enriching dozens of unscrupulous drivers and traders while leaving their employers and insurance firms making losses.

The drivers have been working in cahoots with criminals who ‘rob’ them and later dump them in the bushes tied up and in some cases drugged.

Two areas have been identified for notoriety in these ‘robberies’. They are Muniu near the IDP camps and on the escarpment.

In the last two months, several cases of highway robberies have been reported with the criminals mainly targeting canters.

Between January and February 2012, at least eight canters were stolen along this road. Only four of them have so far been recovered by police.

It has emerged that some drivers and conductors collude with criminals who easily cart away the goods before taking the canters.

Investigations show there is a ready market in Tanzania for the canters, which when new go for between Sh2 million and Sh3 million.

poor pay

One of the drivers who asked not to be named says that they are poorly paid despite transporting goods worth millions of shillings.

He says that greed and poverty has pushed them into selling their cargo as the insurance cover takes care of the missing cargo.

"In some cases drivers easily sell their cargo to a ready market. At the moment canters are hot cakes in Tanzania and Rwanda," he admits.

And as insurance firms struggle to cope with huge bills and the owners make huge losses, the illegal business continues.

However, the crime rate has dropped significantly in the last one month.

In the latest incident, a driver and his conductor were brought to Naivasha District Hospital unconscious after unknown people drugged them and drove off with their canter.

The two were foaming and groaning after the incident along the Naivasha-Mai Mahiu Road.

This brought to five the number of such cases brought to the facility from the busy road.

The two would later tell of how they had been hired from Kawangware to Mai Mahiu to ferry some church seats and tents when the incident occurred.

Speaking incoherently, the driver, Mr Ngunya Chege, told of how a woman and a man approached them with the job offer.

"We travelled to Mai Mahiu in the company of the woman and her male colleague where we were joined by two other men," he said.

Chege said they proceeded to Suswa where they were told the seats were, but midway the four drew guns and turned against them.

He told of how they were bundled into a white getaway vehicle and ordered to take some tablets at gunpoint.

"We were forced to take some tablets. We woke up to find ourselves at the Naivasha District Hospital," he said.

The medical superintendent in charge of the hospital, Dr Joseph Mburu, said the duo was in stable condition.

The medic expressed concern over the increase in such cases, noting that in the last month they had handled four similar cases.

Naivasha OCPD Ernest Oponyo confirms the robberies but is quick to note that they were troubled by the canter thefts.

"It is true early in the year cases of canter thefts were there but we have managed to end them after realising that drivers were involved," he says.

He says that one of the canters was found at the Isebania border point and three suspects arrested. They have since been arraigned in court.

robbery charges

In another incident, a stolen canter was recovered in Kisumu having been turned into a mini bus. The owner, a public servant, is in court facing robbery charges.

Oponyo says though canters are allowed to use the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, many drivers opt for the Naivasha-Mai Mahiu route where the robbery takes place.

He says they have managed to take over 15 suspects including drivers and their conductors to court over highway robbery.

"In most cases the driver and conductor will report after a day that they were attacked by some people along the road, drugged and dumped by the roadside," he notes.

In one of the cases, Oponyo says that a driver ferrying timber worth close to Sh2 million was found offloading the cargo in Mirera area minutes after reporting that he had been carjacked.

"Some cases of drivers getting drugged are real but in other cases, they just take a concoction after making sure that the canter and cargo are gone," he says.

The police boss adds that they have managed to deal with the syndicate and are now involved in looking for the masterminds behind the lucrative trade.

Despite working to reduce such cases, police in Naivasha are faced with dozens of challenges mainly in terms of transport.

The police division is served by a rusty Land Cruiser that keeps breaking down as is the case with Flying Squad unit. For over ten years the CID department in the area has never owned a car.

no highway patrol

The highway patrol vehicle serves the main Nairobi-Nakuru highway leaving motorists along the Naivasha-Mai Mahiu road at the mercy of the highway robbers.

Sometimes lack of fuel and mechanical breakdowns become issues forcing the police vehicles to stall for days.

Despite the challenges, the officers are attempting to deal with cases of highway robbery but feel that more support could see the vice being dealt with fully.

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