A few metres from the Kisimani turn-off on the Mombasa-Malindi highway, a group of mixed-age men and women are congregated. Some of them are seated on stones and others on the pavement of an unfinished building.
Everyone seems to mind their own business, but a few of them murmur in twos and threes while the others sit idle, staring in the air. Some are smoking rolls of what could be bhang or heroin while others are chewing miraa.
These are the drug dens of Mombasa, commonly known as Maeneo. Besides having drug peddlers and drug users, they are hubs for master plans of criminal activities. There are more than 100 drug dens in Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi counties.
In Mombasa, Kisauni sub-county has recorded the highest number of major and petty criminal cases. People are attacked walking down the street minding their own business and their valuables are stolen.
There are also serious cases where machete-wielding gangs attack locals and murder them in cold blood. It is also in these dens that day and night attacks are planned and weapons acquired depending on the nature of the attack. But how do these places end up as criminal hubs?
“The crimes are propelled by the use of mostly hard drugs. Kisauni has the highest number of drug dens in Mombasa County, where children as young as 15 years old are abusing drugs,” said Reach Out Centre Director Taib Abdulrahman.
Reach Out is a rehabilitation centre in Mombasa. It deals with drug and recovering addicts, supporting them in various ways including medically assisted treatment.
“With the coronavirus pandemic, most children were idle at home last year and that is how they ended up using drugs,” he said in an interview with the Nation.
He explained that this has lowered the age of entry into drug use to as low as 10.
In a den in Frere Town, Kisauni, near a football pitch, a group of around 30 men and women sit next to an unfinished building.
The Nation sought to find out what makes these dens criminal hubs. Their day does not start in the morning. It starts mostly in the evenings. Each user starts their day by smoking bhang and others injecting themselves in the hideout that is also public.
A source who sought anonymity because of security reasons said these dens are well known to politicians and work as a solution to their campaign issues.
“The politicians come here to hire them as goons to interrupt campaign rallies or threaten people. It will make people vote in fear and a politician who is known by these criminal gangs has higher chances of winning the election,” said the reliable source, who works closely with addicts.
This is, however, not done directly, because every drug den has its own leader who represents them in the negotiations and later pays them after the work is done.
The Nation has learnt that these drug dens are becoming more active, as the 2022 General Election approaches.
Other than working politically, the dens are also where weapons for attacks are acquired. The source indicated that they have different types of guns and drugs that are used in their attacks.
He explained that the guns are stolen from police officers, who are usually drugged by female sex workers, who are also among the drug addicts.
“When you meet the ladies outside the dens, they are usually dressed up and smart. This makes it easier for anyone to fall into their trap,” he said, explaining that they end up stealing the guns from the officers after drugging them with a drug popularly known as “mchele”, which knocks them unconscious.
“These women might look rough while they are at the den, but you cannot easily tell when they are all dressed up with make-up and look professional,” he stated.
The same guns, the Nation learnt, are used in night robberies and other criminal activities.
For instance, late last year, a woman at an M-Pesa shop was attacked in broad daylight and CCTV camera captured the robbers on Moi Avenue in Mombasa. They rode on a motorbike carrying an AK-47, a weapon usually carried by police.
The source also revealed that as much as these drug users live as a family, they also offer each other sex in exchange for drug favours.
“For example, if a woman wants drugs but she has no money, a man in the same den will offer her the drug on condition that she sleeps with him. This is usually a mutual agreement between the two of them. And the woman will do the same favour on the days that the man does not have the money,” he explained.
The same dens also have people with HIV/Aids and hepatitis C, according to Mudharis Hamid, the director of The Omari Project, a rehabilitation centre in Malindi. He explained that the drug users risk spreading the infectious diseases among themselves by sharing the same needles they use to inject heroin.
“Most of them will barely get the time to acquire a new needle though we give them out for free. They end up sharing and contracting transmitted diseases,” he said, adding that this happens in all the 69 drug dens in Malindi.
Mombasa County community health volunteer Abdalla Abdulrahman said every ward in Mombasa has a drug den. This increases insecurity not only in Kisauni and Likoni but in every other part of Mombasa.
This is happening even as the county government has set up methadone centres to help rehabilitate drug users and curb crime in the region.
Mr Abdulrahman said that it was important for the government to find aftercare for recovering addicts, who are now taking methadone as a treatment, explaining that without aftercare, the addicts still face stigma in the community, increasing their chances of relapsing. Things are not different in Kwale and Kilifi counties.
According to Ahmed Said, a worker at Teens Watch Centre in Ukunda, Kwale County, drug dens dot Lungalunga, Msambweni and Matuga sub-counties on the coast.
“We have 13 in Msambweni and Lungalunga sub-counties and four in Matuga. There could be others in Kinango sub-county,” he explained.
In most of these drug dens, the addicts abuse shashamane, muguka, heroine, bhang, and prescription drugs.