How Kilimani lost its allure to become Nairobi's gang and illicit sex capital

A poster advertising massage services at the intersection between Gitanga Road, where Lavington ends and Ole Odume Road which is the beginning of Kilimani estate in Nairobi shows how low the estate has sunk in recent years.

On its face value, the poster; and there are many of those dotting roads, public clocks and apartment walls in Kilimani gives an image of booming demand for massage services or a cut-throat competition among providers.

In reality, however, the word massage in Kilimani is a euphemism for something else. And you don’t have to go too far to get the truth. Just make a call to the numbers provided on the posters or visit the online pages of those services and you will stumble on what could be Nairobi’s biggest underground prostitution industry.

A resident of Kilimani Mwihaki Muraguri at one time caused an uproar on social media when in a series of tweets, she confronted authorities on whether they were aware of the booming sex work industry in the area. This is after her children asked her while on their way to school what a massage meant.

“Last week on my daily route four signs went up on this roundabout advertising a ‘spa’. My nine-year-old son asked me ‘what’s a massage spa?’ Every day he and the 300 primary kids who walk this route must contend with this,” said Mwihaki.

“We both know they are not a conventional spa but cater to adults seeking joy. Given that every public advertisement in my city is licensed by the Nairobi County Government why are we allowing our children a daily visual assault of services that have nothing to do with them?” she posed.

That prostitution is rife in Nairobi has never been in doubt. The world’s oldest industry has thrived in Nairobi since time immemorial, earning roads like Koinange Street the dubious distinction of being one-stop shops for sex.

What should worry every Nairobi resident as authorities is an increasingly disturbing trend where twilight girls have moved from night clubs, bars and lodges to the estates. And it is in Kilimani where houses in apartments are being turned into brothels the most.

“It is not that these things are happening in secret. Everyone, including the police, know about the prostitution taking place here but they look the other way,” Kevin Opala, a resident, laments.

“I pity the children who are being brought up here,” he adds.

Unknown to the residents and perhaps the police is that underneath the booming underground sex trade in Kilimani that is now threatening to tear the social fabric is a hidden modern-day slavery industry that is now growing in tandem with the prostitution.

Faced by cutthroat competition amongst themselves, those running these brothels force the girls they employ to not only work long hours but prohibit them from leaving the premises at all. Once signed up to the trade, as the Nation found out, the identity cards of the girls are swiftly confiscated.

They are then cramped in one of the bedrooms where they live for as long as they are working. They are only allowed one day off per month. Any time they leave the premises is presumed to be an outcall and a demand for the money made will be made by the owner of the brothel.

“I will have to pay the boss Sh10,000 if I leave here unless it’s my off day,” a masseuse in one of the spas told this writer.

Prostitution remains outlawed in Kenya. The Penal Code, however, makes it illegal to profit from the prostitution of others, and to aid, abet, compel or incite prostitution. This includes operating brothels.

But if you thought that the booming underground sex trade being carried out in plain sight of young children in Kilimani is its biggest problem, then you have barely scratched the surface.

In the last two years, the estate bounded by Valley Road to the east, Denis Pritt Road to the north, Ngong Road to the south, and Korosho Road to the west has earned itself an unenviable title of being Nairobi’s gangland capital.

Today, barely two months will pass before a macabre murder is reported in Kilimani. On Thursday, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) is expected to return to court and explain if it has found out who killed Sheila Murage last month within the area.

Ms Murage was discovered dead last month in a flower bed at Santonia Courts after a night party with her friends on July 17. Milimani Chief Magistrate Martha Mutuku released the three suspects linked to her death on a Sh100,000 bond or Sh50,000 cash bail each.

An autopsy report indicated that she suffered head injuries inflicted by a blunt object and was sexually assaulted before she was killed. The body also had physical injuries on the back and blood was oozing from the nose when it was found. There were also bruises around the wrist and the clothes were torn.

“The court directs the suspects to report to the Kilimani Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) every Monday until August 28, when the case will be mentioned for further directions to be given,” Chief Magistrate Mutuku.

Once considered to be part of the green leafy suburbs on Nairobi, a term used to refer to exclusive low-density residential neighbourhoods loved by the middle class and the rich, Kilimani’s downfall has been a long time coming.

Changes began in 2016 when the Nairobi County Assembly passed a motion allowing the construction of commercial centres and high rise apartments in upmarket neighbourhoods. Under the new law, affected were areas classified under Zones 4, which comprises Spring Valley, Riverside Drive, Kileleshwa, Kilimani, Thompson and Woodley.

What followed was a rush to bring down the remaining 1950s bungalows to make way for modern multi-storey apartments and office blocks.  Most of these new apartments tried to keep the original aura of wealth associated with the neighbourhood by having beautiful balconies, lifts, health clubs and swimming clubs.

Over time, the area located just 2 km from town became popular for expatriates and young professionals with good incomes due to its convenient distance to Nairobi’s CBD and its good housing.

Apart from its good housing, well-paved roads and bits of green spaces, Kilimani is home to one of Nairobi’s oldest shopping malls; Yaya Centre, and The Junction, which is one of the most popular shopping centres in the capital. And with rents starting from about Sh50,000, today, anyone who has a good income but cannot afford to buy or build a house aspires to live in Kilimani.

In the process, criminals have trooped in and turned it into Nairobi’s gang capital. The Kilimani criminal, however, does not waylay people on the street and shake them down for money or take a gun and hijack a vehicle or rob a bank. He is white-collar, tech-savvy, well connected with the police, has a licensed firearm courtesy of his connections and is an expert in money laundering who is extremely ruthless if you stand on his way.

Last weekend’s murder of Kevin Omwenga over a suspected fake gold deal gone sour is just the latest example of a growing list of criminal activities in Kilimani. Mr Omwenga, 28, was a car dealer whose fortunes suddenly changed after he quit his job and joined a syndicate of gold swindlers.

An autopsy performed on Monday confirmed that Mr Omwenga had been shot at close range even as the suspects tried to distance themselves from what is so far being treated as a murder. Two of Mr Omwenga’s friends Chris Obure and Robert Bodo, are being investigated as the key suspects.

Chief government pathologist Johansen Oduor said that the bullet was shot at close range from a higher trajectory. This means that it is either the killer was taller than Mr Omwenga who was standing at the time he was shot or that he may have been sitting down when he was shot.

“The bullet came out through his back on the left side after going through the vital organs including the heart. What killed him were the injuries,” said Dr Oduor.

“It looks like someone who died instantly. When the heart is injured, you have very little chances of survival.”

The syndicate of gold swindlers that Omwenga is suspected to have joined has become a major headache to law enforcement agencies. Despite the dozens of arrests carried out in the area over the last one year, the circumstances around the killing of Mr Omwenga show that the fake gold trade is still booming in Kilimani area.

Apart from the fact that most of those engaged in the fake gold trade live in Kilimani, they also run offices in the area. Here, unsuspecting foreigners are duped into paying clearance fees for a mineral which Kenya does not produce on an industrial scale.

The fact that those arrested for plying the fake gold trade are only charged with obtaining by false pretence, which is largely considered a felony that allows one to get a cash bail, enables them to continue conning people while their cases continue in court.

Operating side by side with fake gold traders within Kilimani are money launderers and cybercriminals. The owners of two of Nairobi’s most popular night clubs Kiza Lounge and B Club, also located in the area, have in the past found themselves in trouble with law enforcement agencies over alleged criminal activities.

Mr Ali Omarou, the owner of Kiza Lounge was only recently allowed to come back to Kenya by the courts after being deported last year over his involvement in suspected criminal activities. While deporting him in September last year, the Interior Ministry said Mr Omarou was “on an international criminal list for various serious crimes.”

High Court Judge James Makau, however, ruled that “Mr Ali is a diplomat and is therefore immune to arrest and deportation in the manner done last year.”

Mr Barry Ndegeye, the owner of B Club has also been arrested before for money laundering in Belgium but he escaped to Rwanda before resurfacing in Nairobi in 2015 to start a night club. It is at B Club that Felix Orinda alias DJ Evolve was allegedly shot in January by Embakasi East Mp Babu Owino. The case is still ongoing.

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