What you need to know:
- You have probably seen them directing a car into or out of a parking space or at times running before motorists to lead them into an empty spot.
- The parking boys usually operate in cahoots with some crooked parking attendants and security guards manning buildings.
There are interesting Nairobi City County by-laws but nothing beats the one that says: “It is an offence to signal or direct a vehicle to a parking space”.
This is flouted every single second in the Central Business District (CBD) by the so-called 'parking boys'.
You have probably seen them directing a car into or out of a parking space or at times running before motorists to lead them into an empty spot. They are mostly youths, with a few over the age of 40 years.
Many motorists in Nairobi have suffered at the hands of “the boys”.
They are not county parking attendants, and neither are they volunteers. They are Nairobi's notorious 'parking boys', who have become a thorn in the flesh of motorists within the CBD.
From extorting motorists to vandalism of vehicles, theft of parts and insecurity, the group is running amok on major streets of Nairobi.
Most streets and avenues in the city centre have now become their territory; some kind of a small economic caliphate where they are their own government with designated leaders to boot. So lucrative is the parking business that some of these parking boys make an average Sh36,000, tax-free every month.
On some occasions, they demand up to Sh100 before they can “open” parking slots and “ensure the safety” of the car. That is over and above the Sh200 parking fee motorists pay to City Hall as official parking fees.
The notorious hot spots are the stretch of Banda Street from Kimathi Street to Muindi Mbingu; Muindi Mbingu Street, especially around Jeevanjee Gardens; Kenyatta Avenue, specifically around Stanbic Bank; in front of and behind Nation Centre, Kenya Cinema and along Moi Avenue stretching from the former Karrymatt Supermarket to the former Nakumatt Supermarket, now Naivas Supermarket.
But these are not the only streets or avenues in the capital where the parking boys’ word is final.
“One day I left my car under care of one of the parking boys but when I came back a wheel cap was missing. And to add salt to injury, the guy was still demanding for money from me,” a motorist by the name Mohamed Abdi narrated Daily Nation.
But how do the cartels operate?
The parking boys usually operate in cahoots with some crooked parking attendants and security guards manning buildings dotting the various streets they have taken over.
Ben Mwangi - not his real name - is one of the parking boys who have colonized Kimathi Street. He joined the trade in 2005 after being introduced by a friend, a 55-year-old chairman of the group running Kimathi Street rugged.
Mwangi points out that they have shared out all the streets, with each group zoning off its territory. No one is allowed to venture into another group’s territory.
He says that for one to be allowed to join any territory, a background check is conducted to ascertain where the individual has come from and why he wants to join the trade.
The ‘interview’ is done by the leader of the group, or ‘chairman’. His position comes with seniority, which is determined by the number of years one has operated.
“On Kimathi Street, we are eight of us. The street has also been divided into three zones for ease of administration. The chairman must interview you to know where you are coming from and what made you leave where you were working before,” he says.
Behind Nation Centre, a former watchman with a local security firm is in charge. He used to work at the now-defunct Kaldis coffee shop that was situated along Kimathi Street.
The Stanbic Bank stretch is manned by two individuals while Banda Street is the domain of several young men who are still greenhorns.
The middle-aged man affirms that, initially, parking boys used to be street children but the trade has now been invaded by all kinds of people. He makes Sh1,500 on a bad day, but his earnings sometimes rise to Sh2,500.
The cash one parts with depends on the “service” offered – whether you were only directed into an empty parking space or one was secured for you (where another vehicle is moved), the model of the car you are driving and if you are a frequent customer.
“This is what has kept me going since 2005. It pays my bills. I have children in school; I pay rent and use the same to settle other bills.”
Another parking boy, Charles Otieno - also not his real name - says they work closely with City Hall parking attendants and security guards, who help them secure slots early in the morning and also give them access to reserved parking spaces.
To make their work easier, they usually ‘book’ parking slots early using vehicles, which are moved after a motorist greases their palms.
“The security guards give us the reserved parking spaces for use by motorists who want to access the service for a short period. In turn, the motorist pays the watchman Sh100 or Sh200. It is from this that we get our cut,” avers Otieno, who operates along Moi Avenue.
Everyday, Otieno arrives at his work station at 8am and works for six days a week. They wait for a motorist after which they direct them to empty designated or undesignated slots. They are then paid a pre-agreed amount of money.
But some motorists have been at fault for abetting the practice by being too comfortable with the parking boys to the extent of according them their full trust.
Another parking boy confirmed that after long association, some motorists have come to trust them to the extent of even leaving their cars with them to drive around as they go about their business.
“There are those who are desperate to get parking space, and since they are also in a hurry, they leave the car with us to look for parking slots,” says the man, who is stationed near Stanbic, Kenyatta Avenue stretch.
Even this cozy relationship born of desperation has its downside; tales abound of motorists who have parted with a tidy sum of cash after having their cars damaged by the parking boys.
“My friend had to pay for the repair of a car after his car, which he had left under the care of a parking boy, was involved in an accident,” says John Ombaa, a motorist.
With motorists at the mercy of these wily extortionists, the city fathers have only halfheartedly attempted to address the matter.
Even Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko's attempt to drive these cartel out of town failed miserably.
In September 2019, Sonko announced an assault on the parking boys.
He formed a special unit to deal with parking boys, who block and unblock slots within the CBD at an illegal fee levied on desperate motorists.
“Ukipata (if you find) parking boy blocking parking bay with motorbike ndiyo akuuzie hiyo (so that they can sell it to you) parking space kindly WhatsApp me via 0722886600 the street name, I have a special team to deal with those wakoras (thugs),” he said.
A year down the line, it is still business as usual.
Interestingly, the city county government has about 60 inspectorate officers attached to the parking department to help them crack down on the parking boys.
Nairobi County Director of Parking Services Tom Tinega, now with the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS), acknowledges that the parking boys’ problem is a menace in the CBD with their numbers increasing even though, he says, they do not have an accurate data on the exact number.
Mr Tinega says the problem is rampant because of the financial opportunity that presents itself with the crack unit formed last year having slept on their job.
Mr Tinega admits that the cartel is a security threat to motorists and deny the county government the much-needed revenue.
However, he refutes claims that City Hall parking attendants are involved in the illegal business, saying that parking services are automated with no cash exchanging hands.
“These boys are increasing in numbers because they have realized there is an opportunity for them to make money with the enforcement team sleeping on the job creating a loophole. I promise to carry out a serious crackdown going forward to rid the city centre of the parking boys,” he said.
And in the midst of all this misery, the by-laws still insist that it is an offence to signal or direct a vehicle to a parking space. The irony.