Any stranger who walks in Kivumbini slum outside Nakuru town for the first time gets a feeling of dread.
Here, gang members can easily be spotted idling along in the densely populated slum.
The majority are not sober and some are seen taking drugs in the dark alleys. However, even as they smoke, they appear alert and are quick to spot strangers, monitoring their every move.
The once open ground was owned by the defunct Nakuru Municipal Council, but it has grown into a massive slum that has become a dangerous neighbourhood.
The ballooning population has seen the slum dwellers extend makeshift dwellings and this has eaten into the playing ground meant for children.
The extended dwellings are largely used by brewers who make illicit alcohol like chang’aa, busaa, and kangara, among others, which is consumed by youths, men and women.
Home of deadly gang
Kivumbini is regarded as the home of one of the deadly criminal gangs popularly known as Confirm, which has terrorised residents and extorted hundreds of thousands of shillings through mobile phones.
The emergence of this gang has killed the once-thriving Kivumbini shopping centre — which is now a ghost town — with only a few cobblers remaining.
"I used to operate a shop at Kivumbini shopping centre. Members of Confirm gang were demanding protection fees ranging between Sh50-Sh100 daily," said a trader.
Ms Naomi Achieng' used to own a hair salon in the slum but was forced to close her shop after it was raided and equipment stolen.
"I refused to give the gang protection fee of Sh50 daily as my business was not doing well and one day I woke up to find the shop vandalised and all my equipment stolen," said Ms Achieng, who has since moved from the area.
But the gang has also been recruiting students to join them and many schools surrounding the slum have become a ready supply of members.
"I'm worried as we have 12-year-olds who have been recruited to join Confirm and this is very dangerous," said a headteacher of one of the primary schools.
Confirm is believed to enjoy the close patronage of politicians, who use members as a mobilisation vehicle to push their political agenda.
"Some politicians are so daring that once a member of Confirm is arrested and taken to Bondeni Police Station, they are the first to storm the station to bail them out. This is bad leadership and it is encouraging radicalisation," said a resident.
Lack of jobs, peer pressure, proliferation of drugs and breakdown of the family unit have seen the gang recruit very young members, including many who drop out of school or have just completed secondary school and are in their early 20s.
"I tried to apply for a Kazi Mtaani job but I was not lucky because of corruption and this has made me bitter," said a youth who gave his name as John.
Spreading to other slums
The Confirm gang has been spreading to other slums such as Flamingo, Rhonda, Lake View and Manyanui. This has resulted in deadly clashes as it fights other gangs for territorial control.
"We have seen them clash every other time and whenever these fights break out, residents are caught in the ensuing melee. The fights have since escalated from the gangs to affect the peace of the residents directly," said Mr Joseph Kimani, a resident.
According to Mr Kimani, it is difficult to know what the gang is planning as the members use coded language.
"Their sheng (slang) is not the ordinary sheng that you can pick one word or two from. The criminal gang has its language which they use to communicate in case they spot police officers or anybody new in the slum," said Mr Kimani.
"Most of the time, they use sign language that they only understand. When they realise that they are being trailed, they scatter and vanish immediately," said a kiosk owner in the slum.
Several residents have been killed in clashes between rival gangs.
For instance, a physically challenged Joseph Macharia, 21, is their latest victim. He was stabbed to death on Saturday after a fight broke out between Confirm gang members from Kivumbini and the Wazito wa TZ gang from Rhonda slum.
The two gangs fought over territory in a feud that goes back many years.
Macharia, alongside another person whom the police are yet to identify, was killed in a knife attack at around 4pm as heavy rains pounded the area.
About 30 members of the Wazito Wa TZ gang stormed Kivumbini and launched the attack that had been announced on their social media pages.
Anybody who was in their way was attacked, whether or not they were members of the rival gang.
Witnesses said those who were killed or injured were shielding from the rain outside the shops at Kivumbini shopping centre.
"The attackers were armed with swords, knives, pangas and metal rods, which they used in the fight. The rival group was caught unawares and majority of their members were seriously injured," said a resident.
The Confirm gang regrouped and went on a revenge mission in Rhonda, during which they killed one person.
The gangs are managed by leaders aged 25 to 26 years.
"The criminals are very young. Some are even between 13 and 14 years who steal mobile phones and other valuables while speeding on motorcycles," another source added.
"These are people we know and mingle with but when they attack us, they appear changed completely," said a resident.
They the residents accused the police of colluding with the criminals, noting that the majority of the criminals do not spend time in the cells and, shortly after arrest, they are released under unclear circumstances.
Nakuru County Police Commander Tito Kilonzi said at least 40 of the gang members have been arrested and taken to court.
He warned that police will deal with the criminal elements without favour and vowed to flash them out of their hideouts.
"Residents in these areas should cooperate with the police by reporting suspicious criminal elements in their midst," said Mr Kilonzi.
He noted that his office is working closely with the Department of Criminal Investigations and all the suspects will be brought to book.
Last month, detectives tracked and arrested 10 members of the criminal gang in their hideout in Siaya County.
The DCI boss in Nakuru, Mr Benson Mutie, said the operation to destroy cells of the criminal gangs is underway.
"When we started the operation, majority of the suspects fled Nakuru after they learnt that police were pursuing them. Most of them were arrested in other counties," he said.
Outlawed in 2016
Mr Mutie said the police will not tolerate a resurgence of the criminal gang that was outlawed in 2016.
The county has witnessed the re-emergence of young criminal groupings in the slums of Nakuru town that is causing mayhem and destruction.
Governor Lee Kinyanjui accused some politicians of sponsoring the gangs.
"The leaders who sponsor such gangs achieve their short-term goals but the young people are hooked to a world of crime and drugs," said Mr Kinyanjui.
"We demand immediate and tangible steps to restore confidence and normality in our estates. We urge Interior CS Fred Matiang'i to act swiftly to prevent further loss of life," Mr Kinyanjui said.
He said his administration is working with the Social Services Department to identify the groups and institute rehabilitation to those willing to leave crime through the county action plan to end extremism among the youth.
"We should all sensitise our youth that there are opportunities for them to make an honest living. Crime is not a better option," stated Mr Kinyanjui.