A hardcore criminal gang with roots in Kayole estate, Nairobi, has shifted base and is now terrorising residents in Tana River County.
The Kayole Brothers, a gang based in Madogo town, is believed to be made up of remnant criminals who fled Nairobi's Kayole area during a security crackdown in 2018.
Now, they have become a nuisance in the town where they terrorise residents with armed robberies, with a number of them happening in broad daylight.
"They are dangerous. They don't hesitate to kill or maim anyone resisting being mugged or anyone that is against them," said Halima Sharif, a Madogo resident.
According to local officials, the group mostly comprises school dropouts aged 17 years and below. They are also known to not hesitate to kill their victims should they encounter any resistance.
Lately, the gang has started recruiting female members who are used to lure victims into traps where they are robbed. The girls are also reportedly used to frame unsuspecting victims for various crimes including rape in extortion rings.
"You can never tell who is and who isn’t a gang member. Your child may be a member and can be used to spy on you…that is why we usually don't meddle in their matters," said Farah Nadhif, an elder.
Despite the arrest of its leader in 2021, the group has re-emerged with fresh leadership that is now demanding that the county gives them business ventures in exchange for them downing their weapons.
The gang recently held a consultative meeting with members of the county assembly and youth leaders in Tana North Sub-County where they tabled their demands, including being granted a car wash business.
"We are in crime to earn a living. We don't have jobs and the county has given all possible jobs to cronies as contracts, so crime is our only means of survival," said Abu Malik, a gang member.
‘No peace until you listen to us’
According to Malik, jobs like cleaning the market, managing a public toilet, and cleaning hospitals should be shared among the youth. He notes that the administration and government have branded them hardcore criminals before listening to their plight, hence the confrontation.
"Nobody wants to talk, they just want to attack, arrest and kill us, therefore we will fight back. We will retaliate and there shall be no peace until someone is ready to listen and act," he said.
The youth also pointed out bias by administrators in charge of registration as another cause of conflict, alleging that they are deliberately denied identity cards when they seek them.
They note that since they run the town and the contractors tasked with cleaning the town and markets have not been acting accordingly, the job should be given to them.
"We are ready to open a community-based organisation and the county can give us that job. They can be assured there will be no criminals. We shall be watchdogs of this town instead," said Ali Mubarak, another gang member.
Failure to respond to their demands, the gang has promised that their reign of terror will continue unabated.
County leaders react
While county leaders have welcomed the idea of moving away from crime, they say they will not be intimidated into action, urging the youth to change their criminal ways and go into business from a position of goodwill.
Tana River police boss, Mr Richard Ng'eno, appealed to them to quit crime for the sake of their own safety or face the full force of the law.
"We shall continue carrying out our mandate in maintaining law and order. To change is their choice, and it should happen without blackmail," he said.
Tana River Governor Dhadho Godhana urged the gang to drop crime and join local vocational centres to gain some skills.
"We are sinking a lot of money into the institutions for fees and infrastructure, they can't miss something to do, they should join," he said.
He also advised them to use the available credit institutions issuing loans to youth such as the Youth Enterprise Fund to get funding for business as the county administration looks into their demands.
According to Madogo Ward MCA Juma Dido Boss, the group has a right to demand their share from the county administration and should be supported on issues raised for peace to reign.
"This group is not small, you cannot underestimate them since you do not know how deep they go but we can address their issues and watch if it settles the situation or not," he said.
Dido notes that the leaders of the Tana North Sub-County have agreed to sit down and raise money for various ventures as well as lobby at the county assembly for other projects.