When the Nation first received reports of the abduction of Nyeri businessman Gerald Guandaru, little did we know how deep his abduction case went.
Initially, this appeared to be an isolated case of disappearance.
However, it has since emerged that he was just one of the targeted abductions in the Mt Kenya region.
After three months of investigations, the Nation today has uncovered a trail of abductions that seem to have been perpetrated by a gang with military precision.
Since June 26, 2021, at least 15 people have been abducted at gunpoint in Nyeri, Meru, Laikipia and Nyandarua counties. Among them was a senior Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) intelligence officer based in Marsabit County.
Witnesses of the broad-daylight abductions say that the captors identified themselves as police officers.
From their modus operandi, access to sophisticated weaponry and government resources and the sheer bravado to grab their victims in the full glare of the public, the gang has all the hallmarks of a State-funded group.
The government has denied any involvement in the abductions, but an analysis of the cases points to a growing trend in enforced disappearances.
The similarity of the abductions suggests that the victims were targeted by the same gang, specifically profiled and trailed for days before being kidnapped.
Police have made no progress in tracing them as questions begin to emerge: Who are these people? Who took them and why?
As for the abductors, not only have they left families in distress, they have struck fear among associates of their victims and those looking into the abductions, even police.
In fact, some senior detectives in the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) are said to be wary of the cases, some expressing outright fear. Some have instructed the families of the victims to only contact them on the WhatsApp mobile platform for fear that normal calls might be tapped.
Some detectives have withdrawn from the investigations altogether and forwarded the files to their superiors for reassignment.
Even though the abductions occurred in four counties, most of the victims had associations with the Solio Settlement and Naromoru areas, which border Solio Ranch, home to critically endangered wildlife species. Some were residents of Solio while others had businesses in Naromoru.
John Mwiti, a farmer in Kihato, Laikipia County, was the first to be abducted on June 26. He was working on his farm when a man identifying himself as a police officer approached him.
Mr Mwiti was marched into a waiting car and driven away. The only witnesses to what turned out to be an abduction are his three children, the oldest four years old. More than 100 days later, Mr Mwiti’s whereabouts remain unknown.
“I came to learn later in the evening that my husband had left with some men in a white Toyota. Since then I have not seen or heard from him,” Mr Mwiti's wife, Damaris Wanjugu, told the Nation.
A day after Mwiti's abduction, Mr Isaac Mwangi and his employee Wilson Mwangi were kidnapped.
Mr Isaac was abducted in Kianugu, Ndaragwa, on the Nyeri-Nyahururu highway. He was in the company of his wife Phoebe Muthoni and 10-year-old daughter.
Ms Muthoni said three muscular men driving a Subaru Forester intercepted them and asked her husband to step out of the vehicle.
One of the men also questioned her, wanting to know what kind of business her husband was involved in.
“I told him that Mwangi runs three businesses - an electronic shop, a bar and a restaurant - and has a public address system for hire in Naromoru,” she said.
Two of the men then escorted them to their vehicle, saying that they just wanted to talk to him. The other then got into Mr Isaac’s car and took off towards Gwa Kung’u with the abductors driving behind them.
“I was still in the car with my daughter when one of them entered and started driving away. He stopped at Gwa Kung’u and joined the rest in their car and they drove off,” she said.
Later that evening, Mr Isaac's employee, Wilson Mwangi, was also abducted in Naromoru. Three men driving a Toyota Succeed took him to an unknown location.
Besides being a security guard at Mr Isaac’s bar, Mr Wilson was also a casual employee of the Laikipia County government and owned a boda boda business.
“They pointed a gun at my son and then handcuffed him. He was dragged into their car and they drove off. We thought he had been arrested but police said they did not arrest him. Now we just wonder, if the police did not take him, then who did?” Mr Wilson’s mother Helen Wairimu said.
Elijah Karimi was the fourth to be abducted on Monday, June, 28 in Naromoru before the highly publicised abduction of Nyeri businessman Gerald Guandaru.
Investigations by the Nation indicate that between June 30 and August 28, Samuel Ngacha, Bernard Wanjohi, Peterson Mutwiri, Peter Mugweru, Patrick Maina and KWS officer Francis Isaack Oyaro were abducted in a similar fashion.
Mr Karimi was a cabbage business broker based in Naromoru and worked with Mr Mutwiri and Mr Mwiti. Mr Ngacha and Mr Maina were taxi operators based in Naromoru and Solio. Mr Wanjohi was a businessman. Mr Wanjohi and Mr Ngacha are brothers.
It is, however, the abduction of the KWS intelligence officer, Mr Oyaro, in August that has sent shockwaves through the region and given the closest hint on who might be behind the abductions or at least the motive.
Mr Oyaro was based in Marsabit National Park and was scheduled to travel to his home in Nakuru on August 28 after being granted leave from duty.
He last spoke to his wife Veronica Osore on the morning of August 28 while he was travelling from Marsabit to meet his family in Nakuru town.
“He told me he would arrive later that evening but he never came home,” she said.
The officer left Marsabit aboard a KWS van and alighted in Nanyuki, where he boarded a matatu to Nakuru. He was to travel via the Naromoru-Kanyagia route.
The matatu was, however, intercepted by two men in a black saloon car. The men in civilian clothes allegedly showed some sort of identification to the driver and instructed him to show them Mr Oyaro’s luggage.
Some witnesses claim the KWS officer appeared to know them and asked them why they had been trailing him.
He attempted to make a phone call but the phone was snatched from him and he was forced into the car. The matatu driver was instructed to drive on.
His disappearance was reported three days later at the Nakuru Police Station after he failed to arrive home.
The officer’s relatives also made a report on his disappearance to KWS but the agency did not make the report public until the case was reported by the media, more than three weeks later.
“Kenya Wildlife Service is cooperating with the investigative agency to trace the officer and would like to urge the public to report any information that may assist the investigation to the nearest police station or KWS station,” KWS said in a statement on September 26.
Since the abductions began, none of the victims has been found, with police maintaining that they are still investigating.
Authorities continue to deny the involvement of any government agencies, even though KWS has adversely been linked to the abductions.
“We cannot say we have profiled people to deal with them but we are protecting wild animals across the reserves in the area. Every case of disappearance is being investigated and we are trying to trace the victims and reunite them with their families,” Central Regional Commissioner Wilfred Nyagwanga said.
The Nation has also learnt of the disappearance of a former KWS officer identified as Hamisi Mvili Mwaluma. Human rights lobby group Haki Africa says the former wildlife ranger disappeared on September 1 around Gede Forest in Kilifi County.
Three other people only identified by their aliases have also been reported to have been abducted in Nyeri and Nairobi. A herder identified as Wembe and another man called Rasta were abducted in Naromoru between June 26 and July 30. A resident of Kieni known as Boni was abducted in Nairobi last month.