What you need to know:
- The goons, who the Nation has established move around in county government vehicles sometimes escorted by regular policemen, have left a trail of death and permanent injuries on hawkers who don’t bribe them.
- Many more have survived with serious injuries and their attempts to get justice are blocked by intimidation, threats and police officers unwilling to act.
- And despite protests by the Senator Sonko, another hawker was felled in a hail of bullets during a crackdown on February 12.
On one of the beds at Ward 6C at the Kenyatta National Hospital, Wambua Manga counts time while lying in a supine position, his plastered left foot hoisted by a sling attached to the ceiling.
It is now a month since the hawker was taken to the country’s largest referral hospital by Good Samaritans.
It was September 13 and he had passed out due to the pain caused by a broken shin bone, internal injuries, fractured ribs and a mob-style beating.
He woke up four days later.
“They grabbed me and started battering with clubs and knives as one of them repeatedly kicked my lower leg with his boots,” he says of his attackers.
“The last thing I remember hearing was ‘wewe hakuna mahali tunakupeleka, tutakumaliza hapa’ (We are not taking you anywhere, we will kill you here),” he recalls.
Ruth Waithera, a hawker, who witnessed the incident told Nation they were selling their wares on the pavements of Tom Mboya Street when there was sudden commotion.
“It usually happens at any time of day or night. All hawkers suddenly fled in one direction and I joined them and paused after a short while as we usually do because the City Council askaris hardly put up a chase for long, they arrest two or three hawkers who are unlucky and move on,” she says.
LEFT FOR DEAD
On this day, however, Ms Waithera noticed someone had been surrounded and was being beaten up.
“One of them kept stabbing him as he shouted that he was not a hawker,” she says. “After some time, the crowd that had gathered intervened and the askaris got in their van and drove off leaving him for dead,” she says.
Mr Wambua is lucky to have survived to tell the tale.
As Nairobi increasingly gets swarmed by hawkers, the county government askaris, who have had perennial run-ins with them, appear to have taken the conflict to a whole new level.
Goons purported to be working for the City Inspectorate are on the loose robbing, assaulting, stabbing and maiming hawkers in the name of maintaining law and order.
The goons, who the Nation has established move around in county government vehicles sometimes escorted by regular policemen, have left a trail of death and permanent injuries on hawkers who don’t bribe them.
They act with impunity, with the police seemingly helpless against them.
In the past two years, Nation has established that at least eight deaths are linked to the goons whose impunity appears to be protected by top officials in City Hall.
Many more have survived with serious injuries and their attempts to get justice are blocked by intimidation, threats and police officers unwilling to act.
Duncan Wachira is another victim of the rogue askaris. He was selling clothes along River Road on July 18 when the askaris cornered him.
A FOOTPATH OF VICTIMS
He had just opened shop around 4.30pm to cash in on the high traffic of people leaving work when they suddenly appeared.
“They clobbered me with metal bars all over and when a crowd that had gathered intervened, they forced me into their vehicle and drove off,” he says.
He continues: “After doing rounds in town for some time, they dumped me in an alley along Nyambene Road minus my phone and the money I had made that day,” he says.
The attack left him with a broken right arm and a broken finger on his right hand.
He is still undergoing physiotherapy to enable him to use his finger.
Joseph Maina, another hawker, has not been so lucky.
The injury he sustained during a confrontation with the Nairobi County askaris cannot be undone.
Worse still, his attempts to get justice one year later on have been futile.
While selling socks around Khoja roundabout on April 10 last year, a County government van full of askaris pounced on them.
As he attempted to flee, he heard two gunshots followed by a sharp pain in his body before he passed out.
His medical examination report filed at the Kenya Police on November 10 and referenced OB 69 indicates that the bullet fired at him by a police officer “entered his body from the back through his shoulder blade exiting through his left orbital cavity”.
The bullet shattered his eyeball, leaving him blind on one eye.
This information was filed seven months after he had been taken round in circles by police, he says.
A signed note number IPOA/CMU/1003/2014 from the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) shows it received Mr Maina’s case on September 16 last year.
But 17 months later, the authority is yet to be establish which officer shot him.
Last week, officers at the Central Police Station told Nation that they could not locate the statement Maina recorded.
IPOA, for its part, says it is still working on the case.
In another case, Harun Gathece was cornered by county askaris at the New Ngara market at a section known as Tsunami.
A year later, Felix Nduati who witnessed the incident, says the askaris started attacking everyone on sight and Mr Gathece tripped as he was running and fell.
“They descended on him with machetes and knives, leaving him seriously wounded. We rushed him to the nearby Guru Nanak Hospital where they tried to stabilise him before transferring him to Kenyatta but he was pronounced dead on arrival,” he says.
Photos of Gathece’s body taken at Kenyatta National Hospital show multiple deep cuts on his head, chest and private parts.
Outraged by the circumstances of his death, Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko wrote to Director of Criminal Investigations Ndegwa Muhoro demanding investigations and arrest of the officers involved in killing Gathece.
“I am outraged by the unnecessary and excessive force of violence by the askaris on innocent Kenyans, I call upon your office to immediately undertake investigations with a view to bringing the culprits to book,” he said in a confidential letter dated October 13 last year.
A LITTLE FORCE
He went on: “To assist you in doing investigations, one of the askaris alleged to have killed Gathece was identified as Akasi Abhani aka ‘WASIWASI.”
In addition, the senator asked the DCI to investigate the deaths of Irungu Kamau who he said had been dragged from a city hotel and hacked to death on September 23, 2013.
Likewise, he demanded investigations into the death of Omondi Okoth, “a street vendor shot by askaris who were in Nairobi City Council vans bearing fleet numbers C 161 and C174”.
Nation has established that the said officer is still attached to the City Inspectorate and nothing has been done about the deaths linked to him.
And despite protests by the Senator Sonko, another hawker was felled in a hail of bullets during a crackdown on February 12.
Like previous incidents, the operation followed the same script.
Kimani, 22, was selling stockings at the Globe Cinema Roundabout when a county van with City Inspectorate officers backed by regular police officers ambushed them.
A postmortem examination by the Independent Medical Legal Unit shows a bullet, which entered his body from the back, penetrated his liver.
However, the City Inspectorate has denied that its officers, tasked with maintaining law and order, are breaking the same laws they are supposed to uphold.
“When one has fallen in the arms of law enforcement officers they quickly report that they have been beaten but sometimes a little force must be used,” says City Inspectorate director Hilary Wambugu.
But even as no one wants to take responsibility for the deaths and injuries inflicted on the hawkers, confusion still reigns as to whether it is illegal for hawkers to conduct their business in the city centre.
In May, the Nairobi County Government cancelled all hawkers’ licences, reasoning a number of permits had been issued “fraudulently” on its on-line system, allowing the traders to operate in the city centre.
The Nairobi City County Business Association says harassing hawkers is not working and has called for a new approach to solve the problem.
“The occasional harassment of hawkers and boda boda operators is not working, what is needed is regulation,” says the association chairman, Mr David Gachuru.