They are highly-trained, lethal and dangerous. They ply their deadly trade in return for cash. It costs between Sh93,000 and Sh371,000 to eliminate a business or political rival. Like the Mafia, killing is in their blood.
They are rogue police officers and organised gangs. In a new report on hitmen for hire in Africa, corrupt law enforcers and hardcore criminals are reportedly the most dangerous assassins in Kenya.
They execute contract killings for social, political or economic interests. Land disputes lead to such statistics. After the killings, detectives are either silenced, intimidated to stop investigations or bribed to sideline them.
Titled ‘Targeted killings in Eastern and Southern Africa’, the study is produced by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crimes (GI-TOC).
“Targeted killings by police where there is a clear organised crime motivation – for example, police working with specific gangs to take out the competition. In such cases, high levels of impunity often mean the police are seen as a viable option to eliminate competition or ‘solve a problem’,” the report states.
The survey, which analysed contract killings in Kenya, South Africa and Mozambique, states that although these countries keep statistics of homicide cases, there was no data on contract killings, and low conviction rates make it difficult to know the motives for these killings and the manner in which they take place.
It states that hits related to business disputes and economic outcomes threaten the notions of fair economic competition, and may affect the victim’s immediate community, and more so economically if the individual was a breadwinner.
“The threat of violence also has the potential to limit or eradicate transparency and accountability in cases where journalists or whistle-blowers are killed,” the report states.
National Police Service Spokesperson Bruno Shioso dismissed the report as erroneous and misleading because ‘it does not bring out data to support the claims’.
“The report itself states that it does not have data to support its claims that police were involved in extrajudicial killings,” he said.
In Kenya, the report cites the killings of former Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) official Chris Musando, the directors and managers of Kihiu Mwiri farmers, university student leader Samuel Mogaka Ragira, environment activist Joanna Stutchbury and many others.
Nairobi was ranked top in the list of counties that have experienced the most hits between 2015 and 2020, followed by Mombasa and Kiambu.
“Political hits made up the largest portion, followed by hits related to organised crime, and personal hits,” the report states, adding that a remarkable decline in the number of hits has been recorded since the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic that led to the Ministry of Health imposing tough restrictions.
Contracted killings associated with politics targeted rivals, students, lawyers, activists, witnesses, businessmen and organised crime affiliates.
“The majority of these cases involved the silencing of voices who were speaking out against illegal or corrupt activities. There were also a few cases of ‘taking out the competition’,” it states.
Unlike South Africa, where the majority of hits related to gang violence and drug turf wars or business disputes, the 2015 peak of hits in Kenya appear to have been caused by a surge in disputes over land rights.
Since 2015, some 16 directors of the Kihiu Mwiri Farmers Company Limited have died under mysterious circumstances. The firm, whose name loosely translates to ‘hot blooded’, was founded in 1971 by a group of farmers seeking to buy land from white settlers.
Two rival factions started splinter groups, namely Ward Four and Kula na Kumaliza (under the umbrella of the Kihiu Mwiri Company). Competing forces wrestled to control the organisations, which resulted in numerous cases of fraud in the share register.
The assassinations started in 2001, and since then, directors Benson Gumbi, Newton Muhoro, Job Mwangi and James Kimaru, Wilfred Gichana, Peter Kuria, Chrispas Wanyoike, Chege Mwangi, Paul Kaharu, Paul Kariuki and others have either been murdered or are missing.
Politicians rely on gangs to rally support and intimidate rivals.
Use of firearms was the most popular mode of assassination, with the situation being exacerbated by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
The second most common method was beating the victim to death.