How criminal gangs use women and children in killings and extortions

What you need to know:

  • While the male gang members are hardened criminals, women and children are usually used to distract attention because they are normally not the “usual suspects,” on the police watch, says the report released Friday in Nairobi by Attorney General Githu Muigai.

The underworld of organised criminal gangs has been laid bare in a Government report that details their intricate dealings, how they use women and children, invest their stolen loot and receive backing from politicians.

The report identifies 46 notorious groups, which it says are spread across the country carrying out murders, extortion, kidnapping, drug trafficking, robberies, and evictions.

It spells out the specific tasks given to women, children and the elderly in criminal activities and how the gangs leave the police dazed and frustrated.

While the male gang members are hardened criminals, women and children are usually used to distract attention because they are normally not the “usual suspects,” on the police watch, says the report released Friday in Nairobi by Attorney General Githu Muigai.

The women are relied on for spying and the safe-keeping of stolen loot, while the children come in handy, carrying guns and illegal drugs for the gangs.

The elderly administer oaths to fresh recruits and are also key in resolving disputes that frequently arise among gang members, to ensure the illegal outfits remain intact.

“The gangs are evolving in an unprecedented way, giving enormous challenge to law enforcers. We are surprised by the number and colourful descriptions of themselves. This is a catalyst for disaster,” said Prof Muigai.

Women in criminal gangs usually masquerade as prostitutes, with the aim of getting closer to targets they have been ordered to spy on.

If a male member is caught in public while committing a crime, it falls on the women in the gang to raise a false alarm, create confusion and help him escape, says the report in a finding that evokes memories of slain Mungiki spokesman Njuguna Gitau, who was always accompanied by a woman whose duty was to scream whenever police approached, causing a commotion to help him escape through crowds.

Gangs that specialise in burglary often use children by pushing them through small openings where an adult cannot fit so as to enter a house.

Once inside the building, the children then open doors and windows to allow the adults to enter. Police have in the past exposed incidents where children in school uniform carry drugs and guns concealed as text books in their bags.

“Children convey arms and drugs from one point to another for adult criminals especially in points where law enforcers are likely to detect the adults. Children are also used to prompt potential victims to react negatively so that the adult criminals can intervene,” says the research that is only the second Government report on crime trends in the country. The first, which identified Nairobi’s most dangerous neighbourhoods, was released in April this year.

“There is that old perception that women and children do not take part in crime. That’s is far from the truth. It’s only that female criminals are more into soft crimes when compared to the men,” says the deputy head of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations Gideon Kimilu. In Kenya, he added, most drug peddlers masquerade as street children and are also used as spies.

Within illegal groups, the elderly spearhead negotiations with rival gangs to maintain cohesion besides administering oaths to fresh recruits.

In areas such as Mathare slums where the Mungiki and Taliban reign, confrontations are common as rival gangs fight for supremacy, creating opportunities for older members to resolve the turf wars by convening negotiations in which contested areas are mapped out and gang members ordered to restrict their activities to areas within their jurisdictions. Violators of such pacts are usually heavily punished by the elders in their own gangs, usually in form of fines.

“Intergroup disagreements, power struggles and conflicts were frequently reported between criminal gangs. It was reported in Nairobi between Mungiki, Kamjesh and Taliban over the control of matatu routes in Eastlands,” says the report, which goes further to show that criminal gangs use the ill-gotten wealth to invest in businesses that look legitimate.

The report says: “Organised gangs are involved in formal and informal businesses including ownership of public service vehicles and motorcycles, car wash premises, rental houses, retail exhibition shops, kiosks, scrap metal dealing and gambling.”

For instance, the expansive farms in Nakuru have for a long time been associated with Mungiki, whose officials also own palatial houses in Kitengela and Ngong.
The report says the gangs rely on established business magnates to access legal aid and bail out those arrested.

Prof Muigai called on all security agencies in the country to team up to fight the gangs. “We need an urgent collective response including police, National Intelligence Service, academics, and the judiciary instead of each of these entities working on their own.”

Kenyans who spoke to researchers who compiled the report blamed the government for failing to eradicate the gangs.

“According to most of the respondents, there had been no arrests of gang members in their areas in the last three years when serious crimes had been committed and offenders were known. Majority were not aware of convictions of gang members,” the report named Summary Of A Study On Organised Criminal Gangs In Kenya, said.
It was prepared by the National Crime Research Centre.

Politicians also provide money to gangs in exchange for mass support in their areas of jurisdiction while corruption in the police and Judiciary, as well as political influence, was blamed for the emergence of gangs.

National Crime Research Centre director Oriri Onyango said the country was witnessing the emergence of more organised criminal groups in even more complex crimes such as terrorism, piracy, cyber-crime, corruption , drug  trafficking, money laundering, sexual abuse and gender-based violence.

“These crimes have become a common concern both for the government and citizens not only in Kenya but across the globe and have impacted negatively on personal safety and security,” said Mr Onyango.

Mr Paul Suter, a lecturer of Sociology and Psychology at Moi University,  said in a telephone interview yesterday that most young people were joining the groups due to unemployment and frustrations.

“We have delegated the primary social role of the family to the secondary role which is peer pressure and mass media, leading many young people to such organised criminal gangs,’’ he said, adding that many parents were focusing on developing their careers and occupation at the expense of their children.

Additional reporting by OUMA WANZALA