When police announced on Tuesday that they had arrested four suspects in Ngara, Nairobi, less than three kilometres from the city centre, and recovered marijuana and other hard drugs along with Sh13.4 million in cash, they were merely playing to the gallery.
They also never clarified whether the 54-year-old woman, identified as Teresia Wanjiru, who was plastered on police social media pages together with her cache of drugs and cash, was the popular and influential drug lord nicknamed “Mathee wa Ngara”.
A raid was carried out and four suspects including minors were arrested with 26 sacks of bhang, four cartons of rolling material, 42 cartons of cigarettes, 200 a pack and 173 pieces of an unidentified substance.
Though no one agreed to speak about Mathee wa Ngara on record, locals, especially mechanics and food vendors, described her as a quiet woman who was deadly when she was crossed.
“She has two houses; one in the slum where she stays to blend in with local folk and another one that is a closely guarded secret,” a fruit vendor in Kariwa told Nation, adding, she often leaves her slum house for the other home every now and then. Beyond that, private personal life and whether she has a family.
“Her life is mysterious ... we know she enjoys protection from shadowy people but we have never seen them here,” said another local, an elderly man.
The sting operation, Nation understands, caught officers at Parklands Police Station off guard, even though the area falls under their jurisdiction.
Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) officers from the Anti-Narcotics Unit, however, said their secretiveness was to protect the operation from infiltration by Mathee’s informants.
“We knew that rogue police officers from the station were offering protection to the masterminds and suppliers of hard drugs in the area,” a DCI detective said in confidence as he is not authorised to speak to the press.
Nation reached out to the head of criminal investigations at Parklands Police Station, Mr Isaac Tandai, who confirmed that the entire operation was organised and executed by the Anti-Narcotics Unit. “We were just there to support them,” he said yesterday.
Asked if the famous Mathee wa Ngara was the one posted on the DCI’s social media pages, Mr Tandai confirmed that she was.
He added that, to his knowledge, the woman had been arrested and arraigned before but he had scanty details on the case“because it’s barely been four months since I was posted here.”
Anti-Narcotics Unit boss Margaret Karanja was not available for comment by the time this story went to press.
A source at Parklands Police Station told Nation that a rift between senior police officers and their juniors over how to share the protection money led to one of the officers, who felt sidelined, to use an informant to alert DCI headquarters through the toll-free whistleblower line.
“The Sh13.4 million was to be delivered in cash to the woman’s business associates. They are powerful people in the government... I can assure you that the woman will be charged in court, released on bail and will continue to sell drugs. She is just the face of the business. There are real owners and the police know that,” a detective at DCI headquarters told Nation.
The money comprised her entire collection for two months and, since such a huge amount of cash is not bankable at once, it was to be delivered using armed plainclothes police officers, another detective told Nation.
Mathee wa Ngara, a mechanic said, was a well-known drug dealer whom everyone knew but no one was willing to publicly acknowledge her existence.
“She has established her business in such a way that there are those who come to collect marijuana and other drugs as wholesalers and there are others, mostly students and addicts, who take it on credit and resell for a profit, after which they repay her. No one dares to run away with the money. They will be killed. She is that powerful,” he said.
To understand the intricacies of the drug network and to confirm what our sources had told us, that the illegal business was going on uninterrupted despite publicised arrests, Nation visited the area yesterday.
Kariwa slum in Ngara is accessible either from Ngara Fig Tree on Murang'a Road or via Kipande Road from the Museum Hill interchange. While on Kipande Road, exit on the fourth lane just before the roundabout.
From the entrance area, just past the garages, there are dingy eateries where we had lunch with my contact, and, as we walked up, we saw Don Bosco Kariwa School, a small kindergarten that mainly serves the locals, right inside where the wholesalers and retailers buy the drugs.
“What you're seeing is just the tip of the iceberg; nobody can arrest you here, the police know this thing exists and even those arrested during the raid are not booked at Parklands Police Station because the owners of this business are funding them for protection, so take your time but try your best to fit in,'' *Solomon Kibaku (not his real name), a boda boda operator who had offered to show me around, told me after we had finished lunch.
The deeper one goes, the more worried one gets about getting out safely, especially if one is a stranger. Kariwa slum sits next to apartment blocks and shanties that serve as small illegal business centres during the day and as shelters at night.
We walked into the corner of the illegal centre where we found nearly 80 youths scattered around in what appeared to be an open area. The most sold drug here is marijuana and another drug we heard most people asking for — Molly or MDMA — which alters mood and perception. When taken, it produces feelings of increased energy, emotional warmth and distorts sensory and time perception.
A single roll of bhang goes for between Sh50 and Sh100, while Molly or MDMA, packaged in a crystal form of three or four tiny pills, is sold for Sh4,500.
College students are the biggest buyers of MDMA, which is crushed and sold as a soluble powder that is repackaged and sold in clubs and entertainment joints.
Kariwa slum is as popular as the person who keeps it alive with illegal drugs; Mathee wa Ngara.
A simple Google search for “Kwa Mathee Ngara” will give you an instant direction and the announcement that it is “open 24 hours every day”.