By Judith Gicobi
The emergence of political gangs and militias in Kenya has alarmed some Kenyans, civil society members, and security professionals ahead of the August 9 polls.
The participants observed that despite efforts by successive administrations to crack down on them, these gangs have increased in magnitude and prominence in Kenya during a virtual meeting organized by Counter Terrorism Policing Kenya on Thursday.
“The issue of criminal gangs has been around for such a long time in Kenya. We have had successive Presidents banning gangs but still the problem persists. I believe Moi Banned about 18 gangs. Kibaki did the same with about 30 gangs and Uhuru did the same with 90 gangs, but we find that we are still in the same predicament despite the efforts that have been done so as to curb the menace,” said Shanti Tasha, a participant.
Tasha stated that the gangs constitute a serious danger to the country’s national security and that the government must act quickly to confront the matter.
They blamed the circumstances on Kenya’s youth’s high unemployment rate and graft in the security intelligence services.
They said that politicians were exploiting young people’s desperation to enroll them into these gangs, which they claimed were being utilized to further their own selfish agenda.
According to Dominic Pkalya of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a survey conducted by the National Crime Research Center in 2018 revealed that gangs had grown from 33 banned in 2010 to 326 detected by research in 2017.
“So that alone shows that the gangs increased by almost 1000%, in seven years, meaning that by now probably we have more gangs than that,” he said.
He went on to say that research by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime revealed that gangs, particularly in Nairobi and Mombasa, are engaged in illegal operations that are supported by politicians and will be utilized to sabotage or disrupt the elections.
Pkalya claimed that criminal gangs in the nation were now creating new identities in order to elude justice, alleging that there could be over 400 gangs operating at any given time.
The IGAD Centre for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism’s head of strategic communication, Martha Njiiri, pointed out Murang’a, saying the county is now experiencing the formation of female gangs heading to the elections.
“We are also seeing emerging patterns of where it is no longer young men that are involved in these gangs, but we are also having young ladies who are getting into these gangs and are actually gaining growth in the county,” she said.
The approaching polls in August, according to Nehemiah Kipserem, a youth leader from Uasin Gishu County, provide a breeding ground for political gangs and militias to develop.
The lack of transparency among the security agencies, according to Kipserem, has made it harder to resolve the matter.
“The intelligence pipeline in the Republic of Kenya has been infiltrated and also corruption has really penetrated. Okay, I may call this a mere allegation, but if I were wrong, we couldn’t be having such cases as today, because that’s the role of intelligence of the Republic of Kenya. They should be able to scrutinize and any misconception should be dealt with immediate effect,” he said.
He went on to say that the intelligence community should be aware of the actions of existing organizations or groups in the country.
Another participant, Franklin Waruhiu, stated that politicians mostly employ political gangs to gain power and protect their assets.
“Mostly you’ll find politicians mobilizing youths into political gangs just because they want to get power,”
He went on to claim that certain politicians utilize these gangs to assassinate their rivals, citing the disappearance of some bloggers and opponents during the 2013 and 2017 elections, which he linked to a desire for power.
The participants suggested that policies governing the activities of various government agencies be amended to accommodate them to carry out their mandates independently.
They also urged for a study of the media’s coverage of political gangs and increased security in specific areas of the country to avoid criminal gang infiltration.