Being part f a gang seems to be the in-thing among Mombasa youth who are disadvantaged. Poverty is the main catalyst in pushing these young men and women into joining criminal gangs.
They comprise mostly of schoolchildren and dropouts aged 14-19 years old, the gangs’ numbers have swelled thanks to school closures.
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Members play out their double lives at the Mwakirunge dumpsite, which at 60 acres is the biggest in the country, double the size of Dandora dumpsite.
The gangs rummage through the trash to get items they can sell, including metals and plastic bottles.
They have become accustomed to the stench, smoke and filth, and are oblivious of the health problems they are exposing themselves to. What others sneer at as garbage is a goldmine to them.
When night falls, they use crude weapons, such as knives and pangas, to prey on helpless residents in the poorly lit streets.
“I never got into crime intentionally,” one member, 16, says. “I did it to sustain my lifestyle, and I do not see myself going back to school.”
Two rival groups exist: ‘Toroka uje lawama kwa mzazi’ (Run and come back, blame on the parents) and ‘Mbavu nene’ (Masculine ribs).
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Toroka Uje… loosely refers to when young girls are lured into premarital sex by the group and they get pregnant, it is the parents who will face the shame of having to raise grandchildren. While Mbavu Nene indicates people of strong character.
Small banners mark the territory of either side. Disputes can get nasty.
A day earlier, the two rival groups had clashed over a motorcycle. One group was chased away from the dumpsite and the motorcycle almost burnt.
Several gang members were injured. Some left naked after being stripped of their clothes in the melee.
While their schoolmates return to class after a long stint home due to Covid-19, some of the minors have gained ‘full-time employment’ as scavengers and juvenile gangsters.
Ali Mohammed* (not his real name), 16, did not go back to school, despite his fellow Standard 8 students resuming after the long Covid-19 break.
Following his parents’ death years ago, he has been living with his grandparents and uncle, which has not been easy. He had to repeat classes and was always trailing.
“I see an easier life at the dumpsite. I get easy money offloading garbage and also sorting out useful things, which we later sell,” Ali said.
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His cousin is suspicious that the boy’s criminal ways are not confined to the dumpsite. He says they have lost domestic property at their homestead, including ducks and chicken, which were stolen from the compound.
“There is a day in June he [Ali] came home late. When grandma asked him why, he threatened her and said no one should interfere with his life,” the cousin said.
“Some Sh20,000 also disappeared at a neighbour’s house, money meant for the women’s table banking.”
Clad in faded blue jeans and a dirty torn T-shirt, Mustafa Mohammed*, 15, says he was recruited into the Nguvu Nene group since all his mates were members.
“I joined due to peer pressure. I cannot complain, though, since I have been able to meet some basic needs from the money I earn from the dumpsite, and share the loot from the raids,” Mohammed said.
At the dumpsite, the minors forage through sacks of waste, which litter up to the road, blocking the pathways. They enjoy some sort of supreme authority, running their business uninterrupted.
Lying in the trash is medical waste, including syringes, bandages and gloves disposed of at the site.
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Joyce Ndaro, an elderly resident, explains this finding. “The disposables you saw come from some hospital facilities in Mombasa, and we are sure there are some which were used to treat Covid-19 patients. Some youths use injectibles on themselves,” she says.
She urged the county government to ensure proper disposal of garbage and to put up a perimeter wall so juvenile gangs do not hide at the site during daytime.
“The youth usually catcall young girls as they pass by and sexually harass them. It is scary to pass in that direction,” Ndaro said.
Toroka Uje is an older juvenile gang that was slowly being wiped out, but Covid-19 revived it and more members were recruited as the youth became idle at home. Now the gang is back in full swing.
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Several trucks trundle down the hilly road to dump waste, but one man’s waste is another man’s stock. The trucks carry goods that have decayed or been declared substandard, including rice, fertiliser, household goods, tissue products, biscuits, avocados and milk.
“We usually see large vehicles coming to Kibarani (Swahili name for the dumpsite) to buy some of the waste, especially fertilisers, for resale. So the youths and minors must be ready for such business,” Ndaro said.
Supa Joseph, a Digirikani Primary School girl aged 13, said they were travelling back to Mwakirunge on a motorcycle at around 8pm when they got a temporary thorny roadblock erected by the boys.
“They stopped us and asked my aunt to give them Sh2,000, which she denied having. They later demanded that she leaves me with them and proceed with my younger cousin, but she refused and gave them Sh500. That is how we escaped,” Supa said.
The gang, she said, had knives and pangas and was aged 13-17. Most smoked bhang or cigarettes.
Areas affected by their crimes and where the gang members come from include Majaoni, Sabasaba, Nyali, Marimani, Kibarani itself and Colorado, all within Mwakirunge.
The youth also engage in sodomy at makeshift kiosks and tents near the dumpsite, where they also meet girls as young as 12 years.
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Four boys from Marimani Primary School had to be persuaded to report back to class. It took the intervention of teachers to sway them.
Chale Kuza, the secretary of local CBO Usafi na Uhai, said insecurity is a major concern and has been rising due to the dumpsite activities.
“We have signed memorandums, petitions, held demonstrations, but nothing has been done,” Kuza said. “We even have evidence of budget allocations, including street lighting, perimeter fencing and infrastructure, permanent tractor to push the garbage, water and sanitation, but it is just on paper.”
A copy of the Mombasa County Annual Development Plan 2020-21 had indicated controlling waste and controlling dumping and burning, with the performance indicators being the number of fencing posts and fencing wire rolls required.
Some Sh100 million was set aside, according to the document. An extra Sh200 million was allocated for sanitary disposal of waste at the site.
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The new Kisauni police boss Peter Maluki said no robbery case has been reported near the site, but police would move to probe the claims.
“I have not been there myself but I will send the OCS to check it out,” he said.
Maluki said reports suggesting the presence of youth gangs in the biggest dumpsite in the country are worth investigating.
“Kisauni has several issues that we are already dealing with. My officers will move to the site and check the operations around the area,” he told the Star.