They are commonplace, especially on the Bamburi-Kiembeni road. You will see them clutching papers or torn books and pens, asking for “kitabu” from matatu crews. Kitabu is the extortion fees the matatu crews must pay to the young drug-whipped men in order to operate on the streets. They are members of Wakali Kwanza, a notorious gang that terrorises residents of various locals of Mombasa by exhtorting money and other valuables.
Peter Kamau, a matatu driver who plies the Bamburi-Kiembeni route says they have no choice but to pay.
“These young men are dangerous. They are under influence of drugs and carry weapons on them. If you refuse to cooperate you will end up with a knife in your time or worse, in you.”
Katana Mwachia, his conductor, agrees.
“They lurk around in groups. If you try telling off one of them, the rest show up and threaten to beat you up or deflate your tyres. The very brave ones threaten to harm you or even kill you. We have to give them what they want otherwise we are out of business.”
The gang is not just restricted to the streets. There have been reports of robbery incidents on various public beaches in the county. Popular beaches such as Pirates and Nyali are perpetual hot-spots. Maria tells of the day she lost her phone after being accosted by the gang.
“My cousin and I were walking slowly at the beach when suddenly we were surrounded by about six young men. Two of them were wielding daggers and threatened to kill us if we screamed. They took away our phones and money and walked away casually as if nothing had happened,” she says.
Residents of Kisauni seem to have suffered the brunt of these gang attacks. Late 2014 there were reports of a number of attacks on residents in the area. This was initially construed to be religious but turned out to be activities of the two rival gangs in the area; Wakali Kwanza and Wakali Wao. Running battles with the police became commonplace place as government agencies tried to weed out the security menace.
While the police currently deny any reports of the gang’s activities, Mzee Masoud who runs a coffee stall in Mlaleo says they have notified the police on more than one occasion.
“Many of these young men and women are people we have seen grow. Most are known. We even know where they train. We informed the police and some were arrested.”
Mama Leila thinks the residents are afraid of outing the gang members for retribution.
“They have networks, they will know if you tell on them, and then they will come for you. Some people pay protection fees so as to be spared, but many just keep quiet about the whole thing and hope it goes away soon.”