Mungiki gangs have taken control of matatu services in parts of Murang’a County, with operators urging security agencies to dismantle the criminal network.
The gangs are said to extort Sh60,000 daily from matatus serving the Kangare-Kaharate route.
The road is 43km long and has 300 registered PSVs, each of which must pay Sh200 to be allowed to operate.
And it is an open secret, as county police Commander Donatha Kiplagat says “we have a serious problem of Mungiki boys”.
The extortion ring has operated since 2010, said Murang’a South Matatu Owners Association treasurer James Njama.
“It started when all matatus were ordered by the government to belong to either a company or a sacco. Mungiki rushed to form saccos, taking control of the route,” he said.
“When it started, they demanded between Sh15,000 and Sh25,000 for a new matatu to be allowed to operate on the route. Today, the rate has shot to between Sh30,000 and Sh40,000, depending on the vehicle capacity,” he said.
On top of the admission fee, every matatu must pay Sh200, with the gang estimated to rake in at least Sh50 million annually.
It is a lucrative business that has attracted rogue politicians, security agents and some matatu owners and their crew. That alliance, he adds, feeds the gang even as senior security officers order their juniors to crack down on it.
“The government does not have control here…the transport rules are not enforced by NTSA (National Transport and Safety Authority). It does not matter whether the government has authorised you to ply this route, the final authority lies with these criminals,” he said.
Kigumo sub-county Directorate of Criminal Investigations officer Stephen Hamisi also said a crackdown is in the offing.
“We have the names. We have the spots that they use for their extortion and we are on their case,” he said.
A matatu owner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing for his life, told the Nation that complaining to the police is akin to signing one’s own death warrant.
“Walking into a police station to complain about the gang is suicidal. We know of senior officers who meet gang members in bars to share the loot,” he said.
He added that they had written several letters to the county commissioner’s office detailing the problem on the route but no action had been taken.
“When we write the letters, the security on the ground reacts but it is always deceptive. The gang members become discreet in collecting the cash and after a while the heat cools off and business as usual resumes,” he said.
He added that any matatu owner who defies the gang is threatened with death and arson against their vehicle, with police accomplices threatening operators with arbitrary arrests.
“The gang beheaded two matatu crew members inside a church at Karuri trading centre for defying its orders and at least 10 matatus have been stolen never to be recovered,” he revealed.
He said most of the gang members are from neighbouring Murang’a East sub-county and have recruited locals to help them control the route.
Central Regional Commissioner Wilfred Nyagwanga said “officers have been detailed to end the menace at whatever cost”.
He added: “We cannot afford the tag of being accomplices in an extortion racket. We want area residents to be our partners in addressing this challenge. If you find an officer who is cooperating with the gangs, let us have the information through our anonymous reporting platforms and we will act.”
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