January 20th 2018

Top Stories / National

How Eastleigh mall owners, police nurtured violent 'Superpower' gang members

From interviews with residents and security officials, it is hard to say exactly when the gang was born, with some saying it emerged from the large Somali underclass that has been growing for nearly a decade.

By Free Press Reporternewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comMonday, 03 Apr 2017 11:38 EAT

Eastleigh hawkers during a September 2, 2016 protest after their stalls were demolished for trading at the doorsteps of shopping malls in the area.

Long before the 'Superpower' gang gained national attention last week following the shooting in cold blood of its two members, the group was already well known as a thorn in the flesh of the Starere police division and the Somali business community in Eastleigh, both of which had tacitly cooperated with its members.

The police and top businesspeople in Eastleigh had allowed the gang members to provide vigilante security to shop owners even as the youths were becoming more menacing to other residents and, over time, security officials themselves. From interviews with residents and security officials, it is hard to say exactly when the gang was born, with some saying it emerged from the swelling Somali underclass in the estate.

A police source told this website that Eastleigh has always had cases of crime, but the close-knit Somali families usually handled disputes within kinship systems through elders. However, since 2011, there were a number of cases reported to the police, including drug abuse, petty theft and muggings.

The reports increased tremendously following the counter-terrorism operations in the estate in 2013-14, when it is believed the authorities helped radicalise many youths who felt the force against the community was excessive. Since then, identity politics, drugs and crimes combusted in ways that gave violent gang members a sort of validation in the community, according to some residents.

"At the height of the dispute between the Eastleigh mall owners and hawkers from late 2015-2016, the mall owners and business community openly depended on gangs to keep away hawkers. The youths would come across a hawker, beat him up and confiscate all his wares, and everyone felt this is what the hawkers deserved," said a resident. The youths destroyed many stalls during their operations.

By late 2016, the youths had become bolder, operating in all Eastleigh neighbourhoods. At a time when the police were believed to be providing security between the hawkers and mall owners, the resident said, "The police would station their trucks around St Teresa's Church and let the gangs do the work for them". The businessmen allegedly paid the gang members handsomely, but when the dispute between hawkers and mall owners was eventually addressed by the county government, they stopped to pay, and the gang members, who had become more lawless, turned on them.

The relationship between the two sides deteriorated further when the youths killed a businessman, Mustafa Abdullahi Hashi, who operated a popular a wholesale shop called Kenzi wholesalers, near Dar es Salam Mosque, in August 2016. Just a month before Mr Hashi's killing, the youth had also shot dead a police constable, Abdiaziz Mohamed, who was a bodyguard to Majority Leader in the National Assembly Aden Duale.

"Armed and pinicky, they would kill any police officer who came their way, whether the officer was consciously pursuing them or not," said a police source. With this enmity, police began to pursue them, with the businessmen volunteering information to the police. The businessmen identified some of the gang members who were not Kenyan citizens.

Some of these were from Somalia who had registered as refugees, while others were citizens of the USA, Belgium, Canada and other western countries who were in Kenya on temporary visas. Some of the foreigners had been brought in Kenya to live with relatives, a number of them in order to cool off from crime or drug abuse in the western countries where they were born.

Unlike other Kenyans who are divided on the killings, the Somali business community strongly support the police for killing the youths, who they see as giving Eastleigh a bad name and affecting their businesses. 

Last night, a businessman from Eastleigh named Ahmed Mohamed appeared on Ctizen TV where he strongly supported the action by police, saying the youths had become problematic. "We as the business community strongly support the police," he said, describing how dangerous the youths had become.

But Patricia Nyaundi, the director of the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights, said the country has reached a dangerous level where some people are beginning to normalise violence. "It is understandable that the police are immense pressure, and in this situation the easiest thing to do is to take the easy route but that is wrong", she said.


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