I stood anxiously at the corner as I pondered what to tell the young man if he asked why I needed the gadget he had gone to bring me.
When he emerged from an alley on Haile Selassie Road in Mombasa, John (not his real name), looked excited. “Do you have the cash?” he asked, as he led me upstairs to a dingy room packed with electronic items.
“This is what I got because you just made the order this morning,” he said as he squeezed himself inside his tiny ‘office’.
In his hands was a UV-5R Baofeng (VHF/UHF) walkie-talkie. He had taken two hours after I had asked him to get me one, through multiple referrals. It would cost me Sh5,000.
“This is so powerful, it can even infiltrate the police signals if you find someone who can help you get their frequency,” he explained as he dodged my question on how he got it.
As we conversed, I noticed that John had connected one of the phones he had to the county inspectorate frequency. This was the evidence I was seeking in my investigations. I wanted to know how easy it had become for people to pose as security officers with just a few ‘police gadgets’.
I met John after I had enquired in other shops in Mombasa, where several traders were ready to get me walkie-talkies.
“This one is licence-free. You will not be disturbed even if you are found by anyone,” said a trader, who showed me both a T60 and T80 Motorola walkie-talkie in her office near the Makupa Police Station.
I had also been promised a military ‘jungle jacket’ at Sh800. It looked like the fatigues worn by police officers, mostly during night patrols.
We learnt that criminals who impersonate police officers have been buying the jackets in second-hand clothes markets, including Gikomba in Nairobi and Kongowea and Marikiti in Mombasa.
At the markets, the jackets go for as low as Sh350.
Away from John, Kassim (not his real name), has also been making a killing at his electronics shop, attracting mainly young men.
The youths, the Saturday Nation learnt, have been flocking the shop outside Kongowea market on the Mombasa-Malindi Highway, to buy tasers — electro-shock weapons, with a 4.5 voltage, enough to disable an adult. Being in possession of one is illegal in Kenya.
The criminals buy the devices at Sh1,200 each, which they use to disable their victims before robbing them. In the last one year, tens of the criminals have been felled by the police, and dozens arrested in Mombasa. They have maimed and killed many in areas like Likoni and Kisauni.
Investigations by Saturday Nation reveal that residents of Nyali have borne the brunt of the young and dangerous criminals known for their machete attacks.
But the youth have now changed tack, arming themselves with the ‘modern weapons’.
The tasers have been linked to more than 15 attacks in Ziwa la Ngombe, Vietnam, Kisimani, Kambi ya Moto, Kwa Bulo and Mbungoni in the last two weeks, with only a few cases being reported to police.
“They attacked me just the other day. They placed something on my body, which vibrated and left me weak for about two hours, fortunately people saw them, and they fled,” said Ms Abdia Mohammed.
Mr Mohammed Matano, a Bombolulu resident, said the criminals have also been targeting homes.
“When they get into a house and find anyone, they electrocute the person with the taser gun and steal valuables,” said Mr Matano.
Ms Miriam Kimemia, a village elder, said she had received a lot of reports of people being attacked by the criminal gangs.
“We are happy to report that the Kazi Mtaani initiative has helped a lot of youth, but there are those who have decided not to leave their criminal ways,” she said.
Nyali deputy sub county police commander Ibrahim Dafala, however, said the cases have not been reported to the station.
“It is easier to follow something that has been reported to us,” he said, adding that a police squad was on the trail of those who are selling teasers and walkie-talkies.