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How cartels keep Nairobi in the Dark

Scratch my back… Drug dealers, commercial sex workers and muggers use vandals to switch off lights in their areas of operation

Engineers inspect some vandalised electrical equipment on Thika Road during construction. Vandals have been inteferring with street lighting, leaving the road in darkness.

Engineers inspect some vandalised electrical equipment on Thika Road during construction. Vandals have been inteferring with street lighting, leaving the road in darkness.

A sophisticated cartel is causing darkness in major security zones to boost their criminal business. By blowing off security lights in low cost estates and street lights in upmarket estates, the gangs get to steal and mug residents and escape unrecognised.

In the city centre, petty drug dealers, illegal alcohol sellers and commercial sex workers pay electricians to cut off power to the security lights that stand in their way.

The vandals are plucking out security lights’ control systems, exposing to muggings and car-jackings even on major roads.

Tapping power In the estate, investigations by Nairobi News showed that unscrupulous electricians were tapping power from the security masts and distributing it to houses in areas such as Ngei, Sarang’ombe, Mathare North, Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Laini Saba, Mathare Valley’s Mabatini, Huruma and Korogocho. They charge between Sh200 and Sh300 a month to their consumers, who in turn walk the dark streets in fear of muggings.

And in upmarket areas along Limuru Road, Thika Road, Waiyaki Way, Kiambu Road and Kileleshwa vandals have plucked the copper wires at the control systems plunging the roads into total darkness.

On the Thika Super Highway, for example, no single light was functioning on Friday making it one of the most dangerous roads to drive on after 7pm.

The Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha) spokesman Charles Njogu admitted that vandalism had plunged Thika Road into darkness.

“We repair and then the thieves come back. It is a big problem,” Mr Njogu said tersely. Kenha is responsible for maintaining the Thika Superhighway and other major roads.

Yet, the most recent vandalism on Thika Road occurred less than a kilometre from two police stations — Pangani and Muthaiga.

Metal dealers The magnitude of the menace is huge with 60 per cent of the masts installed being rendered useless within one month from installation, according to a source at the County Government.

Along Kiambu Road, for example, about 100 steel poles were vandalised while 14 were lost along Limuru Road starting from Forest Road junction to City Park.

But it is the viciousness of this illegal trade that is mind-boggling. At Kirinyaga Road, suspected drug dealers have been switching the 30-metre security mast lights off to facilitate their trade that thrives in the area after dusk.

At Ngecha Road off Lower Kabete Road, more than 30 masts were vandalised and carried away in a truck.

The head of electricals in County Hall’s Public Works department, Mr Samuel Kiuma, confirmed that vandal ism was being carried out by high profile people. “You can’t understand how all that work is done without being noticed. Carrying the masts away is also such a huge task,” Mr Kiuma said.

Documents at the department show that the profiles of vandals range from scrap metal dealers who invade posh estates because their works attract least attention. “With a lot of fibre optic cables being laid down in these posh areas, many residents assume the vandals are actually doing genuine work.” He said the criminals even warned officers who go to such sites to do the installations.

Mr Kiuma confirmed the County government had committed about Sh500 million to light up the city in the current financial year in a bid to fight insecurity but a decisive measure against vandals must be made to allow any progress.

“We have currently lit up between 30-32 per cent of our targeted areas.

The process would move faster if what is installed remains intact,” said Mr Kiuma.

The officer maintained that the challenge was mostly the cost of restoring vandalised lights. This become a problem because when a mast is vandalised, maintenance involves replacing the entire system.

“This means the cost of maintenance equals the cost of installation. Currently, one mast is costing Sh300,000,” said Mr Kiuma.

Security compromised Some areas in Ngei Ward in Mathare constituency are no-go zones after 7pm.

At least four huge security lights masts no longer function due to interference by illegal power diversion.

In some of the masts, the accessories are intact but they don’t work as they are meant to. “During the day, they are okay, but at night they are too dim to help anything because the power has been tapped into some homes,” says resident Karanja Miano.

At least a local politician who lost the race for the County Rep seat in the area is said to be charging residents Sh300 to benefit from the power that is tapped from the security lights.

From one of the tapped masts, protruded dangerous live wires at the gate of Eli Joy Early childhood school in Mbuthia village. Another affected area is Getathuru where residents now fear even going to shop after dusk because of the darkness caused by vandalism. Residents now say the switched off masts had doubled the cases of mugging and illegal gun trade in the area.

Ngei Ward Representative Dan Mutiso blamed some cartels reaping from insecurity. The people disconnecting the power are known. We shall be apprehend them because they are charging money for illegal power connections at the expense of security for residents,” said Mr Mutiso.

The Ward leader, one of the vocal leaders against the vice, said he was working with County Hall officials to tame the local leaders using impunity to line their pockets.

Ngei youth leader Moses Wesonga said the menace had become too much. “One person is charging Sh300 per month. We are planning to have youth security to police the area because the problem is affecting us and our small businesses,” said Mr Wasonga.

Kiuma: You can’t understand how all that work is done without being noticed. Carrying the masts away is also such a huge task”

-Nairobi news

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