City youths leading flashy lifestyles by trading in stolen items
They are sleek and sharply dressed and can easily pass for business executives from blue chip companies.
But that would be a mistake. They run their own businesses in Nairobi’s black-market; an underworld that is secretive and protected.
On weekends, they work till 3pm on Saturdays.
Then they close shop to the public but within their networks, business kicks into high gear.
The shop is relocated to a car on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon to handle the buying spree.
Welcome to Nairobi’s Electronics black market.
From laptops, to smartphones, iPads and cameras, everything is available here.
A few calls and a little bargaining later, you will get yourself a nice iPhone, Blackberry or Samsung Galaxy S3, at a very good price.
They know these phones are stolen, but they will still sell them to you.
James Mukinda (not his real name), 25, is the envy of his peers. He has a flashy lifestyle that even some of those in the corporate world cannot afford.
He drives a sports car and is always in formal wear. I meet him through a mutual friend who explains my mission.
After much convincing, Mukinda opens up about his business, but with conditions. We will not reveal his identity.
Mukinda runs a shop from a building on Moi Avenue. His shop is disguised as a barber shop-cum-phone repair shop and there are always some young men hanging around.
It is like a protection ring. Some are selling the phones while others chat away, with a few having a shave; the perfect disguise.
“I sell these phones at below market price because they are second hand,” he first says.
But with a little prodding, Mutinda admits these items are stolen and that he makes a handsome profit selling them.
“I normally buy high-end phones like iPhones, Samsung, Nokia, Blackberry and Sony Xperia.
Young people love these phones but cannot afford them. We sell them at what they consider affordable prices,” he finally admits.
For example, he will buy a Samsung Galaxy S3 at Sh6,000 from his ‘boys’ and sell it at Sh15,000, walking away with Sh9,000.
When new, this phone costs Sh36, 000.
But aren’t they scared of the police and handling stolen property? I pose.
“When we started we were apprehensive, but after three years of doing it, we are now masters of this game.
It is true that we are not comfortable handling these phones but we have managed to sell some of these phones to the cops. Actually, some of them sell us the phones too,” he says.
To avoid getting caught, Mutinda says, they never use the phones.
“We understand how technology works. You cannot dare use these things. Who knows, the owner might have been killed and the cops are on the case, then your SIM card’s IMEI number helps them track you,” he shares.
Mutinda is just one of Nairobi’s urban youth making a living through this illegal trade.
Many urban unemployed youth have joined in and are making ends meet either as brokers, dealers or technicians.
It is these young, techno-savvy youngsters who are making the electronics black market thrive.
They understand their way around the electronics and, with a magic password, ensure that tracking software installed in such devices is rendered useless.
So have they had a brush with the law? I ask.
“There are occasions when you will get into trouble but I have never reached a police station.
I remember there was a time I was arrested after selling an expensive Nokia to a university student. Little did I know that the owner, an Asian was murdered,” Mukinda, a former Kenya Polytechnic student says.
He bribed the cops to let him go.
In this business too, competition is stiff: “You have to pay your ground guys handsomely so that they can bring you the stuff that gives a handsome profit,” he says.
On average Mukinda makes about Sh80,000 per month.