Park Road: Nairobi’s den of conmen and thieves - Beaking Kenya News

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Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Park Road: Nairobi’s den of conmen and thieves

 

Nairobi’s Park Road is a stretch of immorality. Sleaze lives here where a mix of substance abuse and cheap sex has made this upper Ngara Estate one of Nairobi’s most notorious backstreets.

Sandwiched between Kariakor, Pangani and Railway Staff quarters, one needs to be streetwise to venture into what was once among the pioneer living quarters of colonial Nairobi.

Every corner has a lodging, prominently painted to allure, and an indicator that commercial sex thrives here – where gangs, drug dealers and conmen share the streets with unsuspecting travellers. 

“We have special arrangements here where sex goes for as little as Sh150 owing to the high number of sex workers. Our rooms cost as little as Sh100 an hour,” said Moses Okwiri, a guard in one of the lodgings.

Ngara is Nairobi’s backyard. The garages and the low priced food kiosks are a reflection of a stagnated economy and where unemployment crisis in the urban areas has pushed many to live by the day. For as little as Sh300, one can get an overnight lodging – and many of the unemployed youth opt for this arrangement rather than rent a house.

But Ngara is also the refuge of Nairobi’s underworld; a fake and low-key version of the Las Vegas life. The garages and other informal sector businesses camouflage the shrewd ''peaceful gangs'' that thrive here. While gangs are mostly associated with using violence as a means to their end, that isn't always the case here.

In Park Road, they range from fixers, black money scammers known as ''wash wash'', pseudo pastors and bishops who have formed formidable unholy alliances to progress an organised network.

Park Road, Ngara

A bus terminus in Park Road, Ngara.

Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

Untraceable

Ibra, a resident, has been living here for eight years and opts to pay Sh400 a night for a lodging rather than get a single room for Sh2,000 a month. Reason: Like other members of local gangs, he does not want to be traced.

Armed with a phone and a computer, Ibra programmes phone numbers and with assistance from friends “inside some cash transfer service providers”. He manages to clone SIM cards and steal money deposited into accounts.

SIM swapping occurs when someone contacts a service provider and is able to convince the call centre employee that they are, in fact, you, using your personal data. Many people have been exposed to these hacks, and while these data breaches were previously thought to only emanate from Kamiti Prison, Ngara is turning to be the other locale.

“This is a world of the smart. You wake up early every morning to go and try your luck out there when, you can easily sit down and relax, apply your brains and earn,” Ibra says as he justifies his crooked life. 

“Hard work is for donkeys and it is a very futile engagement if you were to look at how life ends for the beast of burden.”

According to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations’ Serious Crimes Prevention Unit boss Obadiah Kariuki, Ngara area remains a prime target in crackdowns after the recent arrest of three hackers. The suspects were profiled after they attempted to hack into the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) online portals. 

They were found with Sh1.1 million in local currency, Sh100,000 in US dollars, three motor vehicles and fiber laser cutting machines that they were using to cut number plates. 

According to Mr Kariuki, they also recovered painted number plates, functional desktop computers, laptops and logbooks, modems and flash drives that they were using to store NTSA data. 

Ngara number plates bust ntsa

Items recovered following the police bust at a house in Ngara, Nairobi. 

File | Courtesy

That explains why the hackers hardly rent houses and opt for places where they can simply pack a bag and leave at a moment's notice.

To corroborate Ibra’s confession - that he gets assistance from cash transfer service providers - Mr Kariuki revealed they also arrested an NTSA call centre employee who was helping the two access the transport sector regulator’s data remotely. 

Flanking Ibra is a man calling himself Blackie who speaks with a heavy Kirinyaga accent. His specialty is ''multiplying'' local and foreign currency business while a middle-aged woman calling herself Priscila offers prayers.

“I prey on village women who are too religious by nature. Mostly they are to be found in towns that are near villages … Women who will trust me when I tell them God has the ability to multiply their money in prayer...they dutifully surrender cash,” Pricilla says.

She says she leads her victims to quiet places. 

“If need be I rent a room and, after I pray for them, I direct them to take over the prayers and, as they do so, I quietly make an exit. I have never gone back to see their facial expressions after they are through with their prayerful bit to find me and their cash gone,” she says with a hearty laugh.

The Nation established that this group has about 15 people — among them five women — and who travel to as far as  Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, and various Mt Kenya counties including Laikipia to carry out their con games. They then retreat back to Park Road to spend and share the loot where beer, khat, bhang, as well as nyama choma (roast meat) completes the roundtable meetings.

Con stories

This writer sat in one of these sessions where they swapped stories on how they got their loot. 

“There is this woman in a Murang’a shop. I gave her Sh1,000 note to sell me a sanitary pad that goes for Sh85. She gave me my change. I took Sh500 from the change and gave it back to her and the sanitary pads … I told her I just remembered I had a dozen others in my bag … She gave me back my Sh1,000,” says Melly, a participant, as she pulls hard on a cannabis joint. 

Melly claims she pulls such stunts in different shops.

For one Mr Wanyama, selling sex enhancement concoctions and peddling pseudo-medical knowledge to some under the guise of helping boost their immunity against Covid-19 is his current hustle.

“I mostly target men and when they are erect, they believe I have boosted their immunity and that they are now strong enough to keep the pandemic away from their lives,” he says.

Wanyama mixes water and sildenafil (a male sexual performance drug) and packs them in 20 milligram doses selling at Sh200 while cost of production per dose is Sh10. 

Another common trick is luring randy men into lodgings where they are later robbed or extorted by pseudo-husbands or other gang members. A few years ago, a senior county official fell into such a trap.

So valued are these gang customers that the management of one of the lodgings surrendered the TV and remote to them.

Police

But it's not just the criminals that add to the negative reputation of Park Road. In this area, residents say cops and thugs mix well - rules are broken by revellers and traders as the police give security. 

Within Ngara, it is not unusual for policemen to show up to their favourite watering holes while displaying their weapons. Sometimes, residents say, quarrels can quickly go south and they threaten to draw guns.

It is also in this estate that you will find police officers going round bars at various times of the day collecting between Sh50 and Sh200, depending on the peak level of business, and later coming to spend the money there.

Park Road falls under Starehe Sub-County and is served by Pangani Police Station under which are special units to deal with diverse security challenges. But if you ask the regular residents of Park Road, the patrols are more for financial gain than security.

Lure of sex, alcohol

For James Kiarie, a 72-year-old Murang’a native who is doing his 36th year in the estate, says: “Park Road has a very strong spirit that urges you to voluntarily waste yourself with alcohol and sex and the more you try to break out of the chains, the deeper you get.”

Kiarie says he has watched “hundreds succumb to drugs, alcohol-related health complications and sexually transmitted diseases”, while others have been felled by police bullets or lynching for engaging in criminal activities.

Mr Kiarie said police officers who patrol the area “are like they have a common command that they trouble no illegal trader as long as there is a rent to be collected.” He adds: “That is why many bars here do not have licences but operate so freely and in all hours.” 

Starehe DCI boss Nzau Musangi told the Nation that authorities are keeping tabs on the gangs and seek complainants to help dismantle them.

He also warned wayward police officers known to frequent drinking dens that they will not be spared arrest and prosecution, f the trend continues unabated.

“Especially if you are a police officer who owns a bar in this area and you are not following the law as it is… woe unto you,” he warned.

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