On June 8, 2007, an anti-Mungiki police operation in the sprawling Mathare slums in Nairobi led to the recovery of two G3 assault rifles from a woman’s house. The rifles had been taken two days earlier from two Muthaiga-based police officers gunned down by Mungiki adherents in the slum.
Then, on October 14 the same year, 15 Kenyans, among them a Nairobi businesswoman, were gunned down in Moshi, Tanzania, reportedly in a botched bank robbery. Earlier, in mid-August, a woman carjacker identified only as Stella was gunned down by the police on Thika Road.
These incidents, a senior officer who participated in the anti-Mungiki operation revealed, prompted the police department to form the Special Crime Prevention Unit (SCPU, which was placed under the command of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, then known as the Criminal Investigations Department.
Nairobi County Police Commander Japheth Koome acknowledges that today women are involved in serious crime, adding that they capitalise on society’s soft treatment of the fair sex.
“Recent occurrences in our fight against criminals have revealed a very ugly and ferocious face of women gangsters. Yet they are so young that at first glance, they look your ordinary church usher. But they are hard to detect, and equally hard to find even if you detect them,” he says.
He cites two incidents in Nairobi in which two teenage girls, Claire Njoki Kibia and Marsha Minaj, were shot dead last month by the police in a span of days on suspicion of engaging in criminal activities. The shootings raised debate on what drives young girls to crime.
“These young girls are victims of a harsh society with few resources to help them chart a meaningful future,” says Ms Loise Okello, a family counsellor in Thika Town, arguing that society is so insensitive to the poor that, “If you fail to get a donor to finance your way to prosperity, chances are that you will end up in life’s dustbin.”
She adds that in the search for identity, many children from poor families try one escape route after another, and that is how some end up in crime.
Meanwhile, Murang’a County Police Commander Naomi Ichami says she has taken an interest in the two incidents since Njoki was from the county “because it means young girls in this region are being recruited into criminal networks. It is only reasonable that I try to find out who is recruiting them and what drives them to crime”.
But while she regrets that the two young girls were killed for being engaged in crime, Ichami says the police will pursue criminals relentlessly, whether young or old. “We have a huge population of Kenyans to secure against all threats of insecurity, including those from wayward youngsters,” she says.
It appears that for a long time the police failed to factor in the role of women gangsters in the crime index, let alone laying down strategies to tame them. This is because they were thought to engage mainly in crimes like shoplifting, and drugging patrons in entertainment joints and stealing from them.
But now many police officers say that women gangs are alive in Kenya, and they are just as vicious and daring as their male counterparts.
“Women are today active actors in organised crime, in which they are equal partners with male criminals in armed heists and hit jobs, but mostly provide safe havens for wanted male criminals. Women criminals/accomplices are particularly effective in transporting or keeping firearms, given that they attract less suspicion,” an officer attached to the old Nairobi Area Flying Squad Base says.
Former police spokesman Eric Kiraithe says women’s involvement in violent crime is food for thought in a society that has lived for too long with a sexist mentality, attributing violence, muscle power and dangerous engagements to men.
“Thanks to our sexist mentality, women might be getting away with serious crimes, given that in almost all incidents in which male gangsters are gunned down in the company of women, those women are invariably lucky and get away,” Mr Kiraithe says.
Sources indicate that many female police officers seeking fast cash align themselves with criminal networks, providing security intelligence to criminal cells, compromising investigators on behalf of the criminals and in case of arrests, identifying the prosecution witnesses and planning their execution to scuttle the court cases.
Police sources say that twilight girls in major urban centres are potential armed gangsters. They tell of cases in which the girls lure motorists, only to rob them at gunpoint once allowed inside the car.
Former Kilimani Division police boss Herbert Khaemba says that, although not very widespread, isolated cases of such incidents have been reported in the western part of Nairobi.
Esther*, a barmaid who confesses to having had a gangster lover for three years (2011-2014), says: “We do not help the gangsters out of choice, it is all about earning a living.”
She says he came into her life when she was desperate and gave her hope. He was gunned down by the policeon Kangundo Road in Nairobi in early 2015.
“I do not regret having befriended him. Given the sorry situation I was in when came into my life, I would get into a relationship with him a thousand times over,” she says.
She talks fondly of the man, whom she identifies only as Super Joe. From her narration, it appears that many of the women who get caught up in the risky web of organised gangs don’t quite know what their men do.
She says the relationships typically begin as genuine romance, with the woman realising only much later that she has gradually been sucked into being a personal assistant, concubine or a wife of a criminal.
Mr John Kiriamiti, a reformed criminal, reveals that gangsters recruit female aides in sex dens and on the streets, lure waitresses in pubs, or just court them.
“Gangsters target women who are financially desperate. The gangster will offer to pay the woman’s rent and provide her other basic needs, and she will eagerly swallow the bait,” he offers.
His statement is corroborated by a self-confessed commercial sex worker, Florence Kamita*, who says a woman in a financial crisis will “wholly embrace a wads-of-notes brandishing Satan and abandon God if that is what it takes to escape poverty”.
Ms Kamita, who operates in Eastleigh, Nairobi, says: “Barmaids and those in my trade would be lying if they told you that they cannot name least five male gangsters at the snap of a finger. We value them since they are extremely generous.”
GANGSTERS AND PROSTITUTES
Meanwhile, Dina Asha, who was rescued from prostitution in 2012 at the age of 17 says: “During my brief experience as a prostitute, I came face to face with dozens of gun toting clients. I harboured men with bullet wounds in my house. I hid firearms in my bag…Yes, there is a symbiotic relationship between gangsterism and prostitution.”
It began when she landed herself a loving, understanding, and very gentle client:“I expected to make Sh200 that night but he bought me supper and beer. And without even engaging me for the night, he gave me Sh2,000. He consoled me, saying I was just another victim of a hostile society, and that I had the charm to make a good wife. We met regularly and his cash never seemed to run out. He changed me completely and became my only sex partner. I even bore him a son….”
Three months into the relationship, she asked him what he did for a living, and he said he was a cross-border businessman. And that is what she believed – until he was gunned down in April 2016 in a botched carjacking.
“While it lasted, I unwittingly hid him, spied for him and my house served as his armoury, not to mention his many business associates who turned up in the dead of the night for meetings at our house in Githurai in Nairobi,” she says.
But she quickly adds that not every woman living with a male gangster is a criminal.
“You see, female gangsters exist only by extension. In my case, I was involved in an honest love affair. I strongly believe that this is the case for all the other women we hear about. I dare say that all women caught up in crime only realise that the men in their lives are gangsters when they eventually get wind of their arrest, or the man reports home with bullet injuries, or accidentally stumble on a firearm in the house, or that sad moment when they learn through the media that he was one of those gunned down,” she says.
But regardless of the academic explanations Kenyans might wish to advance to explain why women engage in gangsterism, Koome is clear that Nairobi will not be a safe haven for any criminal, “be that criminal male or female”.
“In the past, we have treated women accomplices in crime very gently. These women look innocent, decent victims of circumstances. There is no way they can tell us that they are criminals because they are jobless. There are very many jobless Kenyans who live straight lives. Crime is for the lazy and those unwilling to do an honest job.”
How women use sexism to their advantage
MR JOHN KIRIAMITI, one of the pioneers of bank robberies who was dreaded from the ’60s to the mid-’70s, — but now reformed— says female criminals’ homes serve as command posts, since it is there that that operations are discussed and their practicability tested. He further notes that male criminals find it easier to hide cash and weapons in women’s houses “since even the police are embarrassed about searching a woman’s house.”
And when pressure from the police gets too much, Kiriamiti adds, male criminals retreat to these safe havens, where they strategise how to either buy their way out of the police’s most wanted lists, or how to liquidate the lead detectives on their trail.
In addition, some of the women criminals spy on, and lure, their male colleagues’ targets for elimination.
Kiriamiti says that the women use their sexual charm to lure their male colleagues’ targets by agreeing to go on dates with them, and in most cases end up poisoning, stabbing or shooting these cops themselves.
This is how they lure “troublesome” policemen who, if they refuse to be bought to cooperate, are killed.
However, Kiriamiti says it is a double-edged operation because if a particular male gangster, or the whole gang, falls out with a female accomplice, she can betray them to the police. He says the police sometimes succeed in winning a female accomplice to their side, so she simply waits until all the gang members are gathered in her house then calls them.
He warns that many twilight girls, especially the “very decent looking ones who have an aura of respect”, are very dangerous, adding that many of their victims are too embarrassed to report to the police.
“They might not be actively involved in the violent acts and the intimidation carried out by male gangsters, but they’re a tool, an integral part of the gang,” he notes.
“That is what happens when you hear that a whole gang was ambushed and gunned down as they were planning to commit a crime,” Kiriamiti offers.
This means that women are central to, and the major beneficiaries of, the gang world’s booty, yet they rarely get nabbed or caught up in shoot-outs.
A senior officer agreed with Kiriamiti saying: “It is true that female criminals have infiltrated even the police force. It is also true that some policemen are lured by women who take them to organised gangs, that torture, interrogate, disarm and kill them.”
Notably, in a recent case in Sabasaba Town in Murang’a County, a female police officer was nabbed hiding an armed robber in her rental house.
What women gangsters do Running and hiding guns
Hiding their wanted male colleagues in their houses
Spying for their male colleagues
Luring their male colleagues’ targets for elimination