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Authorities on the spot over Liwatoni gangs

By Reuben Mwambingu
Friday, April 16th, 2021
Pedestrians crossing the Liwatoni floating bridge in Mombasa. Photo/PD/NDEGWA GATHUNGU
In summary

Authorities in Mombasa have been accused of allowing criminal gangs to infiltrate the newly established Liwatoni Floating Bridge to harass and extort people under their watch.

The gangs are said to extort and harass traders and Public Service Vehicles operators amidst reports they enjoy backing from some local politicians.

According to traders interviewed, whenever they go to display their merchandise on the bridge, they are forced to part with Sh270 protection fees from thugs claiming to be “natives of Liwatoni”.

“The groups claim to be natives as a result say they have the right to be paid by whoever does business in the area…Without giving them money they will chase you away,” said Mwanaisha Sikujua, a fishmonger in Likoni.

The gangs also extort PSV motorists, who pick and drop the bridge users, a situation that has made most motorists withdraw their vehicles from the route.

“They have made our lives extremely difficult. So we pay exorbitant fuel prices, passengers are also complaining about the high cost of living, yet again we come here to face these people.

I am sorry I will not go that side. This is the furthest we can reach,” a tout explained as the matatu came to a stop more than a hundred metres from the normal stage.

Yesterday, County Commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo denied the existence of criminal gangs but said he was aware of “illegal touts” and some  have been arrested.

“The traders need to report those fraudsters to police. Over 50 touts have been arrested and arraigned in court.

They are not criminal gangs but illegal touts,” Kitiyo replied via text message on People Daily’s questions about the gangs yesterday.

But on his part, acting Likoni sub county Police Commander Jackton Opengo said police are aware of the extortionist gang operating on both sides of the bridge and are in the process of dismantling them.

According to Opengo, preliminary investigations have established there are three groups of extortionists who claim to have been legally registered and they are targeting bodaboda operators, Tuk Tuk, PSVs, and small traders.

Relevance

 The police boss said 16 suspects have so far been arrested and an operation is ongoing to decimate the gangs.

“We are aware of those extortionists, even yesterday we arrested 16. There are some groups on both sides of the bridge but we are working hard on them,” said Opengo in an interview with People Daily yesterday.

As to whether the extortionist groups have any links with local politicians as claimed, Opengo said he has received the reports but said they are not relying on such claims as they have no basis.

“You know how Kenya is. Some people would always want to cling somewhere so that they remain relevant.

But when an offence has occurred, you carry your own cross the Mheshimiwa will not,” he said.