All things considered, 2017 was quite the year. From the #WanjigiChallenge to the #EyeWitnessChallenge, from the much publicized unga crisis to the launch of the Standard Gauge Railway in June, last year had it all.
However, the calendar year will be most synonymous with the words: elections, campaigns and politics. A severely protracted electioneering season characterized by divisive rhetoric which led to frayed relations and extreme tensions as the political temperatures in the country reached a fever pitch.
With the emotive nature of our politics playing out on the national scene, the security challenges that came with it were numerous. Strictly speaking security matters, electoral violence consistently made local and international headlines this past year. But what other crime trends did we note last year? (We shall revisit politically-instigated violence later in this piece)
- Armed Crime:
As per our preliminary annual report, armed robberies made up 15% of the criminal activity that we noted across the country in 2017. The proliferation of small arms remains a thorn in the flesh of national security organs, and the fact that “shot thugs” made up a further 11% of the activity in our database last year goes to illustrate that law enforcement agencies certainly had their hands full last year.
We particularly noted evidence of organized criminal activity (gangs) in major towns and cities, including Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Murang’a, Nyeri, Kiambu, Nakuru and Naivasha. While the gangs were predominantly involved in home and office break-ins, we also noted numerous incidents of abductions and the demand for a ransom in exchange for a loved one’s life.
Of note here are reports noted in December of an armed gang that has reportedly been operating within Kayole, Zimmerman, Ruai and Githurai in the nation’s capital. The gang is said to have been using hired cars to go about abducting individuals from families deemed wealthy enough to afford hefty ransom fees.
Theft made up 15% of the criminal activity that we noted last year, making it the third most common form of crime in our database after murder and armed crime respectively. These figures include cases of employee theft, where employers have had to deal with everything from rogue workers making off with a pair of jeans off the production line for instance to big financial institutions losing millions with the alleged aid of insider information.
Speaking of banks, November brought us what is sure to be one of the most talked about bank heists in Kenyan history. Four suspects are believed to have spent at least six months digging an underground tunnel 30 metres long to access the strong room of a bank that is barely 20 metres away from a police station, making away with Ksh50 million in the process.
The innovation shown by criminal elements did not stop there. Thugs in parts of Central Kenya are also reported to have used house helps to facilitate home break-ins when the occupants were away. Revelers in Murang’a and Nairobi were also targeted in this particular crime trend, with victims having their food or drink laced before being driven off and robbed.
We also noted reports of home owners being drugged to induce deep sleep before they were robbed clean. Speaking of drugging, a media report of passengers being drugged while aboard Kasarani/Mwiki-bound matatus also sparked outrage among Kenyans in November 2017.
Murder has consistently been the most reported form of crime noted in our database throughout the calendar year 2017. Overall, murder made up 30% of crime in our records, as much as armed crime and theft combined.
Chief causes under this include domestic violence occasioned by allegations of infidelity and family property wrangles. Matters reportedly came to a head in late November when police in Nakuru County expressed concern over the rising incidence of domestic violence in the area. This came after the murder of a 53-year old woman by her husband.
Now, statistically speaking, terrorism wasn’t one of the crime trends that was most common in our database in 2017 (4%). That being said, the sheer number of terror-related incidents rose rather sharply this past year compared to 2016, with Lamu and Mandera counties particularly bearing the brunt of attacks by Al Shabaab operatives.
Most notable casualties in the past year included the former Lands Principle Secretary Mariam El Maawy, who passed away three months after a high-profile ambush by the Al Shabaab in Lamu in July. Incidents such as these brought the success of the ongoing “Linda Boni” operation geared towards flushing out extremist elements from their hideouts in Boni Forest into question.
The militants’ preferred modus operandi has been the use of Improvised Explosive Devices planted by the roadside, making transport a perilous affair for motorists and passengers. The terrorists also favoured the armed ambush technique, waylaying vehicles traversing the area while heavily armed. This even caused a public transport crisis in Lamu in August 2017.
- Electoral Violence:
The longer-than-usual electioneering period certainly took its toll on our security resources. Foreign advisories, mapping of “hotspots”, billions of shillings spent on security over the election period, and the deployment of at least 150,000 officers drawn from various state agencies were all features of our preparedness for the polls.
Subsequent electoral disputes following the August 8th polls led to weekly civil protests by Opposition supporters in various parts of the country. These protests often turned into violent running battles between protesters and anti-riot police, particularly after the government outlawed protests in major towns countrywide.
Our state security has since been accused of heavy handedness, with the use of live bullets and indiscriminate force cited against the police officers’ conduct in response to the protests. According to the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as many as 33 could have lost their lives at the hands of the police. This includes the deaths of baby Samantha, aged 6 months, among other children which elicited emotion among the Kenyan public.