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When Customers Turn Criminal…

  • Posted by: Lloyd Gitonga

The middle of the month is often the most stressful time to be a responsible adult. By this time, the previous month’s pay check has often been stretched to the limit and most people have their eyes set for the end of the month when their accounts will have been replenished. Everyone knows how it feels to be on the wrong side of pay-day, when you have to check your calendar every morning just to confirm that the month still has 30 days and not 72. Mid-month is when you have to look for coins under the sofa and in the laundry basket for your local “mama mboga.” It’s the time when you have to leave the car behind and take public transport to the office, spending two hours in Mombasa Road traffic squeezed next to someone twice your size.

It was the middle of September when my 10-year-old daughter came home from school holding one of her sports shoes in her hands, apparently torn beyond repair. I was distraught.

“But baby, we can fix this shoe,” I pleaded with her.

“Everyone in school is laughing at me mum,” she replied.

“Maybe it’s because you had something in your teeth. Are you sure you didn’t have sukuma wiki in your teeth?” I asked, working hard to hide an emerging smile.

“Mum, we have repaired this pair of shoes so many times that it’s become smaller. I need new shoes,” she shot back.

“Okay, I’ll think about it. Go do your homework,” I finally answered.

The next evening I caved and decided to buy Tasha* a new pair of athletic shoes. It was late evening, around 7:30 p.m., when I walked into a shop on Kirinyaga Road in downtown Nairobi. Inside the store were two other customers, two attendants, and a cashier. I slowly walked down the aisle, picking up a shoe, looking at the price tag, and quickly returning it on the display shelf.

Shortly after I entered the shop, four men entered. I noticed that they were all dressed in heavy clothing, which was odd considering it had been a hot day. They too begun browsing the items on the shelves. One of them, wearing a dark oversized trench coat, picked up a pair of shoes and walked towards the cashier. Things escalated quickly from there.


The man pulled out a pistol and trained it on the cashier, ordering him to empty the cash register immediately. His accomplices pulled out iron bars and knives and ordered us to surrender our wallets, mobile phones, and handbags.

I felt sick, considering I had just withdrawn money from my bank account to pay for the shoes. It was all over in a couple of minutes, and just like that I had lost two mobile phones and slightly over Ksh5,000. The cashier, not knowing what to do, held her head in her hands and burst into tears. I now had to get home wondering how to explain to Tasha that she won’t be getting new shoes any time soon.

Jane* was unfortunately a victim of a rising criminal trend in towns and urban settlements, where thugs pose as customers and target shops, mini-supermarkets, and similar businesses. These gangs normally work in groups of three or more and strike when a business is opening or just about to close up for the day. Such thugs typically dress in heavy clothing to conceal their weapons.

One should therefore be alert if you come across individuals who seem overdressed on hot days, or walk while favouring one side of their body, perhaps suggesting a concealed weapon. Instead of targeting high-end commercial premises, which are likely to have more sophisticated security measures in place, these opportunistic gangs look for smaller establishments who are less likely to have invested in security.

There are a raft of infrastructural changes that one can make in order to make his or her business more secure. The impact of measures such as security screening, manned guarding, and CCTV surveillance is often underestimated. Even having the decals outside your premises, warning individuals that premises are under CCTV surveillance, is often effective as a visual deterrent to crime. CCTV surveillance systems also provide crucial evidence to investigators in analysing a crime scene, as well as in apprehending perpetrators captured on camera. CCTV allows security teams to gather intelligence on manoeuvres used by criminals to rob and steal.

CCTV systems allow one to take a proactive approach when it comes to securing our possessions by deterring crime before it happens. Even in the instance that perpetrators do break into the premises, an integrated CCTV and intruder alarm system ensures a faster response to the threat.

Beyond embracing technology to combat crime, business owners should also consider improving the lighting and visibility around the perimeter of their premises, which gives potential robbers less cover. Improved visibility also gives witnesses vital details as to your physical location, which in turn helps security teams respond more effectively and in good time.

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