In the hierarchy of my greatest phobias, nothing tops my fear of Nairobi City Council askaris, also known as kanjo. They are the reason I never buy anything off the streets no matter how cheap it is or how attractive it looks. I live in the fear that I might get caught up in a random melee between the Kanjo and hawkers and receive one of their famous resounding slaps or the concussion-inducing blow to the head. We have stories of hawkers losing limbs, wares, money and their lives in the hands of Kanjo. All who live or work in the CBD or visit the city centre share one thing in common: We fear Kanjo more than we fear thugs and the police. If asked to choose, I would rather face a battalion of filthy street urchins than face a single Kanjo askari. Donâ€™t even get me started about being bundled into those unroadworthy contraptions they drive around. I would require truck-loads of prayer and therapy to recover from the trauma.
In Nairobi, we do not have City County askaris, we have animals. What we have is a cabal of blood-thirsty beasts hopping over puddles of sewer to get from one miserable street to the other, hunting for hapless victims. They do not operate under any law and the concept of professionalism is foreign to them. Nairobi City County askaris are a law unto themselves and a dangerous clique of hooligans that needs to be contained. Governor Mike Sonko should halt everything else and put a leash on these criminals as a matter of urgency.
I was reminded of the brutality and viciousness of the Kanjo when I learnt that Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor had been assaulted and arrested by Kanjo while running her own errands in Lavington last week. Ms Owuor, who had just come from a shop in Lavington Mall where she had purchased some oil, was caught up in a scuffle between Kanjo and hawkers. When she refused to run like the rest of us would, she was attacked by a man from the back and she naturally screamed and pushed back, thinking she was being robbed. The burly man roughed her up, straining her wrist and in the process, she lost her glasses. One of the Kanjo also stole her phone. They bundled her up in one of those rickety jalopies and charged her with three counts; hawking fruits without a permit, using abusive language and dumping garbage on the streets. Ms Owuor is not a hawker. She is in fact an internationally-recognised author and the recipient of various prestigious awards, including the Caine Prize of African Writing.
Now I know that the Caine Prize is perhaps a concept too complex for the brawny numbskulls at city hall to comprehend, but Ms Owuor, by all accounts is special. She is a national treasure. We knew about her case because she is relatively famous within some elite circles of Nairobi but mostly due to the fact that the media and her sphere of influential friends tweeted about it and wrote lengthy Facebook posts in protest. But what of the innocent people who have been assaulted, robbed, shamed, inconvenienced, extorted, maimed and even killed but did not attract media attention or had no friends to tweet about their horrific experiences?
I can see a lot of chatter on social media about Ms. Owuorâ€™s case but let us not lose this opportunity to put pressure on Governor Sonko to not just tame his boys, but also investigate the massive evils and injustices that Kanjo have metted out on innocent Kenyans.
I got arrested once by two traffic marshals for apparently jumping a red light in the CBD, which, for the record, I had not, since I am not dumb enough to put my life at risk and jump in front of unruly Citi Hoppas. The two demanded to get into my car and ordered me to drive towards City Hall. Big mistake, fellows. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I turn into a different woman when confronted by nonsense and that I can put up a really good fight. I told them off, and they soon let me go when they realised I was not cracking. I was lucky that day. I was lucky I could stand up for myself and argue my way out. But what of those who do not have the time or the chance to negotiate?
Sonko should take this opportunity to score a quick win with Nairobians by ensuring that assaulting an innocent person is the last thing a lawless Kanjo will ever do as long as he is governor.
Have a safe weekend and week ahead. And try to stay out Kanjo’s way.