If you walk or drive along the Mombasa-Malindi highway, you will easily spot a group of people seated on stones and some on the pavements of unfinished buildings.
You might think they do not have an agenda for the day. As usual, everyone seems to mind their own business.
However, one cannot help but hear the faint murmurs coming from those small groups while others idle around as they roll up bhangg, heroine and some chewing khat.
These are the drug dens of Mombasa, commonly known as maeneo. Apart from hosting drug peddlers, and drug abusers, they are places where criminal activities are planned.
There are more than 100 drug dens in Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi Counties.
Speaking to RoGGKenya, the Mombasa County Commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo, confirmed that the highest number of criminal cases have been recorded in Kisauni Sub County. People walking by are frequently attacked and their valuables stolen, even at day time.
There are also worse cases where machete wielding gangs attack locals and murder them in cold blood.
But how do such idle places end up being criminal hubs?
“The crimes are propelled mostly by the use of hard drugs. Kisauni has the highest number of drug dens in Mombasa County. Children as young as 15 years are abusing drugs,” said Taib Abdulrahman Director of the Reachout Centre Trust.
Reachout Centre Trust is a rehabilitation center based in Mombasa town. The center deals with drug addicts and recovering addicts. They are supported in various ways including the provision of medically assisted treatment.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic, most children were idle at home last year and that is how they ended up using drugs,” Abdulrahman told RoGGKenya.
He explained that this has lowered the age of drug abusers significantly, some of them are only 10 years old.
“Children were out of school for almost a year. This exposed them to many vices and bad habits like drug abuse,” he added.
Abdulrahman said drug users could not get food regularly because of the pandemic. As a result, the center is overwhelmed.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a “whole-patient” approach to the treatment of substance use disorders.
At the Reach Out center, they provide their clients with methadone which eliminates withdrawal symptoms and relieves drugs craving since it remains in the body for three days.
“With the methadone program, we reach over 1200 people. We work closely with the National Authority for the Campaign against Drug Abuse (NACADA),” he said.
He added that there are three other methadone centers coming up in Portreiz, Mombasa CBD and Likoni.
“At the moment, there are three new centers running up in Frere Town, Shimo la Tewa and Miritini which are up and running. We are planning to reach 250 people per centre ,” he added.
He also said that the people on methadone get nutritional support from the institution as a mitigating factor to help in recuperating.
“We provide them with two meals a day when they come for medication to help supplement the drugs that we provide. This also motivates them not to miss their appointments,” said Abdulrahman.
Inadequate human resource and funding are the main challenges the organization is facing in fighting the issues of HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 among drug users.
Free syringes for drug users
To fight the transmission of HIV/AIDS, Abdulrahman said, the organization has taken a bold step. They came with a treatment and syringe system where everyone is given and advised to use their own syringe.
“We have a clinic where we do the testing, monitoring and hand out the required doses of methadone. We also do door to door deliveries to those who cannot afford to reach the drop in centers,” he added.
RoggKenya sought to find out what makes these dens criminal hubs. The drug addicts don’t start their day in the morning. Most of them come out in the evenings where they gather around to roll bhang and others use needles to inject themselves in hideouts that are also accessible to the public.
According to a source who sought anonymity because of security reasons, these dens are well known to politicians. Sometimes addicts are hired by them to intimidate political opponents.
“The politicians come here to hire them as goons to interrupt campaign rallies or threaten people,” said the reliable source, who works closely with the addicts.
But they are not hired directly. Every drug den has its own leader who represents the addicts in negotiations and later pays them after the work is done.
RoggKenya has learnt that these drug dens are becoming more active, as the 2022 general elections season approaches.
The dens are also where weapons change hands. The source indicated that they have different types of guns and drugs that are used in attacks.
The source explained that the guns are stolen or hired from police officers.
For example, in late 2020, a lady at an M-pesa shop was attacked in broad daylight and a CCTV captured the robbers at Moi Avenue in Mombasa. The robbers were on a motorbike carrying an AK47, a weapon that is mostly owned by Kenyan police officers.
The source also revealed that as much as these drug users live as a family, they also offer each other sex in exchange of drug favors. This increases their risk of contracting Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).
“For example, if a woman wants drugs but she has no money, a man in the same den will offer her the drug on condition that she sleeps with him. This is usually a mutual agreement between the two of them,” he explained.
According to Mudharis Hamid, the Director of The Omari Project, a rehabilitation center in Malindi, the dens are hotspots of HIV/AIDs and Hepatitis C infections.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
He explained that the drug users still risk spreading infectious diseases among themselves by sharing the same needles for heroin.
“We give them free, new needles but they still prefer to share. They do not care about the repercussions,” said Hamid. He added that sharing the needles makes them feel like a family.
Mombasa County Community Health Volunteer Abdalla Abdulrahman said every ward in Mombasa has a drug den which has led to more insecurity in every other part of Mombasa.
This is despite county governments putting up methadone centers.
He added that it is important for the government to come up with after-care for recovering addicts, who are now taking methadone as a treatment.” Without after–care, recovering addicts still face stigmatization in the community increasing their chances of relapsing,” said Abdulrahman.
What surprises many people is how these criminals operate with the full knowledge of police.
The Mombasa County Commissioner has asked people to be vigilante and report any suspicious groups in their neighborhood.
“We are working closely with our officers on the ground to combat crimes and make sure that every Kenyan’s security is well taken care of,” added Mombasa County Commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo.
In a report released by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, there are over 30 criminal gangs operating in Mombasa.
According to the report, the majority of gang members range between the ages of 15 and 35 years with some gang members as young as 10 years.
What journalists should do:
- Highlight the rise and cause of the drug dens each and every time.
- Report on any issues of insecurity occurring around the drug dens.
- Report cases of politicians using these drug users in causing chaos during political functions.
- Do an investigative piece on the people behind the never ending problem of drug abuse in the Coastal R Who are the profiteers?
- Journalists should also attend safety trainings organized by their organizations or other parties on how to approach and cover drug related cases.
- Do an investigative piece on why the police have not been able to get rid of the drug dens, yet they are aware of their existence.