Gossip

From criminal to ‘teacher’: the ex-gangster tackling crime in Nairobi – The Guardian

One of the city’s most wanted, Peter Wainaina was given a second chance and used it to turn his life around and help others find different path out of poverty
Last modified on Wed 26 Jan 2022 10.35 EST
At the entrance of Kibagare, a slum in Nairobi’s outskirts, boots of dead gangsters dangle from electricity wires that hover over ramshackle homes of wood and iron sheets.
With little state protection from crime, angry local people will often take the law into their own hands and beat an offender who is caught in the act, sometimes to death.
Throughout a decade of crime and drug abuse, Peter Wainaina, 32, narrowly escaped death on several occasions, until he retired from the underworld in 2009. Since then, he has guided hundreds of criminals to do the same.
“I suffered at the hands of the police,” claims Wainaina. “I was tortured and unlawfully detained. But I also met good police who gave me a second chance, which I am now extending to my peers.”
Wainaina’s initiative comes amid growing public distrust of the police, with allegations of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and corruption. Slums Network Reform (SNR) uses his experience and networks in the world of crime to bridge the gap between a disgruntled population and a police force often accused of brutality.
Born and bred in Kibagare, Wainaina, who is called “the teacher” or kiongozi by those he has helped, was introduced to crime at 12, when his father abandoned the family and he became its sole provider.
Like the rest of Nairobi’s slum dwellers, who account for about 60% of the city’s population of 4.4 million, his life was a daily struggle with poverty, despair and a lack of basic services, as well as rampant crime, which Kenya’s police have been accused of using as a pretext for brutal force.
“Most criminals hail from slums. Inequalities in the society lead them to find a better life through crime,” says campaign manager at Amnesty International Kenya, Steve Musau. “Being in poverty also stirs up peer pressure where those [involved] in drugs or crime tend to inspire others negatively.”
Unable to find a job, Wainaina quickly moved from petty crime to armed robbery and, fuelled by hard drugs, climbed the gang hierarchy. Dodging arrests and surviving mob justice, Wainaina earned the nickname “2Sharp” and became one of the city’s most wanted criminals.
In 2009, two encounters with the authorities led him to start afresh. A botched armed robbery left his friends scattered: some dead, some escaped. He was arrested then released; the arresting officer gave him a home-drawn tattoo of a shooting gun, a reminder of the second chance he was being given. But the next day, Wainaina was detained by a different officer and alleges he was unlawfully held for months, tortured emotionally and physically, and made to witness the brutality meted out to other criminals.
On his release, Wainaina gave up crime, devoted himself to church, and in 2016 founded SNR, seeking out criminals and encouraging them to reform. He is now married and has two children.
Kelvin Mwanga’s life was changed by Wainaina. Once a criminal who mugged and threatened people, he now works as a bus conductor on the busy Waiyaki Way, west of the capital.
Mwanga, 26, says Wainaina’s efforts to turn him away from crime began in 2016. “At first, I wouldn’t hear him out. It was not until 2019, when I was caught by a mob and then arrested that 2Sharp’s persuasion made me decide to change,” he says.
Wainaina supported him at court and secured him a job. He is saving to buy his own bus with Criviv Sakwa, 26, who was also helped by Wainaina.
Haroun Kibogo, 29, a former gang member, says poverty made him drop out of school as a teenager and become a fraudster. After his arrest, he says 2Sharp helped him “resonate with life’s reality”, and “see the bigger picture and the positive things life can offer”. Kibogo is now a family man and a shopkeeper and is part of Wainaina’s initiative.
Through seminars and workshops, Wainaina reaches people in the slums known for dangerous gangs – Kibagare, Mathare, Dandora, and Kibera. Partnering with clergy, his connections among gangsters and the police, as well as his scars from the mob attack and lynching he survived, are key to connecting with an underworld inaccessible to the state, and to negotiating bail outs and pardons for criminals.
“Peter’s initiative is quite transformative since he uses a different approach to avert crime,” says Musau. “His engagement with these criminals is also enhancing dialogue and good relationships with community members, in that parents seek his help and he gets their children out of crime.”
A Nairobi-based senior police officer, speaking anonymously, says Wainaina and his colleagues’ efforts “make our work easier but we can’t say he’s doing our job”.
“The community has a responsibility to ensure there are no criminals among them and Wainaina has been instrumental in this endeavour. Through him some young boys here are now making clean money in the transport sector, otherwise today they would be rotting in prison,” he says.
But there are limitations. Wainaina’s resources restrict his reach. Aside from small donations he may get from families he has helped, he has no funding. Gangsters assume he is well off and demand hefty handouts, he says, but he is not always able to pay off criminals’ debts to help them leave crime. Kibogo, Wainaina’s childhood friend, recalls how one of the former gang members who had agreed to change returned to crime and met with an untimely death.
“My heart was broken when a boy we were getting out of crime died after going back for a lack of $30, which he needed to start a business,” Kibogo says. “He was hit [on purpose] by a driver who saw him snatch a phone, and the mob descended on him to his death.”
This article has been published in collaboration with Egab.
Sign up for a different view with our Global Dispatch newsletter – a roundup of our top stories from around the world, recommended reads, and thoughts from our team on key development and human rights issues, delivered to your inbox every two weeks:

source

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button
WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com