A bilboard advertising a massage spa is seen along Lenana Road in Kilimani, Nairobi Such billboards have become a common sight around the neighborhood.
How Kilimani lost its allure to become Nairobi’s gang, illicit sex capita
A poster advertising massage services at the intersection between Gitanga Road, where Lavington ends, and Ole Odume Road where Kilimani begins, shows just how low the upper middle class estate has sunk over years.
At face value, the poster — and there are many of those dotting roads, public clocks and apartment walls in Kilimani — gives the impression of booming demand for massage services or cut-throat competition among providers.
The reality, however, is that the word ‘massage’ is a euphemism for something else — sex work. And you don’t have to go too far to establish this.
Just dial the numbers provided or visit the online pages advertised on the posters and you will stumble on what could be Nairobi’s most thriving underground prostitution industry.
A Kilimani resident, Mwihaki Muraguri, at one point caused an uproar on social media when in a series of tweets, she confronted authorities demanding to know whether they were aware of the booming sex work industry in the area.
This is after her children asked her while on their way to school what a massage meant.
“Last week on my daily route, four signs went up on this roundabout advertising a ‘spa’. My nine-year-old son asked me ‘what’s a massage spa?’ Every day he and the 300 primary kids who walk this route must contend with this,” said Mwihaki.
“We both know they are not a conventional spa but cater to adults seeking joy. Given that every public advertisement in my city is licenced by the Nairobi County Government, why are we allowing our children a daily visual assault of services that have nothing to do with them?” she posed.
That prostitution is rife in Nairobi has never been in doubt. In fact, sex work has thrived in Nairobi since time immemorial, earning roads like Koinange Street the dubious distinction of being a one-stop shop for sex.
What worries many Nairobi residents, however, is the growing trend of twilight girls moving away from streets, night clubs, bars and lodges into the estates.
And in Kilimani, many standalone houses and apartments have been converted to brothels.
“It is not that these things are happening in secret. Everyone, including the police, know about the prostitution taking place here but they look the other way,” Kevin Opala, a resident, laments.
“I pity the children who are being brought up here,” he adds.
Unknown to these residents and perhaps even the police is that along with the booming underground sex trade industry in Kilimani, modern-day slavery is thriving in tandem with the prostitution.
The shadowy players, faced by cutthroat competition amongst themselves, force the girls they employ at these brothels to not only work long hours but also prohibit them from leaving the premises at all.
Once signed up to the trade, as the Nation found out, the identity cards of the girls are swiftly confiscated.
They are then cramped in one of the bedrooms where they live for as long as they are working. They are only allowed one day off per month. Any time they leave the premises is presumed to be an outcall and a demand for money made will be made by the owner of the brothel.
“I will have to pay the boss Sh10,000 if I leave here unless it’s my off day,” a masseuse in one of the spas told this writer.
Prostitution remains outlawed in Kenya. The Penal Code, however, also makes it illegal to profit from the sex work of others, and to aid, abet, compel or incite prostitution. This includes operating brothels.
But if you thought that the booming underground sex trade being carried out in plain sight of young children in Kilimani is its biggest problem, then you have barely scratched the surface.
In the last two years, the estate bounded by Valley Road to the east, Denis Pritt Road to the north, Ngong Road to the south, and Korosho Road to the west has earned itself an unenviable title of being Nairobi’s gangland capital.
Today, barely two months will pass before a macabre murder or bizarre incident is reported in Kilimani. On Thursday, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) is expected to return to court and explain if it has found out who killed Sheila Murage last month within the area.
Ms Murage’s body was discovered last month in a flower bed at Santonia Court after an overnight party with her friends on July 17.
Milimani Chief Magistrate Martha Mutuku released the three suspects linked to her death on a Sh100,000 bond or Sh50,000 cash bail each.
An autopsy report indicated that she suffered head injuries inflicted by a blunt object and was sexually assaulted before she was killed. The body also had physical injuries on the back and blood was oozing from her nose when she was found. There were also bruises around her wrist and her clothes were torn.
“The court directs the suspects to report to the Kilimani Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) every Monday until August 28, when the case will be mentioned for further directions to be given,” Chief Magistrate Mutuku.
How it changed
Kilimani wasn’t always like this though. Once among the city’s posher suburbs with exclusive low-density residentials loved by senior civil servants, the middle class and the rich, the neighbourhood’s deterioration can be traced to one major event.
Changes began in 2016 when the Nairobi County Assembly passed a motion allowing the construction of commercial centres and high rise apartments in upmarket neighbourhoods.
Under the new law, affected were areas classified under Zones 4, which comprises Spring Valley, Riverside Drive, Kileleshwa, Kilimani, Thompson and Woodley.
What followed was a rush to bring down the remaining 1950s bungalows to make way for modern multi-storey apartments and office blocks.
At first, most of these new apartments tried to keep the original aura of wealth and exclusivity associated with the neighbourhood by having spacious homes with large beautiful balconies, lifts where necessary, health clubs and swimming pools.
Over time, the area became popular with expatriates and upwardly mobile young professionals with good incomes due to its proximity to the Nairobi CBD and good housing.
But at some point, developers stopped paying attention to maintaining a certain aesthetic.
Apart from beautiful homes, well-paved roads and dots of green spaces, Kilimani is also home to one of Nairobi’s oldest shopping malls; Yaya Centre, and The Junction.
And with rents starting from about Sh50,000, today, anyone who has a good income but cannot afford to buy or build a house aspires to live in Kilimani.
The ‘Kilimani criminal’
Somewhere along the way, nouveau riche criminals have trooped in and turned it into their playing ground.
The typical Kilimani criminal, however, does not waylay people on the street and shake them down for money, hijack a vehicle or rob a bank.
He tends to be white-collar, tech-savvy, and is well connected with the police.
He also has a licenced firearm courtesy of his connections and is an expert in money laundering.
He probably also dresses quite well presents great outward image, but don’t be fooled. He is also extremely ruthless if you stand in his way.
Last weekend’s murder of Kevin Omwenga over a suspected fake gold deal gone sour is just the latest example that betrays the existence of this criminal ‘community’.
Mr Omwenga, 28, was a car dealer whose fortunes suddenly changed after he quit his job and joined a syndicate of gold swindlers.
An autopsy performed on Monday confirmed that Mr Omwenga had been shot at close range, even as the suspects tried to distance themselves from what is so far being treated as a murder.
Two of Mr Omwenga’s friends, Chris Obure and Robert Bodo, are being investigated as the key suspects.
Chief government pathologist Johansen Oduor said the bullet was shot at close range from a higher trajectory. This means that either the killer was taller than Mr Omwenga — who was standing at the time he was shot — or that he may have been sitting down.
“The bullet came out through his back on the left side after going through the vital organs including the heart. What killed him were the injuries,” said Dr Oduor.
“It looks like someone who died instantly. When the heart is injured, you have very little chance of survival.”
The syndicate of gold swindlers that Omwenga is suspected to have joined has become a major headache for local law enforcement agencies. Despite dozens of arrests carried out in the area over the last one year, the circumstances around the killing of Mr Omwenga show that the trade is still booming in Kilimani.
The con game continues
Apart from the fact that most of those engaged in the fake gold trade live in Kilimani, they also run offices in the area. Here, unsuspecting foreigners are duped into paying clearance fees for a mineral which Kenya does not produce on an industrial scale.
The fact that those arrested for plying the fake gold trade are only charged with obtaining money by false pretence, which is largely considered a felony that allows one to get a cash bail, enables them to continue conning people while their cases continue in court.
Operating side by side with fake gold traders within Kilimani are money launderers and cybercriminals.
For instance, the owners of two of Nairobi’s popular posh night clubs — Kiza Lounge and B Club, also located in the area at Galana Plaza, have in the past found themselves in trouble with law enforcement agencies over alleged criminal activities.
Mr Ali Omarou, the Nigerien owner of Kiza Lounge, was only recently allowed to come back to Kenya by the courts after being deported last year over his involvement in suspected criminal activities.
While deporting him in September last year, the Interior Ministry said Mr Omarou was “on an international criminal list for various serious crimes.”
High Court Judge James Makau, however, ruled that “Mr Ali is a diplomat and is therefore immune to arrest and deportation in the manner done last year.”
Mr Barry Ndegeye, the Rwandan owner of B Club, has also been arrested before for money laundering in Belgium but escaped to Rwanda before resurfacing in Nairobi in 2015 to start a night club.