Former Kenyan prisoners, illegal guns and fear of the police

Elijah Kanyi & Tamasin Ford,BBC Africa Eye, Nairobi & London

BBC A shotgun resting on someone's kneeBBC

As Kenya grapples with rising violent crime, BBC Africa Eye follows an ex-con as he tries to convince men to hand over their illegal weapons, one gun at a time.

“The worst thing I’ve ever done is kill someone. I killed a man,” the boy said after agreeing to film on condition of anonymity.

“I didn’t feel anything because I was on drugs. I feel like I killed a fly.”

Samuel, not his real name, is in Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria in western Kenya to meet King Kafu, a former prisoner who is now helping people escape crime.

It was obvious he was nervous. He has an AK47 in a hidden location and he now wants to hand it over to the police.

When asked why, he said: “There will be a day when my family will have nothing to eat. They will eventually get hurt.

“If I walked around and got shot, there would be no one there to take care of my family. So I decided, from the bottom of my heart, let me return this.”

Figures from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics show violent robberies increased by almost 20% last year.

According to the Institute for Security Studies, illegal guns are smuggled into the country across the porous border, making gun ownership by Kenyans unparalleled in East Africa.

Latest figures from the Small Arms Survey, which tracks global arms trends, show there are about 750,000 guns in civilian hands in Kenya. This number is more than the army and police combined.

Kafu acts as a middleman between those who want to surrender their guns and the police.

Man talking on microphone

King Kafu uses his radio program to urge young people to stay away from crime

He was 15 years old when he first committed the crime. It started with snatching people’s bags, but then he moved on to armed robbery.

In 2003, he was sentenced to four years in prison for robbery.

Samuel reached out to him on Instagram for help. Kafu spoke to local police in Kisumu and they agreed to take Samuel’s guns, promising that he would not be investigated under the well-established amnesty program.

But when it was time to meet AK47 again, Samuel did not appear.

Kafu, now 40, is a presenter on Ghetto Radio, a station popular with young people in Nairobi’s slums, and uses his platform to speak out against gun violence.

“After my release, I discovered that many of my friends involved in crime met tragic ends, most of them died because of their criminal lifestyle,” he said.

This is what changed his life.

“No one is born a thief. But even when young people don’t have jobs, we still tell them that crime is not good. People should return illegal guns to the government,” he said.

For the past 20 years, the Kenyan government has used amnesty as a way to control gun crime, promising immunity to those who turn in their weapons.

Thousands of guns have been handed over to the authorities. But this is only a very small portion of the illegal weapons in circulation.

Shadow of a person by the window

People who want to surrender their guns worry about being identified

One criminal told BBC Africa Eye that buying guns in Kenya is easy. He said he could buy one for 40,000 Kenyan shillings ($300; ​​£240).

Kafu said those willing to surrender their illegal weapons to authorities fear they could become targets themselves.

The police have been charged in connection with the extra-judicial killings. Kenyan charity Missing Voices says more than 800 people have died at the hands of police in the past five years. Most of them are poor young people.

In Nairobi, BBC Africa Eye accompanied Kafu to meet another man, who we will call John, who was willing to give up his gun.

“I’m willing to return it. You go and kill someone. You will spend the money you earn within three months, but you have already shed someone’s blood. You hurt someone and feel guilty. That life is so complicated.”

John’s biggest fear when going to the police was that something would happen to him.

He described what happened to a friend who confided to a community elder that he wanted to surrender two guns. He was picked up by police and then found in the morgue a week later.

He said: “The problem is who to trust and how to delegate it.”

There have been many allegations of Kenyan police renting and selling guns and ammunition to criminals. BBC Africa Eye made this request to the police but they did not respond.

Man talking to journalist

King Kafu acts as an intermediary between the police and illegal gun owners

Kafu called the local police chief to reassure the man of his safety and a few days later they went to the police station with the gun.

The officer checked the serial number on the weapon and it had the symbol KP which stands for Kenya Police.

At a police press conference announcing the return of the weapons, Kafu made a public statement ensuring police reiterated their commitment to keeping the men safe.

“I want the government to be clear with young people. When they return these, will they disappear or be supported? I ask the government to cooperate. These young people want to be shown love.”

This alone won’t stop violent gun crime in Kenya, but Kafu says it’s a start. Criminals trust him, he said, and hope he can encourage more people to turn in their weapons without fear of retaliation.

“We are trying to fight for these youth,” Kafu said.

More BBC Africa Eye stories:

Getty Images/BBC A woman looking at her mobile phone and BBC News Africa imageGetty Images/BBC


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