By Waringa Wahome
Our local community forum, which was held on Friday, June 2nd, involved strategic deliberations aimed at action against drugs and crime in Mathare. It was convened by the Campaign Against Drugs and Crime of Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC), and in partnership with Haki Africa. The meeting was attended by 44 people, among them youth and the elderly from the different sectors; local traders, business people, persons in recovery from drugs and crime, youth group members, community based organizations, local village elders and community members. The main objectives of the forum was to analyse and reflect on drugs and substance abuse. Above all to: (1) Identify factors that drive young people to drugs; (2) Understand the linkage between, drugs, crime and violence; (3) Examine the role that poverty plays in driving young people to drugs; (4) Evaluate and agree on what is to be done going forward.
In April 2022, Lucy Wambui, our member and local convenor of the Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network, wrote
We can see that the government also has a role to play, they create and sustain this negative environment. When I interacted with most youths here in Mathare, I understood why the Kenyan authorities and young men in the slums play a cat and mouse game: they are like water and oil, they can never mix. According to most youths in the area, they say that instead of police officers maintaining law and order and protecting life, they make crime increase. The police are the ones who provide guns to them to go and commit crimes, and police get money from drug dens, ensuring that drugs are always sold where poor people can see them, where poor people live. At the same time, the police are arresting youths daily using fabricated charges, and some end up being disappeared and others are killed by police. This makes youths get into crime and use drugs because they have given up on life, and they don’t know who will be next in the hands of a killer cop.
From this article, it was evident that drugs are intended to make young people in Mathare blind to the harsh realities here, and to accept the hardships caused by poverty and structural violence. In Mathare, the most thriving businesses are selling chang’aa (a locally home-distilled brew considered to be an illegal brew) and the sale of hard drugs. Communities such as Colombia, Nigeria, Kosovo, Bondeni, Mathare 3A and 3C, and Mabatini in Mathare, are mostly associated with chang’aa and/or hard drugs. These have been the most violent stricken areas in Mathare over time and in the recent skirmishes. The young people, some in their late teens, are allegedly the most involved in drugs and consequently in crime. These areas are also where most young people killed by the notorious killer cops come from.
MSJC’s membership set the scene at the meeting and introduced the campaign. The Campaign Against Drugs and Crime was birthed as an intersectional outcome of our other eight campaigns, and it aims to monitor and participate in the fight against drugs, crime, violence, extrajudicial killings and related issues.
The community best understands the effect of drugs, crime and violence. The sale of hard drugs in Mathare exists under very unclear circumstances: sale, consumption and trafficking has been conducted in so much openness but still too much opaqueness. It seems to also thrive in extensive conditions of hopelessness, fear and violence. One attendee at the meeting, who happened to be a community leader, narrated her experience while trying to fight against hard drugs in her area, Kosovo. Her home was raided and she was consequently charged with trumped up charges in a bid to threaten her to keep silent.
In a deeper analysis, the major effects of hard drugs include the high rates of school dropouts and early pregnancies. During the open session, most people reflected on the interconnectedness of school dropouts and early pregnancies, and the subsequent rise of crime and substance abuse.
Many people under the age of 18 are getting married, renting houses, raising “homes” and surviving through involvement in crime. Other effects that came up during the consultative forum include: poor hygiene, sexual violence that was leading to a rise in sexually transmitted diseases, insecurity, a rise in sex trafficking and prostitution. It was also apparent that children born in a family with a case of drug abuse, more often than not, follows the same parental experiences.
It was also understood during the forum that these hard drugs do not originate from Mathare, nor are the main peddlers from Mathare. The pushers, who might be from Mathare, are in the business of sourcing for income. Other drugs, like cosmos and yellow, are alleged to have come from Mathare Mental Hospital and pharmacies that sell these drugs easily to the community.
Also, most of the aforementioned areas, like Colombia and Nigeria, have no administrative authority from chiefs, the police or the D.O or D. C., and extortion and violence forms the order of each day. Attendees noted that the recent gang fights in Mathare, which saw seven young people profiled and threatened by killer-cops on Facebook pages, were actually drug related violence disguised as ‘idle youth’ gang wars.
Drugs have continuously unified young people, who eventually form gangs mostly utilized by politicians to achieve their interests, which in most cases are personal. These gangs are, in most cases, culprits of the different forms of violence in Mathare. Thus, in order to achieve peace and security, the attendees opined that the solution would require an advocacy campaign and an organization- based approach against drugs and violence. There is also an oversupply of drugs.
Elderly men and women in attendance had also been victims of hard drugs. Idleness and poverty were highlighted as the cross-cutting issues. The participants agreed that the community must have agency to deal with issues related to drugs and crime since the authorities seemed to be complicit in the many violent cycles of drugs and crime in Mathare.
In conclusion, the participants agreed that unemployment is a common factor that had led young and old people in Mathare into drug use. Most of the participants reflected that the problem of extrajudicial killings had to be handled from its core, identified to be two main factors: drugs and crime.
Young people were also advised to be considerate of the future, to reform and turn into defenders of their human right to dignity instead of succumbing to hopelessness. They also said that instead of arresting those victims of drugs, rather those who allow for the peddling and sustenance of the hard drugs business in Mathare should be detained. The people in Mathare live in destitute conditions, most have no access to food or nutrition, have no access to safe and clean drinking water, and there is no quality education; all of these issues cause the present situation.
The participants agreed to form a committee against drugs and crime, which would be coordinated under Mathare Social Justice Centre. This committee would monitor the trend of drug use and advocate against drugs, crime, violence and extrajudicial killings.
Below is what the committee has decided to do:
Draft a program of demands on employment and social justice
Organize community barazas targeted at advocacy against drugs and crime
Organize consistent activities that bring the Mathare community together to allow for community advocacy against drugs and crime. This includes tournaments, different forms of art, graffiti and concerts, local barazas, community cafés and focus group discussions
Conduct consistent research, monitoring and documenting cases of drugs, crime and extrajudicial executions
Consistent engagements with the different stakeholders on the campaign against drugs and crime
The slogan adopted during the engagement was:
TO STOP PETTY CRIME
WE WANT JOBS!!
TO STOP DRUGS AND VIOLENCE
WE WANT JOBS!!
TO STOP DRUGS, CRIME AND VIOLENCE
WE NEED PEACE AND SECURITY!!
TO GET PEACE AND SECURITY
WE WANT SOCIAL JUSTICE!!