Saturday, April 23, 2005

Who Is Killing the Malayas of Majengo?

Asks Onyango Oloo in Montreal

Former Canadian Ambassador to the UN Stephen Lewis with a group of Kibera Sex Workers

The other day I was talking to a certain friend of mine who lives in Kenya. We were talking about the news and she told me of something that was not part of the usual headline grabbing political variety. She spoke to me about the murder spree targeting Nairobi prostitutes plying their trade in the teeming slum of Majengo. She told me there had been some television coverage of this serial killer on the rampage, and her observation was that "this kind of thing does not happen in Kenya- we associate it with crimes out there where you folks are-in America and Canada".
For days after that, I slavishly and religiously scanned the online editions of the Nairobi dailies and it was not until today that I hit pay dirt with the following story that I am repeating verbatim from the April 23rd edition of the Daily Nation:

Serial murderer targeting prostitutes


Publication Date: 4/23/2005

A serial killer has strangled four prostitutes in Majengo slums, Nairobi, in the past five month, colleagues claimed yesterday.
Tanzanian women were targeted for eliminated for "invading" a turf, which was previously dominated by Kenyans, the sex workers said.
Several other women survived death by a whisker and they are either at home nursing their wounds or in hospital.
Although prostitution remains illegal in Kenya, the women are now seeking police protection to ensure they are not driven out of business.
However, a senior police officer said they could only confirm the deaths of two women in similar circumstances.
He said a woman, who was only identified as Ms Alfrerina alias mama Wawiri, was killed on March 22 and Ms Jenesia Rus Menzaini on April 4.
The bodies of the two women were found in their shanties by their neighbours.
The officer said Ms Habisa Sisa Athumani, a Kenyan, was found dead in bed after spending the night with a man. Her body was found on February 19. The man has since been arrested.
Post-mortem examination showed there were traces of alcohol in her blood, the police officer said.
The officer said another commercial sex worker, whose identity is unknown, died on December 20 after fighting with a colleague over a customer, in a bar.
"Post-mortem examination on Alfrerina and Menzaini showed they were strangled. Officers from Shauri Moyo, who visited both scenes, found used condoms next to their bodies," said the officer.
He added: "It appeared they were killed by the same person. He approached the women posing as a customer. He strangled them after having sex with them."
Police said they had arrested one suspect believing he was the serial killer but they have not found anything to link him to the murders.
A pair of gloves was recovered from the suspect's house. Police are keeping them as exhibits
"We arrested him from the description we were given by the women from Majengo slums. Detectives have questioned and investigated the man but they have not found a link between him and the murders," said the officer.
He said investigations into the killing of Ms Athumani had been frustrated by the women as they had refused to record statements.
On April 14, about 50 of them staged a protest march to the nearby Shauri Moyo Police Station to demand the arrest of the killer and a stop to police harassment. The protesters claimed police targeted them for harassment during swoops in the estate.
The women, aged between 20 to 50 years, told the police that a serial killer was on a killing mission and sought their protection.
Yesterday, the commercial sex workers accused the police of doing nothing to improve security in their estate.
They have now formed their security team to address the insecurity in the slum.
The women said their four colleagues were allegedly strangled to death by the killers, who disguised themselves as clients.
All were murdered in similar circumstances – the killer strangled them to death before clearing their homes of household goods and fleeing away.
Two women died in the past fortnight, another died last month while the fourth was killed in December 20, last year.
A post-mortem examination showed one of the slain women was pregnant with two foetuses, colleagues said.
Ms Asura Maulindi, self-confessed prostitute, said she was lucky to have survived an attempt on her life.
"I come from Tanzania and I'm a prostitute. We charge men only Sh50 per session, but a gang has taken the advantage and are now killing us," she said.
She said:" I was rescued by neighbours after I raised an alarm, otherwise I would be dead like my colleagues.
Her colleague, who survived a similar attack is now admitted to the Kenyatta national hospital, Nairobi, in serious condition."
Majengo, a low-income and unplanned settlement, is perceived to be the cradle of the sex trade in the city, which dates back to the colonial days.
Girls, as young as nine years old, and women beyond 60 years compete for sex clients in the ancient and poorly-planned slum.
Other girls start selling their bodies after dropping out of primary school. Their going rates wavers between Sh40 and Sh50 per session.
In an interview with the Nation, most girls said they "see" four to six men in one day.
The girls, like all other older women, said they got into prostitution because of poverty.
Although prostitution has been blamed for the spread of HIV/Aids, Majengo's sex trade has never declined.
Medical researchers recently carried out studies with a group of 50 prostitutes from the slum and they demonstrated a resistance to an illness that has killed many of their clients and about 95 per cent of their competitors.
Studied by researchers from Nairobi and Oxford universities, they were all found to have an inordinate quantity of white blood cells perfectly honed to kill HIV-infected cells.
The information obtained from the women has been converted into a trial vaccine at the Nairobi University's Faculty of Medicine's laboratories . The first tests on humans were carried out last year.
Majengo offers the cheapest sex trade in the city and that is why many men visit there.

Let me first congratulate Fred Mukinda and Stephen Muiruri for a compelling story, well written and well researched.


From the foregoing it would appear as if there at least two motives propelling the spate of femicides. One is cited as a xenophobiic turf war to scare off Tanzanian hookers from invading a Kenyan red light district.

The second is straight up sexist hatred for women.

There seems to be a consensus that the suspect(s) is male and therefore safe to assume that this is one more manifestation of male violence against women.

I do not give much credence to the anti-Tanzanian turf war theory because our southern neighbours are hardly newcomers to Nairobi, Mombasa etc. Besides, areas like Majengo are not only among the most cosmopolitan in the country, but the “Swahili” ambience of the neighbourhood would scarcely be a contributing factor to such rabid hatred for Swahili speaking Tanzanian hookers to spur the kind of sinister crimes that Majengo has been witnessing of late.

I would like to suggest my own theory:

The killer is a woman hater who is probably quite religious. He could be a Christian or Muslim zealot who sees himself as doing God’s work by killing women who sell their bodies for sex. Whoever he is (I mean, who is ruling out atheist Johns?) he is someone with a profound hatred for women. He is also a slimy, shameless coward who preys on poor women who are forced to sleep with men for as little as 1 Canadian dollar per trick.

This is one of the few times that I want to go out of my way to praise the Kenyan police for investigating these crimes for the serious offences they are instead of ignoring them because the victims are malayas in Majengo.

I would want to call upon all Kenyan human rights groups to mount a public campaign for the safety and protection of all Kenyan sex workers.

My views on prostitution are well known and these views do not include a hypocritical moral outrage against a practice that helps to bring in tens of thousands of tourists jetting into Kenya every day.

Among the people who should step up to the plate are ministers like Ali Chirau Mwakwere who I am made to understand is some kind of a borderline pedophile because he prefers his hookers to be almost underage, according to well- placed sources in Nairobi. After all, minister Mwakwere, if they keep killing these sex workers in Nairobi, who will service you the next time you want to get some pre-teen coochie?

More seriously, we as a Kenyan society should ask ourselves some hard questions such as:

Why is it that tens of thousands of Kenyan women are forced to survive by selling their bodies every night in such unhealthy and unsafe conditions?

It is safe to assume that very few Kenyan women would put themselves at such risk if they had better options as you can see from this story by Njoki Karuoya.

I cannot think of one Kenyan woman who would knowingly contract a deadly disease just for the heck of it.

Therefore the true solution to the serial killer crime wave is to empower Kenyan girls and women through better educational, training, employment and professional opportunities that make them and their children and families independent to pursue their dreams without forcing them to randa randa the streets of Nairobi looking for men who will offer them a little bit of money to sexually exploit them- and if they are malayas in Majengo, possibly strangle them in the process.

Onyango Oloo

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