BY CHRISPINE AGUKO
Do you ever wonder why those gangs that control parking slots in Nairobi’s CBD never get arrested? Well, that is because Nairobi City County officers are in on it.
Rogue county officials work in cahoots with parking gangs to collect extra fee on cars all over the city, but particularly within the CBD. The often-given excuse used to extort motorists is that the parking boys have to fend off vandals.
And the business has become more lucrative with the increasing number of cars on the roads today ‒ it is never easy finding a parking slot, particularly on weekdays.
The standard charged by the county government is Sh300. But this is just for the space and does not guarantee the safety of your car. And, depending on where one parks, and how (un)secure the location is, this can easily double. To avoid what, to most, is an exorbitant rate, some refer to pay the parking boys a lesser amount, and leave them to split it with county officials.
The parking gangs, it emerges, are not some random street boys trying to earn a (dis)honest living. They work under the protection and employ of senior county officials, to whom they report at the end of each working day – which can be as late as midnight. When “revenue” is submitted, they get a commission, which is often very little. The only way the parking boys get more is if they can convince car owners to pay above the Sh50 rate they charge for their services.
This reporter spoke to two such young men who work around City Hall/Judiciary, who confessed they found themselves on the street after training with the National Youth Service (NYS) programme. After training, they say, they were dumped on the streets. With nothing to do, they took to pickpocketing, scavenging and begging.
The Nairobi Law Monthly pressed for details about the sort of training they underwent at NYS but our enquiries were met with silence, a sign that we would not get any answers if we proceeded with that line of questioning.
“We’d get rounded up sometimes by government officials, especially if there was an important event in town. But then some streetwise officials saw an opportunity and recruited us to work for them; they assigned us zones,” Zach, one of the men we spoke to, told us. “Because of the kind of life we led in the streets, it was an easy decision.”
“At first, we were instructed to break mirrors to motivate motorists to pay for our services. Later, however, it became dangerous as some of our friends got lynched; we also realised that, however small the fee, most motorists have no problem parting with something.”
Despite the money they make, it is still too little to afford them a life away from the street, and so most have nowhere to call home.
“But our supervisors do, and some lead very comfortable lives,” Zach says in reference to those entrusted by the county officials to ensure the rest do not run away with their collections.
It is this state of affairs that has driven most Nairobians to seek private parking services, and the mushrooming of private parking lots and buildings within the city. These charge roughly the same as the country government, with guarantees of vehicle security.
It is not any easier for taxi drivers, who also have to pay to preserve parking spaces while they drop off clients.
“Actually,” said Stanley Mureithi, who is stationed in front of the Nation Centre, “it is worse for taxi drivers, because they (county officials) can fabricate any sort of lie and harass you, including by clamping or towing your car, just to show you who is boss, and to ‘encourage’ you to pay.”
The Nairobi Law Monthly could not get a comment from several parking attendants they made attempts to talk to. It was not any easier at County Hall gate and reception where were asked to make our enquiries in writing. When we asked for particular emails to direct their enquiries, we were bluntly told to “find them yourselves; you are the ones asking questions!”