Is Kitengela turning into little Kinshasha?

By Abdi Hussein

Congolese refugees who came to Kitengela town in droves have created tension because of rivalry for work with local youth, leading to wrangles.

Cartels are also engaged in booming business, smuggling hundreds of illegal immigrants into the country and taking them to Kitengela where they exploit their cheap labour.

Concerned Kitengela residents cite the case of teenage male twins from DRC who were waylaid on their way to Kakuma refugee camp at Busia border by strangers and driven to Kitengelaa at night.

The two live with their master, a lady who lives in a rental house at New Valley estate and pays them a monthly salary of Sh2000 monthly to sell clothes at Kitengela market.

The young men claim they live with other 15 illegal immigrants who do different menial jobs within Kitengela town.

They own mobile phones subscribed by Kenyans, allowing them to transact business with ease.

A handful of immigrants on transit have also been housed in private homes in Kitengela town, attracting condemnation of the residents.

Isinya Deputy County Commissioner Stanley Too acknowledged influx of illegal immigrant in Kitengela, but said a committee led by Kitengela Chief William Makui has been formed to establish a data base of all refugees in the region.

The process is said to be under way especially for transit refugees.

Since the National Government shelved repatriation of refugees, the number of illegal immigrants continues to balloon orchestrating business and job opportunities rivalry. Their masters, however, continue to mint millions in the illegal trade.

The Congolese have built what can only be described as little Kinshasa and now have their own churches where weddings are conducted every Saturday.

At the same time, the Banyamulenge language is slowly overtaking Kiswahili in the estimates where they reside.

They have completely taken areas like Kitengela Kyang’ombe and New Valley estates where many of them live.

Those found in those settlements include legal refugees and illegal immigrants using Kitengela as a safe haven to walk the streets freely.

Apart from the flamboyant dress code and hair style, the loud Lingala music blaring from speakers in their residences and business premises is a common trend there.

The alarming number of illegal immigrants in Kajiado County’s satellite towns have ignited a culture change and created business rivalry between immigrants and locals.

It is claimed that human trafficking cartels could be minting millions by engaging in the transfer and resettlement of the illegal immigrants in the Kitengela and other towns around Nairobi.

Influx of both legal and illegal immigrants has taken most towns in Kajiado by storm, altering social settings and providing cheap labour to the chagrin of the locals.

Most immigrants are from Democratic Republic Congo (DRC) and Rwanda with a few of the aliens coming from West Africa and Somalia.

According to Pastor Simon Njoroge who hosted the first batch of the refugees in 2009, the initial batch to arrive in Kitengela comprised seven families.

The number has since grown and is estimated to be more than 5,000 refugees, majority of them youths and men.

In an exclusive interview with County Press,  Mr Nzovu Jules, Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS) Kajiado County Representative, official records show there are more than 4,000 registered refugees from Congo in the County under the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) programme.

Registered refugees are the ones vetted, approved by UNHCR under set standards and issued with an alien card giving them limited privileges.

The Congolese refugees attend eight churches in Kyang’ombe, New Valley and Norkopir esates.

Other churches are Rehaboth Ministry, Word ministry, Evangelical Covenant, Fresh Manna International, Hope international, Apostles, Harvest Ministry and Zion Temple all owned by Kenyan pastors.

They flock to these churches on Sundays and give praise in their local dialect, engage in dancing styles that captivate and entice onlookers.

Pastor Simon Njoroge of Evangelical Covenant Church, says weddings in those churches are a regular occurrence every Saturday.

“Congolese believe in church weddings and hardly a Saturday passes without a church wedding. My church diary has been booked beyond December,”  stated Pastor Njoroge.

The preachers allow them to rejoice and do everything like back home in Kinshasa but they rarely intermarry with Kenyans.

 Mr Nzovu says unscrupulous traders have built an intricate web and created an empire through illegal refugee importation.

“Some refugees, however, pose as asylum seekers to dodge local authorities,” he  noted. In Kajiado satellite towns, most of the illegal and registered refugees are given peanuts to hawk foodstuffs, fruits and vegetable on behalf of their masters.

They are paid Sh3 for every piece of Sh10 water melon sold and earn less than 10% of the total value of their sale and seem to have mastered the art of marketing their products.

Both registered and illegal Congolese immigrants work in barber shops and salons using their expertise.

There are more than 500 beauty shops in Kitengela town but almost all of them have employed a refugee.

A beauty parlor owner told County Press immigrants are cheap and trustworthy compared to locals.

“They fear to find themselves on the wrong side of the law and face deportation,” said a source.

Night clubs are also popular places for refugees who work as waitresses while others work in homes offering services as nannies.

A refugee house girl is said to earn Sh4,000 compared to locals he demand between Sh7,000 to Sh10,000.

“Local youth who depend on menial jobs have clashed with them claiming the trend is denying them their daily bread,” said businessman Joakim Mbugua.

 Flare-ups include a recent incident where a bar owner attacked two refugees on flimsy accusations and another incident where skirmishes almost broke between locals and refugees but police officers moved in with speed to calm the situation.

Most locals believe the refugees’ influx is a time bomb.

“Refugees have taken all menial jobs and the situation is getting worse. We charge Sh30 to shave a client but our Congolese brothers are paid a flat rate of Sh100-150 per day,’’ said John Kinyua, a seasoned barber in Kitengela town.

Some unscrupulous police officers are alleged to be enjoying “protection’’ handouts from illegal immigrants making the illegal business more lucrative for brokers.

It is estimated there are more than 4,500 illegal immigrants in Kitengela, Ong’ata Rongai and Ngong towns.

Kenya recognizes prima facie and statutory refugee classes but all asylum seekers and refugees  are required to live in their designated refugee camps and require a movement pass to travel anywhere  outside the camp.

Reliable sources indicate that a cartel sneaks the illegal immigrants from border points into Kenyan soil for financial gain.

“Most of the immigrants are promised jobs and protection from authority. Once they are within the country they become slaves to their masters,” a source said.

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