Kenya News Online Today : Kenya as seen through my eyes

A commentary on things Kenyan and other pertinent global issues

Tuesday, January 06, 2009



Fighting pickpockets should be our priority this year. I mean it is time to really, really fight this evil with punch and power. These never-do-wells have become a threat to society. They mercilessly steal from people in society and never mind the sorry troubles they leave their victims immersed in. They relieve people of money meant for school fees, hospital bills or even just everyday shopping. Some have been left without bus-fare on long distance buses and have literally had to beg after some pickpocket niftily stole their cash.

The sleazy men and women steal from anyone and everyone. They pickpocket nurses, mothers, millionaires, paupers, religious leaders, schoolchildren and even fellow criminals. They steal in buses and crowded hospital lifts. They steal at funerals and birthday parties. But just how can an ordinary Kenyan play his part in ridding society of this vice and protect his/her hard-earned earnings?

Pickpockets steal using their hands. And because human beings use their two hands, the best way of identifying whether the person next to you in the bus or lifts is actually a pickpocket is by quickly (and I mean quickly) studying the movements of their hands. If for whatever reason, the hands keep disappearing from view suspiciously, step up your guard. If the guy has shifty eyes, watch out even more.


Any attempt by your neighbour in the bus, lift or supermarket queue to cover one or both hands with some newspapers, paper bags, that odd-looking jacket, some conference bag etc could mean that a covert theft is about to take place. Of course there are those who cover their hands in such things innocently but for those who want to pickpocket you, they will snuggle the covered hand uncomfortably close to you. Before long, that hand will be so close to your pocket, purse or any other receptacle of valuables that you are carrying and if your alarm bells don’t go ringing, chances are high that you will be easily pick-pocketed.

Another common tactic of Nairobi’s street-savvy pickpockets is to cover the area around your pocket with something like a newspaper or magazine. Woe unto you if you start focusing on the newspaper article and engaging in a conversation with your soon-to-be tormentor in chief. “Ati Arsenal wako tops tena, kwani Premiership imeenda vipi?” you ask as your smiling pickpocket answers back. Of course, he’s also stealing from you as he engages in your cheap talk with expensive consequences.


Of course, you will be foolhardy to think that all pickpockets carry old or new magazines or some bulky stuff, keen to disguise or cover one or both of their hands. The truth is that there are many pickpockets keenly aware that such telltale signs will do them no good. They take precautions not to look like the typical pickpocket. They board the matatu decently dressed and with freshly pressed clothes. They sport the look of a smart, young, successful bank clerk or sales executive. These are the most dangerous pickpockets. They usually place their arm across their stomach and directly lying on their groin such that their hand is nestled very close to your pocket. The other hand usually displays signs of confidence such as sticking a toothpick into their mouth. If not carefully monitored, that hand hidden from view gets to your pockets and quickly relieves you of your hard-earned cash and valuables. ALWAYS CONCENTRATE HARD EVEN AFTER IDENTIFYING WHERE BOTH HANDS HAVE GONE. Monitoring movements is the key to success.

Nairobi pickpockets have become a smart lot. While there are still some who come with that smell of a brewery, looking half-drunk with dirty long nails, there are many more who know that to survive they have to look groomed. You will have little or no reason to suspect them.

The other day I was aboard a Double M matatu from Community to the City Centre. There was a guy who walked into the matatu at about midday and had with him a newspaper. He sat next to a lady but immediately started concentrating on a middle-aged man sitting opposite him. He closed the gap separating them (the bus aisle) by sticking his knee uncomfortably close to the other guy’s pocket. He then proceeded to cover his knee with the newspaper knowing fully well that the hand holding part of the paper could hide underneath the headlines and strike with ease. Unfortunately, every time he got close to strike (I would have stopped him anyway), he was forced to cut short his evil mission because some passenger boarded the bus and had to pass through the aisle and he had to give way. Relaying his trap wasn’t easy and the would-be victim seemed to have noticed. Then a traffic cop boarded the Double M and the pickpocket seemed to smell the ‘dangerous’ long arm of the law and cooled down. THE PICKPOCKET WAS DRESSED IN A NICE, IMPORTED SUIT. POINT: CITY SLICKERS (PICKPOCKETS INCLUDED) HAVE INVESTED IN LOOKS. CONCENTRATE OR YOU’LL FALL VICTIM.

Pickpockets make you lose concentration. That way they’ll strike with ease. They flash funky phones (largely stolen or bought from stolen money) and start making calls (even in a matatu playing loud music) or sending SMSs. This allows them to move their hands from left to right and make you lose track of their many movements without necessarily becoming suspicious. The phones also help them fight back with rage if you try labelling them as pickpockets. “How dare you call me that?” You could easily be forced to swallow your words, claims etc and apologize. They also like pretending to be tracing from the pocket nearest to your pocket. They then accidentally touch your pocket to see if you’re alert enough and strike if you are still absent minded.


Then there are the usual pickpockets who hustle, push shove and manage to wriggle into your pockets as you struggle for a matatu, bus or into a lift at KNH. Some have been captured on TV at Kencom Bus Stage stealing (particularly from people heading to see relatives/or seeking treatment at KNH –using route 7- coz they are usually thinking about the KNH visiting hours deadline).

One notorious pickpocket at the Tom Mboya route 9 stage usually has a small paperbag and walks with two accomplices. He pushes and shoves with the crowd and the moment he succeeds his colleagues assist him ‘leave the crime scene’ with a tight ‘VIP’ security detail. We tried a citizen’s arrest one day but the guy escaped with ease after his colleagues aided his ‘disappearance’ into a large Nairobi evening crowd.

Some pickpockets move in armed groups and confront any person who decides to alert a victim. Some have been known to stab ‘heroes’ out to stop their crime. But many are cowardly, easily terrified solo operators. The pickpockets also have SACCO-like groups and raise funds to help release arrested colleagues and buy protection from some sleazy cops.

This is definitely a problem Kenyans have to fight. Come on, let’s do it.


  • At August 29, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    this is wrong... if the would be victim is concentrating on a strangers hand a different person can lift the wallet due to the lack of attention from the victim.

  • At April 12, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The best thing is to get a bag with many smaller pockets inside, zip all of them and have your fare kwa mkono, it will not be easy for them to get to the cash, at least if they do, they will have towork real hard.


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