Gunshots rent the air. The air is crisp, with only the echoes of guns discharging. Red flags flap in the breeze. White signboards written in bold, red, capital letters, in English, Kiswahili and Kikuyu warn members of the public not to approach the site lest a stray bullet ricochets into a bystander or a passer-by.
Shooting is in progress. This is not a video game. Nor is it a war zone. It is at the Kirigiti Shooting Range in Kiambu County, the closest it gets to a simulation of a real-life firefight for licensed gun holders. Past the private security guard with a cheeky smile, stands a humble office. Two men sit at the reception area that also doubles up as a boardroom talking with members of the National Gun Owners Association (Ngao)-Kenya.
Outside at the range, rumba music plays softly on a JBL Bluetooth speaker.
Robert Nyamongo, an engineer, and his coach fine-tune his shooting techniques ahead of the 2019 International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) Africa Championships.
The shooting competition to be held in South Africa is three months away, but Mr Nyamongo has to refine his skills to defend his “Master” shooter title.
Before 2013, little was known about Ngao-Kenya, a civilian firearm group.
The “non-political association of law-abiding licensed firearm holders” came to the fore when its members responded to the Westgate Shopping Mall terrorist attack. Civilian firearm owners gained notoriety following the unfortunate terror incident.
Before then, guns at homes were considered unlawful. Even when an individual had a licence, it was a desperately hidden secret.
For gun lovers, it was difficult to know where to do basic firearms training or sharpen their shooting skills if one wanted to.
With more firearms now in private hands, Ngao has increased its membership to over 2,000 out of the 16,000 plus licensed firearm holders. The Ngao members practise through competitions and trainings at subsidised rates; 70 percent of the Sh10,000 training fee.
“We train people on proficiency, not being trigger happy,” says Anthony Wahome, the Ngao chairman.
“We are responsible firearm holders,” he adds, as he counts his bullets, keenly inserting them into a magazine.
He is currently training for the Ngao-Kenya Chairman’s Cup, a shooting competition that started two years ago.
It is now an annual competition on various firing courses. It brings together over 100 shooters in different categories who compete for the best shooter award, testing speed and accuracy. They are tested on drawing of the firearm, firing, eliminating obstacles on the course to completion on the shortest time possible.
In the Chairman’s Cup, depending on the number of registered shooters for the competition, they are divided into squads of 10 to 15 people who compete against each other. The top shooter becomes a ‘Master.’
Just like any other sport, shooters need near-perfect co-ordination, agility and strength (both mental and physical), which are nurtured through fitness.
“The greatest asset is to be mentally fit,” Mr Wahome says.
The Chairman’s Cup competition is part of the preparations for this year’s International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) tourney.
While competing in the IDPA Africa Championships in South Africa last year, Mr Wahome says he had to take part in 20 courses over a two-day period from 7am to 6pm.
He says you have to keep your energy levels up all day, by snacking regularly to maintain stable blood sugar and hydrating regularly.
His advice for those seeking to compete in the 2019 Chairman’s Cup Competition at the Kirigiti Shooting Range is “to know yourself, if you’re dehydrated and distracted, you will lose.”
He says seasoned shooters are often relaxed. They tend to save their energy levels by sitting, not standing unnecessarily; wearing comfortable gear, and most importantly strategising before going through the obstacle course.
Part of the association’s strategy is to train more shooters, making them proficient from novice, to marksman, to sharpshooter, to expert and finally master. It is with this in mind that reigning Africa champion Ian Van Der Bank visited the Kirigiti range, sharing his knowledge on competitive shooting.
To enter the Chairman’s Cup, members pay a registration fee of Sh1,500, as do members of the disciplined forces, Sh2,500 for non-members while non-shooting guests pay Sh1,000.
The money raised will fund the construction of a modern shooting range that can host about 500 shooters and host international competitions like the IDPA Africa and even world championships.
Mr Wahome says being a member of the civilian gun owners group has its benefits because it trains users on how not to misuse firearms. However, not all private gun owners have joined the group.
“It is not mandatory for a licensed firearm holder to join Ngao, but it has many benefits.”
Mr Nyamongo, who is now at the apex of the shooting competitions in Kenya, joined the association six years ago. Given his sojourns across the country, doing civil works, he deemed it safe to get a firearm. He spent Sh180,000 on a firearm and Sh2,000 for a licence.
He was the first black African to be a ‘Master’ during the IDPA Africa Championships in 2017.
He says he started shooting as a hobby. Then out of interest to improve his proficiency and gun shooting, he entered competitions. Through the competitions, he met diverse people among them his coaches Abdallah, Paul, Strong, Ninja and Chacha.
“Competitions are the closest to a real-life situation,” he says.
He has taken part in the Kenya Rifles Regiment Club Lang’ata competitions, as well as the Africa Championships for three years now and is currently preparing for the World Championships slated for October in the US. He will be among 25 Kenyans representing the country at that shooting competition, a first for Kenya.
The team has civilians as well as members of the disciplined forces drawn from the National Police Service, and the Kenya Defence Forces. Mr Nyamongo is constantly working to improve his target accuracy and speed. It currently stands at five shots in 2.2 seconds, from drawing of the weapon at 10 yards away.
During his six years at Ngao, Mr Nyamongo says the association has had a positive impact in the country among them, being its members responding to terror incidents, working with the police to keep the country safe through the Nyumba Kumi initiative.
“The more and well-trained civilians we have, the better it is for Kenya,” he says. Mr Nyamongo is mentoring the top 10 shooters in the country, including a young woman, to become better at the sport.
The association also has sessions with officials from Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) to train members on handling firearms and prevailing laws on gun use. Most of the private gun owners in the association own one or two firearms.
How to buy
However, there are other Kenyans who own more. For instance, ranchers who need them for security reasons, or persons who engage in walking or horseback safaris in animal sanctuaries and conservancies so as protect guests in case they encounter rogue animals.
“Most own just one handgun (pistol) or shotgun. A good number of sports shooters own two or more depending on the number of sporting disciplines they participate in, be it an air rifle, air pistol, .22 calibre pistol, .22 calibre long rifle, 9mm pistol, .357 pistol, 7.62mm full-bore rifle,” he says.
To get a licence, owners apply to the Kenya Firearms Licensing, specifying the type of weapon.
Following a directive by Interior Secretary Fred Matiang’i, gun owners also went through a vetting exercise and had their weapons taken for ballistics identification and were issued with the new digital licence.
When buying a gun, preference is what matters and people purchase only the type that they have been licensed to acquire. “A handgun is like a shoe — whatever fits your hand comfortably is what suits you,” he says.