- Kampala streets and suburbs are fast becoming every motorist’s and pedestrian’s nightmare. Many seemingly safe streets and parking yards in the city have turned into muggers’ dens.
By Charles Etukuri
On October 4, Robby Muhumuza, a communication consultant with UNICEF, was seated with his wife in their car. They had just parked on Kampala Road near Parliamentary Avenue when someone knocked on their car window.
“My wife was in the driving seat and I was in the passenger’s seat. I was trying to update my Facebook page on my iPhone when we heard repeated banging on the window on the driver’s side.
As we looked there, a young man pushed his hand in the half open window in my side and tried to snatch my iPhone. I held it firmly as I shouted ‘my phone !’ as my wife Anne pushed the button for drawing up the window . Thanks be to God my phone survived,” Muhumuza posted on his wall.
But even as Muhumuza shared his status on Facebook, it was clear from the response it solicited that many other people were not as lucky to have saved their items, Anthony Esenu being one of them. His phone was grabbed from his hands at Entebbe Road as he waited for the green lights at about 9:00pm while driving home. “My windows were rolled down fully and the fellow just took the phone from my hands,” he says.
Another victim, Sheila, was attacked in Kalerwe as they were driving to Gayaza.“My brother was driving and one of the windows was half open. Suddenly a young man tried to force the door open to get the laptop behind. We were lucky that the boda boda riders at the stage intervened in time,”she says.
David was attacked at the Wankoko railway crossing. “It was past 10:00pm one Friday night and the roads were clear. I received a call from my son at home who wanted me to go and buy him food from Bugolobi.
Just as I slowed down at the railway crossing, suddenly, a man sprang from the bush and jumped into the front seat of my car and two others joined him at the back. It happened so fast that I cannot recall how they managed to open the doors. With a knife on my neck, they forced me to pack by the roadside and within five minutes they had robbed me clean and taken off, disappearing into the thickets,” he narrates.
Still shaken, David drove and reported the matter to Bugolobi police post, where he was told that the place was a notorious crime spot. Sunday Vision has also learnt that some of the groups were well organised and swift in attack, and stalk their victims.
These muggers have made some parts of the city no go zones after darkness. Areas like Clock Tower, the Old Taxi Park, Nkurumah Road, Northern Bypass, Nsambya, Naguru, Kalerwe among others are risky places to move in once darkness sets in.
“Once you receive a call, or have any valuable in the car, they can smash your windscreen and force open the door,” says Ibin Senkumbi the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson.
Some have adopted the trailing method and work with insiders who have information about their targets. They position themselves in places like banks, hotels, cafes and restaurants. From these vantage points, they then monitor their victim’s movements.
Early this year, thugs grabbed huge amounts from an Indian national moments after he had withdrawn it from the bank in downtown Kampala. They had trailed him from his home to the bank and then back on the streets and appeared to know what he was carrying. Some of the thugs move with pepper powder which they spray into their victims’ faces to avoid a chase.
“They attacked me and quickly sprayed me with pepper powder, I remained gasping for breath as they sped into the allays of Nkrumah Road,” says John Awate who was robbed from Jinja Road. In areas like Clock Tower and Namirembe Road, the gangs waylay residents despite Police deployment.
At clock tower, James Mukiibi a boda boda rider recounts several tales of victims who have fallen prey to muggers who vanish into the bridge beneath the road where the Nakivubo channel flows. “That is their escape route and once they have run there, it becomes very hard to chase them,” he says.
Mukiibi also says sometimes they cannot do anything. “We know them but we fear helping the victims when they are attacked because of the repercussions involved. These guys threaten to harm us,” he says.
Areas around Cham Towers are also risky. The boda boda riders there pointed to us a group of about four men who were loitering in front of a jewelry shop waiting for their targets. These ones pounce on their victims and then dash to the railway station which they have converted into their hideout.
Namirembe Road and Clock Tower spots are notorious for mugging and rape. Some of the muggers are known. Some of them pretend to be intelligence operatives.
At the traffic light in Nsambya, they target cars coming from the airport at night, knowing that people from abroad have a lot of valuables and cash. As the car stops at the traffic light, they come and open the door to carry out their mission. Police sources disclosed that in some cases people lose large amounts of cash at that spot, highest amount ever reported being about sh25m.
Late last year a white lady lost her laptop at the Shoprite Entebbe Road. When she reported the incident to the Old Taxi Park Police station promising a huge reward, she was shocked when the officer on duty called a number believed to be that of the ring leader. Within 30 minutes her bag and laptop were brought back.
TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS NOT SPARED
Just last month Makerere University recorded the highest numbers of people mugged. The University guild president Ann Ebaju says most of the important routes that students use were very dark at night because most of the street lights are not functioning.
The university’s chief security officer, Frank Byaruhanga, said the muggers come from the sprawling slums surrounding the University. He also blamed it on some of the students who he says never take warnings seriously. “We have always warned and cautioned them against moving alone at night. We encourage them to move in groups,” Byaruhanga said.
He added that some students are in the habit of showing off expensive gadgets, which attracts thieves. Last month, a gang staged a roadblock and robbed revellers from Bebe Cool’s music show.
ARRESTED BUT NOT TAKEN TO COURT
Late last year, a journalist in Kampala lost her suitcase when a thug grabbed it from the car at a traffic jam. Good Samaritans chased and arrested the thug and he was handed over to Kasawe Police Station in Nsambya. However, the journalist was shocked to hear a Policeman at the post tell the thief: “You have again appeared here!” giving an indication that he was a habitual criminal and known to them.
Senkumbi says the Police have deployed on some of these stretches to help contain the situation. Recently Police also set up temporary booths along some of the thug spots. However, some of the booths still remain unoccupied or are left unattended to when Police go out for an operation.
Senkumbi says the constant Police operations have seen some of these thugs move out of the alleys within the central business area to outside the city centre. Police say muggers keep on moving from one place to another, which complicates efforts to control them. Some operate in thickets. On the Kampala Northern bypass they operate under the bridges and the underpass.
“They sometimes move with animals like cows and when they see a speeding car they squeeze tail of the cow to force it on the road. Once you stop the car they will forcefully open your car door and rob you clean,” says a former mugger turned police informer. They then melt into the abandoned houses, upon accomplishing their vicious missions, sometimes dragging their victims along.
In the more upscale areas like Kololo, Muyenga, Naalya some of the muggers disguise themselves as joggers waylaying the others who get out early in the morning.