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The day I was the victim of rampant robberies in Kampala

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Added 22nd September 2019 05:34 PM

As I struggle with the trauma, my physical injuries are no longer easily visible

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As I struggle with the trauma, my physical injuries are no longer easily visible

By Dr John W Bahana

I have been struggling with the dilemma of whether to share or not to share how I became a victim of the murderous gangs that are rampant and growing in strength by the day in our once beautiful city of seven hills.

Seven hills, Kampala is no more, nor is the serenity and beauty that once defined our capital city. The words simply kept failing me. But finally here I am.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot, fortunately not fatally.

When the wife, Nancy, checked on him, he called out to her and said: “Honey, I am sorry I forgot to duck”. Ronald Reagan prior to the US presidency, had acted in numerous films in which he was a target of sharpshooters that invariably had to miss their target. What are films for?

They keep your viewer imagination running high. And so I found myself apologising for being outwitted by house robbers. I have had all sorts of training in personal security matters, including UN systems, but as humans, we all, one time or other, like Ronald Reagan forget to duck. Like Ronald Reagan, I was a victim of a violent crime that nearly ended my life.

I have held on to this tale for a couple of months. So why did I prevaricate with my story? For many weeks, I have been interacting with the Police and other security agencies in attempts to catch the culprits.

Apart from having little time to compose myself and put pieces into a coherent story, I did not want the robbers to read and know I survived their murderous attempt on my life. I also kept on reading newspaper stories of numerous robberies, many fatal that indicated to me I was not a lone victim, many far worse than my situation. But now that I have resolved to share with the New Vision readers why we must all start fighting and contribute to getting rid of the rampant insecurity that has enveloped our urban centres.

It was Easter week, when the unimaginable happened to me and my family at our residence. In the wee hours of the night at about 3:00am, I was invaded in my bedroom by a gang of about six youths wielding powerful torches and equipped with carrier bags.

Since I would not like the robbers to regret why they did not finish me off, I will leave out the details of the tragic tale. Nonetheless, they hit me on the forehead with a panga or some such sharp instrument that resulted in the loss of lots of blood and my passing out.

As I came round, I gathered the remaining energy and walked to the nearest medical clinic, a kilometre away, where I received wonderful attention and thus lived to tell the story. After all, we still have wonderful Ugandans. That is reassuring that the distribution human curve is still normal even if we are increasingly criminal infested.

And as I struggle with the trauma, my physical injuries are no longer easily visible. Overcoming trauma is a long-term exercise, but positive thinking and reflection of how “it could have been worse” does the trick.

In sharing my experience, we need to come to terms with what is growing out of the uncontrolled population bulge, youth unemployment and rapid urbanisation. The inadequacy of a Police force that is totally helpless in the face of daily reports of thefts, murders, hijacks, deaths due to motor vehicle accidents and lately political gangsterism.

In the face of rising city robberies, the Government came up with a double strategy of CCTV cameras and increasing numbers of Local Defence Units (LDUs). From the word go, both initiatives faced challenges. CCTV cameras, while they can be efficient tools of monitoring what goes on our roads, they are too few and there is no monitoring what goes on in the minds of hundreds of thousands of unemployed youth.

LDU would have answered this gap. But you know what happened. Members were recruited and trained by the army. They don’t have intrinsic knowledge of the surroundings or urban villages which they patrol.

They move around as if in military formation and it is easy to detect their presence and hide from them. The Police tell you they have no money and even ask you to facilitate their work in solving your problem. So, what happens if a criminal suspect finances them to undermine their investigation?

Clearly, there is need for an overarching policy to deal with the rapidly increasing insecurity in our country, especially urban centres.

The issues to address are visible to anyone who cares. For example, why do we allow bars to operate 24 hours with cheap drinks to restless youth? Why have urban authorities and the Government allowed our sports amenities to go to property developers?

Many of us know the huge attributes of sports amenities that would keep many youth busy, including eventual professionalism that comes with millions of dollars, especially athletics and soccer.

Here are suggestions for serious discussion and engagement:

Every one of us must take personal security to a higher level. Communities should meet regularly to share information on aspects of security that affects you. Share telephone contacts. Create a WhatsApp group that shares warnings instantly.

I was excited recently when I read about a group of innovative young people in Kampala who are on the verge of creating an App, YUNGA, that will use satellite technology to send instant alerts when a subscriber is attacked. This is fantastic.

What is the Ministry for ICT or Ministry of Internal Affairs waiting for when these young people are struggling to convince foreign donors of the versatility of their innovations that would enhance Police work?

The wananchi will easily handle these anti-social activities and only call Police when it is absolutely necessary. The Government, as a matter of urgency, should request HUAWEI to help develop a central computer system for the storage and retrieval of data from the fingerprints they obtain during Police investigations. LDU, by definition should be recruited from members of the concerned community.

There is nothing military in the expected operations. They will know each individual and behavior of the members of the community. Each one of us must know their neighbours, what they do for a living.

The Uganda Police Force need to publically share data from CCTV cameras. Finally, there is a clear role and it’s within their mandate, for the proliferation of churches to take head on these antisocial activities of our youth. In my view, to teach people about the seemingly abstract heaven when social ills are overwhelming us here on earth is to lose priority focus.

So, we need to ask our churches to seriously spread the word about human values and need to work hard in transparency. It is exciting that the Anglicans have elected an archbishop who grew up in a criminal infested Katwe slums.

One hopes he can take the church to a higher level and convert the multitudes of youth in the criminal underworld to start valuing life on their way to the heavenly world.

The writer is a science writer.

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