They are the cheaper and most convenient means of travelling. But the private cars and taxis you are boarding could be carrying armed robbers
They are the cheaper and most convenient means of travelling. But the private cars and taxis you are boarding could be carrying armed robbers, writes Charles Etukuri
On Sunday June 15, Thomas Pere left his home in Kawuku along Entebbe Road and headed to his work place, Vision Group offices in Kampala, to finish up his assignments. After a heavy day’s work, he signed off from work at 10:45pm and headed straight for the stage where he boarded a taxi and alighted from around Conrad Plaza.
According to one of his friends and workmate at the Vision Group Offices, Danny Barongo, who often left office together with the deceased, the deceased used to board cars to Entebbe from Conrad Plaza.
“Initially I used to board taxis heading to Entebbe from the old park but he introduced me to the cheaper and faster option of cars at Conrad Plaza because they would not make too many stop overs along the way,” Barongo says.
Barongo, who usually works till late, says Pere introduced him to other friends who used to board the cars at the same stage.
“He introduced me to several other people who stayed in Entebbe and used to pick the cars from Conrad Plaza. He was always carrying his laptop and camera whenever he left office,” he says.
What went wrong?
No one knows what exactly transpired on this fateful day but Pere seems to have followed his daily routine of leaving office late and boarded a car at Conrad Plaza.
A tout at the stage recalls seeing someone like Pere boarding a car but does not remember its registration details.
But as fate would have it, that same means of transport Pere had used for a long period would eventually take his life.
In the car, he encountered his tormenters whose number is unknown but it seems were interested in the contents of the two bags he was carrying with him.
Along the way, the thugs seem to have pounced on him and demanded he surrenders all his items to them. Having lost a laptop before Pere who was well built and an athlete seemed to have tried putting up a spirited fight.
“From the nature of the wounds on his body, it seems he put up a very strong fight with the occupants in the car before he was overpowered,” says an officer from Katwe Police station who was among the first on the scene of crime. After hitting him, they then drove and dumped his lifeless body in a trench in Masajja on Busabala Road, off the Kampala-Entebbe highway. The body was discovered by the local residents the following morning.
A post mortem report indicated that he had two broken collar bones and his head had been hit by a blunt object.
Pere’s murder comes against the background of a wave of daring armed robberies, rape targeting passengers that the Police force seems unable to stop and even where they have been reported little has been seen as a result of their investigations.
Just last week, a Rwanda-bound Jaguar bus was hijacked by armed men who shot dead a passenger and robbed others of the valuables.
In April, Over 50 bus passengers were undressed and robbed of all their property while aboard a Kalita bus registration number UAS 739J that was headed to Kampala from Kasese.
The incident occurred at Kigalama swamp, about 60 kilometers from Kampala along the Mubende highway.
Kintu Henry, the Mityana District Police Commander, says armed robbers who had boarded the bus from Kasese diverted it from the main road to the forest.
Kintu said they severely beat up the passengers, undressed them and robbed them of their money and electronics worth over sh50m. Most of the passengers were traders from DR Congo and Kasese town.
Sunday Vision has learnt that so many passengers continue to be robbed daily as they commute to and from their homes. Few people report while many continue suffering silently. Sometimes it even gets worse when some are raped and fear to report for fear that they will be embarrassed.
Because of increased robberies, some bus companies are taking precautions. A manager at the Rwanda bound Gaaga Coach said their drivers are under strict instructions not to drop and pick passengers along the way except on designated stages. “We do not make stop overs along the way because that could easily expose us to robbery,” he said.
A taxi driver along Jinja Road told Sunday Vision that some drivers and touts worked closely with the thugs. Some of the tricks include damaging the front locks of the car. “They then tell you to shut the door properly and as you struggle to shut it they ransack you pockets and pick anything they can land their hands on. Sometimes the thugs board the taxis to survey their potential targets.”
He says that in some cases one may board a taxi that is almost full not knowing that most of the people travelling in it are thieves. A New Vision journalist recently lost his camera and bag after boarding one of the taxis at Jinja road. “Just after I had sat, one of them pulled out a knife and told me to leave my camera and get out. I turned around to see all the other six passengers just glaring at me,” he says.
Former UTODA Chairman Musa Katongole said following complaints from commuters they decided to order all taxis to record their number plates on the sides for easier recognition.
Last year, Police carried out an operation arresting several taxi robbers in Nakawa. They recovered harmers, knives and other killer tools which were in their possession.
On Thursday Police announced it would ban commuter taxis with tinted windows from operating in Kampala in bid to curb the robberies and killings.
A former robber turned operative who worked for the disbanded Rapid Response Unit and actively participated in two successful robberies before his luck ran out told Sunday Vision that in certain cases, they usually have information about their targets. “Sometimes we could trail the trader right from his work place to his shopping place to monitor his expenditure pattern and in some cases the surveillance could even go on for a month,” he says.
He says in one of the robberies after getting to know that their targets were in the bus, they would send one of them to board the bus. “We would then position ourselves at an agreed place along the way and the accomplice would then fake a stomach problem and ask the driver to stop as he wanted to ease himself. It is then then we would come out and commandeer the bus into the bush and rob,” he says.
In one of the incidents five of them, all armed, boarded a Nairobi bound bus and they all positioned themselves, waiting for the signal. “I was placed near the driver and when the signal was given by our commander we immediately ordered the driver to stop.
With the vehicle now firmly under their control, they drove off into the bush and ordered everyone to surrender whatever item that he/she had on him”. Within 20 minutes, they had taken phones, belts, wallets, bags, money, and they abandoned their passengers and used a gateway car that was trailing them to escape.
His luck however ran out when he decided to keep one of the phones they had stolen and security trailed it on him. “I was arrested and I led them to three of my friends who were also arrested and are currently serving several jail terms in Luzira,” he says.
Sharon, a student of Makerere University Business School, was offered a lift by a stranger after she had finished her lectures. “I was standing at the stage when a car approached.
The driver who had another co-passenger asked me where I was heading and I told him I was going back to Mukono. They offered to take me to Mukono but as they approached Namanve, he convinced me he was dropping his other friend in a nearby Kiwanga housing estate”.
But unknown to her the two had something else up to their sleeve. “After moving for about 100 meters, they stopped and one of them grabbed me.” The last thing she remembers was a white handkerchief being passed near her face before she blacked out. She woke up the next day in Mulago hospital and had been raped by the same men in the car.
But now Police says passengers should be wary of being picked or hitching lifts with strangers as they could endanger their lives. They are also warning them against travelling with expensive items or moving with large amounts of money especially at night.
Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson Ibin Senkumbi says passengers should only board taxis in the established stages. “If you realise that you have boarded a taxi and they are not stopping at main stages for other people to board, be suspicious enough and jump out,” he says.
He adds that is not acceptable for taxis to divert from the established routes. “Do not be convinced that they are using short cuts because that could be a ploy to drive in an isolated place and rob you.”
The Police appeals to people to stop hitching lifts in private cars that are not licensed to ferry passengers. “Yes they are faster but you never know their intentions.” Senkumbi says.
I am a survivor
By Eddie Ssejjoba
I cannot vividly remember what happened to me immediately after I tried to shout at a man who hit me from behind on the day thugs mauled me at Lugogo, along Jinja Road. But I woke up from deep sleep and saw a number of workmates standing around my bed in Kampala hospital where I had been rushed, half-dead.
I learnt much of what happened to me from workmates, but I can say I am a survivor. I decide to jot down this brief ordeal, two years later after learning of the horrible murder of my friend, Thomas Pere.
What happened to me?
Appreciation from colleagues at office always gave me a lot of courage to pick up assignments, anytime anywhere. This time, I was supposed to cover a night show and local singer Bebe Cool had a big show at Katikati Grounds along the Lugogo Bypass.
I had declined to cover the show, for some reasons I knew the place would not be so safe, but I arranged to go along with a colleague from Bukedde, our sister paper.
That day I left office early and went back home to have a nap since I had covered other assignments during the day. We agreed to set off at about 10.00pm from office.
He called me twice on phone but I told him I had picked a taxi from town, but when I delayed to arrive, he decided to walk with another colleague. He asked me to get out of the taxi at Shoprite Lugogo and call him so we could meet. This was around 9:00pm.
I did not know anyone in the taxi but I kept making calls, unsuspecting. I paid the conductor and moved out of the taxi. But I suspect some people who had been following my conversations must have known much of what I was going to do, and they must have followed me.
Someone came from behind and hit me on the head with a lot of force and I dropped my phone. It was so hard that I immediately lost balance. I screamed in great. Though weak, I tried to stop one of the attackers from taking my phone (Several people have called me a fool attempting to get back my phone. But by instinct, one has to react).
Little did I know that a bigger gang was following me. I cannot remember what exactly happened to me thereafter. I can only rely on accounts other people told me after I had recovered.
I was told that I appeared to have been roughed up and then thrown in the junction joining Lugogo Bypass and Jinja Road. They went off with my bag that contained my camera, money and other documents. They also took my three phones and just left me motionless, in the middle of the road.
I was told a good samaritan, Joseph, who was driving by at around 10:00pm, saw a ‘dead body’ in the middle of road and stopped. He came closer and realised that the person was not dead. I do not know how he knew that I worked for the New Vision, but I was told either my business card or an identity card was near me.
He put me in his car and drove to the New Vision offices, about half a kilometer from the scene. The office security guards could not identify me but luckily, some colleagues were still in office.
Ras, Nikolas, Brian, Wilfred and others came to the car and found me in a sorry state. I was, dirty, bruised and unconscious. They were shocked but no one could explain to them what had happened to me immediately. I was then rushed to Kampala Hospital in Kololo. That was how I survived death.
Be wary of that taxi ride