HOME sweet hell. You go to bed after a long day but before you know it, thugs have broken into your house and are towering above you asking that you hand over the stash of money you have. STEPHEN D. KAFEERO shares one such ordeal.
I woke up drenched in blinding floodlights. A panga had been placed on my neck and demands to hand over “a lot of money I had received” constantly being made. I did not know what to do. Even when I look back I’m surprised at the calm I exhibited. I simply looked on, stayed still for what could have been like two minutes, an eternity. It would be a long morning.
As my eyes adjusted, the realisation that I was not dreaming but being robbed dawned on me. It must have been about 4am when they broke into my house in Kisaasi, a Kampala suburb. My bedroom door was not locked so they swung through after breaking past the front door. I was told to lie on my stomach and cover myself with the blanket. Meanwhile, the demands for where I was hiding the money continued. I told what seemed to be two thugs—I could not tell exactly how many, but I heard two voices— that I did not have much money. And it was in the trouser pockets I had worn the previous day.
“Olowooza tusaaga? (Do you think we are joking),” one of them asked, “we are going to deal with you…” I let my face sink into the mattress and did not hear the rest. At that point, I thought of my aunt who is more like a mother to me. I could imagine how she would treat my end or the reverse. For the first time in many years, I quietly prayed to God for the ordeal to end very fast.
Luckily, a colleague had given me Shs 50,000 as I left office and my sister had also sent me Shs 20,000. Of that, I had used some to pay my boda boda fare back home and I bought my supper of plantain chips, toffee yoghurt and 1.5 litres of bottled water. I had stashed the change in the pocket of my trousers. This, I tried to convince the thugs, was the only money I had. I’m not sure what would have happened had I failed to produce any money.
One of the thieves continued questioning me as the other(s) (I cannot tell how many) rummaged through my property looking for money. Earlier, they had told me where I work, my schedule and a bit of my background. Either they had done their homework before the mission or someone had fed them the information. One told me they had struggled to find my house and because of that, I should not waste their time. I insisted that I had quit my job at Daily Monitor and was a student who depended on the benevolence of my brother. I do not know how they missed my Monitor identity card but I believe it helped especially after they landed on my medical, bank cards and my Makerere University Law School ID. I could hear someone coughing outside as I prayed for someone to come to my rescue. None came but the thugs were losing patience.
An argument ensued between them on what to do until they agreed to call their boss to take the decision. They put him on loud speaker and he insisted “I’m rich” and have the money and that they should deal with me. The heat of the night that had made me sweat all of a sudden vanished and I started shivering. I was scared and the one monitoring me must have noticed. They moved to the sitting room. I could hear them discuss my fate.
“Let us cut off his feet,” one suggested. “He is just a student, may be he doesn’t have the money”. “No, he has it and you know how the boss is. If he says he has it then he does,” the other insisted. My stomach grumbled. I would have given anything to enter the toilet a stride away yet I could not get myself to ask.
The one who had been objecting returned and attempted to make friends with me suggesting that their boss had ordered them to take me with them if I did not hand over the money. He said, I would be put in a sack and loaded in the trunk of their car for further management. Was I going to be kidnapped? Would I be taken like Susan Magara, a young woman who has reportedly disappeared for more than a fortnight now? Many questions, few answers. I hoped.
At this point he moved to overturn my mattress to check if any money was hidden underneath. He ordered me to stay still but rolled me to the wall. And when he rolled me back, my laptop which I thought I had successfully hidden from them was exposed. He picked it and furiously punched me on the back. “Next time don’t buy a cheap laptop,” he said as he took it.
He again went back to his colleague. They used peculiar dialect I had never heard before.
When the one who had boxed me returned, he demanded to know my bank and mobile money accounts. I told him the details. Strangely, he did not demand the password. They, however, demanded the mobile money password which I duly provided. I was to later learn from service providers that there had not been any transaction on the phone. Accustomed to the voice of the “friendly thief”, the one who pleaded on my behalf in the apparent disagreement between them, he made an offer so that they do not harm me. “You will owe me Shs 300,000 and I will collect it another day,” he said. Anything for them to go away!
The packing started after what seemed like 45 minutes of combing for money in vain. I cannot tell if all the time they were interrogating me, they were moving my property. At this point I heard them pull out one of my suit cases. Everything they could move, the men took, electronics and electrical appliances such as TV, music system, power extension cables, flat irons, a kettle, and my fitness training equipment. Chairs were turned upside down. I think when they could not find the money they were looking for, they turned to the basic.
“Pack his rags too” the “tough thief” told the “friendly thief”. My clothes including boxers and singlets that had been washed and arranged neatly in one of the chairs were packed in one of my suitcases. Only the dirty laundry survived. A pair of shoes I had just bought was also taken, the other new one had earlier, on Monday, been stolen from the verandah while I was in the house. I thought someone had sneaked into our compound and did not pay much attention to the same. What shocked me was the thieves removed the carpet from the house and the bathroom rug.
One of the thieves returned to my bedroom for the last time and recounted my daily schedule. This time, he ordered that I should wake up at 8am. Should I scream as they left or after, he promised there would be consequences. He also ordered me not to report the matter to anyone including the police and not to attempt to track any of my equipment. I agreed.
As they departed, they replaced their flashlights with my bedroom light and after about 15 minutes I gathered the courage to lie on my back and look around. Another 20 minutes went by before I could move from my bed to the living room to assess the damage. I tiptoed as if someone was watching me. I looked around but there was no one. For some reason I could not close the door, not until one of the neighbours started his car to take his children to school. I gathered the courage to walk to the landlord’s house and alert him about the ordeal.
I suffered a serious bout of fever in November 2017 and I was undergoing treatment.
A cannula on right hand made it hard for me to work. On the fateful day, I had to hand in my coursework at Makerere University. I took a boda boda ride from the Monitor offices in Namuwongo to the main gate of Makerere University. However, I could not remove my money easily and so I handed my phone and a bottle of water to the boda boda rider so that I could use my left hand to retrieve his change. I turned to do so and by the time I turned again, in less than a minute, he was gone. I could not tell whether he had slopped or taken the Nakulabye route but he was gone. I just laughed at myself and walked away at least my coursework was safe.
For a few days, I procrastinated about getting a new smart phone but it is no longer an option in my line of work. So, I acquired a new one and things seemed to get back to normal. Not for so long.
About two weeks later, on Sunday, I was seated in a restaurant, near the Baha’i Temple, having my dinner. I was listening to music and at the same time having a heated exchange on WhatsApp. A boy of not more than 16 years entered the restaurant and then out, I minded my business thinking he was just another customer. Before I could make sense of what was happening, he grabbed my phone and some money I had on the table and he ran off. Three sets of boda boda motorcycles with two men on each except the one in the middle which he ran to were waiting for him. I chased after him and I could have caught him had not people called after me to stop. “Don’t chase, don’t chase,” one woman shouted. I was lucky I stopped. I was to learn, later, that if I had followed and caught up with him, the guys on the boda boda behind would have swung in action hitting me with a hammer or crowbar on the head. The one in front is to work on resistance, if any, presents itself ahead.