During the 15th African Union Summit in Kampala, Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura received a telephone call. The caller was none other than his commander-in-chief, Gen Yoweri Museveni.
“Where are the police officers that I told you to deploy on Entebbe highway? I don’t see them,” President Museveni asked Gen Kayihura during the summit in 2010.
Gen Kayihura had no definite answer. Soon after President Museveni put down the receiver, Gen Kayihura hit the ground running.
“I didn’t sleep because of these undisciplined officers,” Gen Kayihura said. “I deployed patrol vehicles and personnel on Entebbe Road but they were not there because of indiscipline. The President passed on the road and he found no police presence on the road.”
Last week, Gen Kayihura was back on the Entebbe highway for a similar situation which President Museveni wanted to avoid in 2010.
On Valentines’ Day, gunmen killed the officer in charge of Kajjansi Police Station, Joseph Bigirwa. Preliminary police investigations show that the police had not deployed in Kajjansi Town that day and it took more than 30 minutes for reinforcements to come when the gunmen had long left the scene.
When Gen Kayihura visited the scene on Tuesday, he confirmed that his senior officers had not deployed in the area at the time of the attack as he had advised.
Entebbe road is the most guarded highway in the country. But with the increase in crime, especially the grabbing of police guns on the airport highway, a new challenge to Kampala Metropolitan Police intelligence and operations units emerges.
Just months before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda in 2007, Entebbe highway was one of the few roads where discipline seemed to be taking root.
Motorists observed traffic rules, the then Kampala City Council (now KCCA) erected street lights and garbage cans (or skips) on the roadside and cleaned the roads daily to restore cleanliness and sanity on the airport highway.
Police installed closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras and increased their presence, deployed more patrol cars and motor vehicles on the highway than elsewhere in the country.
The airport road is a gateway for tourists and visitors coming into the country.
The 22-mile (35km) stretch from Entebbe to Kampala was allocated more than 29 police patrol vehicles and 45 motorcycles. Each patrol car has eight officers and a motorcycle has two, which translates into 322 police personnel. This means, the 35km stretch has the same number of police personnel as is deployed in remote districts of Agago, Bukomansimbi, Lamwo and Bududa which have 326 police personnel altogether.
They are also better facilitated in terms of motor vehicles than those in sub-regions of West Nile, Karamoja and Acholi.
However, most of these patrol cars have become resting places for officers, especially at night.
Despite the high presence of police, gunmen are ruling the highway, raiding police stations and robbing them of guns. Last year gunmen attacked Mpala Police Post and took off with one sub-machine gun. The same gun is said to have been used by thugs to kill a police constable in a foiled robbery in the Nalumunye outskirt of Kampala two weeks ago.
Two guns were grabbed at Ngobi and Akright police posts by an armed gang in 2010. Only one of the guns was recovered by police in an armed robbery in western Uganda months later.
The CCTV cameras on the airport route have not helped much. Everyday passengers and passers-by have fallen victim to muggers at Clock Tower, Kibuye and Nsambya road junctions in the city where CCTV cameras were installed.
Muggers target unsuspecting passengers and motorists and snatch their phones and other valuables and run way. Many passengers do not even bother to report to the police as they know they will not recover their property.
Entebbe highway has also become a hub for conmen who often telephone unsuspecting victims that they have won gifts or they want them to supply certain items. Urban areas like Lubowa, Namasuba, Stella-Najjanankumbi and Sseguku are major centres for conmen. The crime has become so worrying that a team of detectives was set up and tasked to track the offenders.
Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesman Ibin Ssenkumbi said they have broken the racket of conmen who purport to trade in motor spare parts, animal drugs and gifts on the airport highway.
“This racket has operated on Entebbe Road, conning people of their hard-earned money. We have arrested nine people from their illegal offices in Namasuba after getting complaints from more than 60 victims at our various stations in the last two weeks,” Mr Ssenkumbi said.
The group was alleged to have extended its illicit dealings to establishing fake NGOs which purport to be engaged in poverty alleviation programmes. Police said they would charge the nine suspects with obtaining money by false pretence, forgery, computer misuse and obtaining money by trickery.