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.
The road has also become a safe haven for drug and human traffickers, especially those who are from West Africa. Recently, a US national, Mr Robert Muller, was rescued by police after people who lured him to Uganda for a purported oil business venture turned against him and kidnapped him on the airport road to the city.
Mr Muller’s attackers were demanding a ransom of $50,000 (about Shs125 million) from his relatives in the United States. It was discovered later that his kidnappers were Nigerians and were keeping him in Sseguku, off the airport road. A police team recovered illicit drugs in the house of the suspects.
The same group kidnapped an Australian, Ms James Robert, and demanded Euros65,000 (about Shs219 million) from his relatives. They managed to get Euros35,000 (about Shs118 million) ransom before they released her.
THE KAJJANSI MURDER: RECONSTRUCTING THE SCENE
The night of February 14, 2014, was like no other for the residents of Kajjansi, the busy suburb 17km on the Kampala-Entebbe Highway famous for its clay works.
It was Valentine’s Day when lovers and friends shower each other with affection. While many went about celebrating the day, a 32-year-old cadet police officer entered through the back entrance a small bar – Destiny Bar - in the trading centre just opposite Gaz fuel refilling station.
It was very common of cadet Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Joseph Bigirwa to spend the night after work in this specific bar with two of his friends, one also a police officer deployed at one of the police posts in Lubowa.
He sat in his favourite spot just near the door and ordered a soft drink which he always begun with before he graduated to alcohol as the night wore on. His colleague, cadet ASP Alexander, had arrived earlier and was already taking his drink. But soon afterwards, he excused himself and left.
About 20 minutes later after ASP Alexander had left Bigirwa’s company, a gunshot was heard outside.
Bigirwa, like any trained officer, went straight for the door and behold, just across the road at the petrol station, the pump attendant had been put under gun point and some people had attacked the Mobile Money shop which was located within the refilling station.
Rushing back into the bar, Bigirwa approached the bar owner and asked for the back door to be opened from which he passed and went out.
All his focus directed at the petrol station, Bigirwa could have as well been any other by-passer watching, but the difference was no by-passer would have attempted to cross the road to the side where four armed thugs had taken charge.
As he jumped the ditch to enter the road, a gunshot was heard, and then another and the exchange continued with people in the area lying on the ground.
The four thugs were at this time still busy at the petrol station, raising suspicion that they were more than the number counted.
It was after they had left and all the people gained confidence to rise from the ground that everyone started wondering who the courageous young man that had even removed a pistol and attempted to fight with the thugs was.
It was the bar owner that identified the murdered police officer a few minutes before a police patrol car arrived at the scene.
The whole action had taken less than 10 minutes.
Thugs tracked officer
On Tuesday, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kale Kayihura, together with Kampala Metropolitan Commander Andrew Kaweesi, visited the scene to help detectives reconstruct what could have transpired on the fateful night.
Gen Kayihura says there is a possibility that the two thugs who are believed to have shot the officer knew he was in the bar and were keeping their eyes on him as the other four accomplished the robbery mission.
“These guys could have been following him all along. One shot him standing behind him while the other was on his right side,” Gen Kayihura was heard telling the detectives.
Failure to rescue their own
Police preliminary findings indicate that a patrol car was packed less than 50metres from the scene of the murder, but no police officer was at the patrol, and that the DPC was at the station but only responded about 15 minutes after the robbers had left.
Two traffic officers are also said to have been on the highway near the scene but made no attempt to respond to evidently clear gunshot sounds that were heard by almost all residents of the Kajjansi trading centre.
The leadership of the Kajjansi Police Station is to also explain why no officer had been deployed at the petrol station as per the directives of the President.
“I have told you before that all petrol stations should have an armed police officer guarding it. This was a directive from the President because of the possible terror attacks on these installations,” Gen Kayihura told officers.
By Dear Jeanne
29: The police patrol vehicles deployed along the Kampala-Entebbe Highway. Each patrol car has eight officers.
35km: The distance from Kampala city to Entebbe Town. The airport road is a gateway for tourists and visitors coming into the country.
45: The motorcycles deployed along the Kampala-Entebbe Highway. Each motorcycle has two officers.
322: The police officers deployed along the Entebbe highway, the same number as officers deployed in four remote districts combined.