Kampala city is changing face and so is its crime tree. The city is expanding and crime is surging.
“Even if you arrest 300 criminals today, you can arrest a bigger number the next day,” says Mr Dennis Namuwoza, the division commander at Kampala Central Police Station (CPS).
Criminals’ gazetted zones
The city criminals operate in groups and have demarcated own territories of operation similar to what Nigerians call ‘area boys’. There is an unwritten understanding among the criminal groups to respect each other’s territorial space except in circumstances of escaping from the law.
The gangs work at the same venue only when there is a public show or gathering.
According to police crime intelligence, the biggest criminal gang in Kampala is called Kifesi. Others are ECOMOG and NATO. Mr Michael Sentongo, aka Maguru, in the criminal circles, heads the Kifesi Group. He is assisted by a fellow gangster code-named Tiger.
Kifesi is based in Katwe-Kinyoro zone and controls the largest criminal operational area in the city, covering Nkrumah Road, Clock Tower, Conrad Plaza, Entebbe Road traffic lights spot, Kamu-Kamu Plaza, Allen Road, William Street, Market Street, part of Ben Kiwanuka Street from Mukwano Arcade to Shoprite and Nakivubo Mews.
The night gangs use what they call Kabadi to disarm their victims. Under this tactic, a crime intelligence officer at CPS explained, once the target has been identified, one Kanyama (strongly built gangster) attacks the victim from behind. He places his arm around the victim’s neck in a strangulation style while the other gangsters strip the victim of all possession.
Police investigations show that Kifesi, like other groups, are divided into sub-groups operating at different times in diverse locations. They start at 12pm, change location at 3pm and 6pm and close operation at midnight.
Major victims of these gangs are pedestrians from whom they grab phones, bags, laptops and money. The gangs have sections that specialise in stealing from cars. Even this group is divided into two units; one specialising in stealing from moving vehicles, especially at the traffic lights and the other from parked cars.
The criminal gang at Clock Tower operates at peak or rush hours— morning, midday and evening, usually after 5pm.
One of the gangsters who talked to the Sunday Monitor from the CPS cells explained how they operate.
“Once a car with property is identified, three people approach it, one distracts the driver, one opens the door and the third grabs the bag and takes off,” the gangster said.
The Kifesi night group operates mostly around Club Amnesia opposite Uganda Railways Yard near Bank of Baroda on Jinja Road.
According to police crime intelligence, “they move in a group of eight. When they identify their victim, two muscular Kanyamas stay behind as others attack the target. When sympathisers come to rescue the victim, the Kanyamas swing into action and beat up the rescuers”.
Michael Sentongo, aka Maguru, aged 33, is adjudged as a proud criminal by police. A police crime intelligence officer at CPS said Maguru does not engage in loot of below Shs5 million. He has been arrested countless times in the past two years but he always gets back to the streets.
“In one incident, I arrested Maguru only for him to come back a few days later to secure a bond for another criminal. He assured me he had been released on court bail. Despite the frequency of his arrest, court grants him bail,” says Kampala Division Police Commander Dennis Namuwoza.
Training and escape routes
From their base in Katwe-Kinyoro, the Kifesi group uses Nakivubo Channel and Railways Yard behind Nasser Road as their major escape routes. Other groups use part of the Nakivubo Channel behind Kiseka Market.
Police say the gangsters master their skills and tricks by watching movies in film halls (bibanda).
“After watching different movies, they go to improvised gyms and rehearse the movies. They also train in martial arts, boxing and body building,” says the crime intelligence officer.
The gangsters even attack police. “One time, they surrounded the OC Central Police Station at Sheraton Hotel to kill him, but they fled when he fired in the air,” the police officer said.
White collar criminals
Besides street crime, there are hardcore white collar criminals operating from Internet cafes, banking halls and around forex bureaus. They are educated and some of them are IT graduates.
They masquerade as bank clients while observing who is withdrawing huge sums of money. During the return of security guards from Iraq, the elite gangsters would pretend to be returnees from Iraq with dollars to exchange. Today, they pretend to be returning from Somalia, seeking to exchange their dollars. Once you agree to negotiate, they lure you to a place they consider convenient where their accomplices are waiting to mug you and disappear with your money.
According to police, the criminals carry out their operations mostly at public shows. They buy tickets to enter the show. While inside, they scout for targets and use various tricks including starting mock fights to lure the unsuspecting victims to their trap and to rob them. As one group pretends to separate the fighters, others snatch bags, phones and wallets from the people and take off.
The CPS Division Police Commander, SP Dennis Namuwoza, says they have done their best but they have been let down by the courts and weak laws.
“These criminals don’t fear arrest. They know theft is not a capital offence and they have lawyers who process bail application for them in court. They have the money to pay for bail and the lawyers. The hardcore criminals like Maguru, Kakono, Agaba, Muyingo all have lawyers who represent them in court. My appeal to the lawmakers and the Judiciary is that these serial criminals should not be granted bail. They should be put away for at least a year,” said Namuwoza.
The Judiciary spokesman, Mr Erias Kisawuzi, says magistrate courts release the criminals because police do not provide proof that the suspect is a habitual criminal.
“Police, through its identification bureau, should provide the judiciary with details of these criminals and their records such that once they appear before court, they are not just granted bail. If such evidence is provided to the courts, the magistrate will have grounds to deny the suspect bail,” Mr Kisawuzi says.
WHAT POLICE SAY
Mukiga, aka Kakono
He does not operate in a group. He is a lone gangster. He is a landlord on Busabala Road and has a storeyed-commercial building. He operates along Market Street, Top Pub on William Street, Container Village and Mini Price. He also deals in opium. The lone operator acquired his street name Kakono after his hand was amputated by a mob when he was caught stealing. He also steals from taxi passengers by disguising as a fellow passenger after he has identified the victim with possessions. He enters with the victim in the taxi and starts plotting how to steal from him or her. Police say Kakono was arrested more than 13 times in 2013. “This man has been taken to court but he gets bail and walks away,” says a police criminal intelligence officer at CPS who declined to be named.
Anthony Agaba,aka Kanyankole
He is a senior white collar hardcore criminal. He is IT literate and uses it to steal from the public. He is regular in the police cells and secures his freedom through court bail. In criminal intelligence corridors, Agaba was once arrested for stealing Shs30m but was released by court on Shs5m bail.
She is famous for shoplifting in supermarkets. Recently, police rescued her from a mob in Mukono where she was caught stealing. According to police, Uwizeye usually goes on ‘tour of duty’ in Tanzania and Kenya for her criminal expeditions.
He operates alone within Kikuubo and Kampala Road zones, banking halls mostly those in Kikuubo and near forex bureaus. At forex bureaus, he masquerades as a returnee from Somalia with a bundle of dollars he is seeking to exchange but at a good rate. He targets mostly unsuspecting traders in Kikuubo.
Muyingo is one of the city’s top conmen. He has a booming business in Makindye suburb and is a landlord there. He is one of the pioneers of the common trickery around the city, of “diamond picked from an accident scene involving white men”. Bisaso, like Muyingo, operates in the same areas though they are independent of each other.