On Saturday July 24, 2010, Robinah Kirumira, wife to city businessman Godfrey Kirumira, rushed to her microwave after a brief phone call.
She was not hurrying to get food that was burning in the machine, but to get clues on horrible news she has just received.
Robinah had just received a phone call from a strange man that he had kidnapped her four-year-old grandson, Keiden King Lubowa, and that he had a message for her in the microwave.
Neatly placed in the corner of the heating machine was a note with a message: “Pay us Shs200 million ransom or we kill Keiden.”
The message overwhelmed Robinah. She picked up her phone and called Patrick Lubowa, her son-in-law who is also father to Keiden, and broke the news.
“I nearly lost control of the car I was driving,” said Lubowa, an engineer. He says he made a U-turn and drove back home. One of the first people he called was his father-in-law Kirumira.
On getting the bad news, Kirumira abandoned his work. He had two options: either fork out the Shs200 million and pay the ransom, or inform the police.
“I telephoned the Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, and narrated to him the problems that had befallen us,” Kirumira recalls. But time was running out.
Due to the seriousness of the crime, Gen Kayihura handed over the case to Assistant Inspector General of Police Abbas Byakagaba, an expert in counter-terrorism.
“We had to start from square one by first of all understanding the most basics. Who was in charge of the child at the time it went missing and who were the likely culprits,” Byakagaba says.
The officers reconstructed the scene and Solange Nyiransabimana, the maid, was pictured everywhere.
Nyiransabimana, whom the family had hired from a company in town a month before the incident, was nowhere to be seen. Not only didn’t the family members know her real name at the time, but they did not have any of her photographs to help the police with her search.
Efforts to contact the maid on her known mobile phone were futile. Kirumira’s family could hardly believe that the maid could be part of the crime.
The first day ended without any meaningful progress.
But the detectives had one challenge. They needed a court order to get a printout of the telephone contacts of the suspects, but it being a weekend, courts were closed.
“The printout could help us know where the maid and the kidnappers where and who they had contacted,” one of the detectives on the case said.
Without a court order, it meant that the detectives would only start work the next day, Monday, when the courts would be open. But the Kirumira’s could not wait another day for their grandson to be rescued.
The detectives had to circumvent the bureaucracy and in no time, they had a court order which they presented to the telecom companies to secure a telephone printout.
The police officers made printouts of the maid’s mobile phone number and the mobile phone number writing on the chit left in the microwave and they were constant contacts between the two.
To the family, the evidence had brought them closer to finding their son, but to the police, it was a very serious and complicated incident.
“In cases where the culprits are known and they know that they are known, it means that they have made a decision and are ready to do everything, including killing, to ensure that their demands are met,” a senior detective, who was involved in the investigation of the case, later said.
Secondly, the officers discovered another hurdle. The maid, Nyiransabimana, was not a Ugandan and there were chances that she could run out of the country, making the rescue mission more difficult and costly.
The only hope they were holding on to was to know where the suspects were. “We didn’t know whether the suspect who wanted to pick the money was in the same vicinity with the victim and it was getting late,” the detective said.
Early on Sunday July 25, 2010, the detectives started making calls to numbers they found on the printouts with the hope of finding anyone linked to the suspects.
Interestingly, one of the leading detectives dialled the number of the suspect’s phone and it went through. The detective immediately tricked him into wanting to do business with him.
The person they contacted was so cooperative, thinking that he was dealing with genuine people. The suspects call was made from Monitor Publications Limited premises.
What a relief! They thought they were closing in on the culprit.
That Sunday afternoon, the detectives stormed the Monitor premises bent on arresting the suspect.
However, it turned out to be a huge disappointment. The person they had been contacting all along was the wrong one. On crosschecking the initial telephone printout, the detectives discovered that they had dialled a wrong phone number, thus ending up in a wrong place and with a wrong person.
Embarrassed, they withdrew from the Monitor offices and started their investigations afresh.
But at 6pm, something strange happened. Nyiransabimana boldly sent a text message to Keiden’s parents claiming responsibility for the kidnap and wanted the ransom.
Nyiransabimana also said she was in Bukoto, a Kampala suburb, and was preparing to travel back to Burundi if the ransom was not sent on time.
Detectives rushed to the telecom companies again to make another printout to establish whether she was indeed in Bukoto. But she was not.
The police ordered the parents to continue engaging the suspects to enable them trace their whereabouts.
The printout showed that the suspects were still in the country and around Lukuli-Nanganda in Makindye Division, Kampala.
Unfortunately, the printout could only show the geographical area where the suspects were, but not the exact location.
One of the detective says whenever they continued to talk to the suspects, the telecom officers would use the Global Positioning System (GPS) to track the Nyiransabimana’s location.
“GPS show the distance between the suspect’s phone and ours. The telecom controller would tell us the distance until we reached a few minutes to the suspect,” the detective said.
What was challenging was they could not tell which house she was in and did not know the face of the suspect.
“We just cordoned off the entire area and started searching house by house. It was just minutes until we zeroed down on the house in which the prime suspect was,” the detective said.
The maid and her uncle were arrested without any struggle and Keiden was rescued.
Being cooperative, the detectives did not handcuff them. However, when they reached a dark place, Nyiransabimana sneaked and took off!
This prompted a pursuit that involved shooting several bullets in the area until they grabbed her. She fought on, biting two detectives in the process.
One detective sustained injuries on his fingers while the other left with injuries in his chest.
The man who was demanding a ransom, who is said to have been near the home where the prime suspect was arrested, took off and switched off his mobile phone during the scuffle.
He was never arrested, but Nyiransabimana and her uncle Andrew Hategekimana were taken to court where they were sentenced to six years imprisonment for kidnapping a child with intent to secure a ransom.
Brenda Kirumira, Keiden’s mother, said: “We have got our baby and we should be very cautious if we are to get a maid.”
Recent cases of kidnap
Khan Kakama, one and half year old boy
Mellon Nabasa, a housemaid, Gordon Tumusiime, a chapatti seller, and Brian Junior Ssajjabi, a technician with Church of God World Vision. They were convicted of murder of Khan Kakama whom they kidnapped with intent of getting a ransom in 2010.
Dauda Kyazze was found in Masaka District at the home village of Ms Mary Nandawula, who found him walking aimlessly at Mengo, Rubaga Division in Kampala in 2008 and took care of him.
The relatives of Kyazze thought that boy had been kidnapped and killed but later a woman who lived near the home of his parents saw him in Masaka District which prompted an investigation and recovery in 2012.
However, when the boy met with the relatives, he refused to be re-joined.
Rita Nansamba, 20
Not all cases of kidnaps have been true. In March 2009, One Rita Nansamba claimed that she was kidnapped and survived being killed by men in Kyebando, a Kampala suburd.
Nansamba claimed that one Alex, a resident of Kisalosalo zone, Kyebando, who also hails from Nyendo, Masaka District, approached her grandmother that he had got for her (Ms Nansamba) a job of a maid in the city.
But when she travelled to the city, she was trapped by the people she was supposed to work for and attempted to kill her.
She said she was able to run away and sought help at the police.
Interestingly, when police investigated, they found out that she had concocted a story as a way to escape a mob that wanted to kill her for stealing property from a house.
Police found out that she had just been released from Luzira prison and she was sent by a female inmate to visit the inmate’s family and see how her child was faring.
But when she visited the home, she stole clothes and run away. Someone saw her and alerted the residents who pursued and beat her up. They stripped her before they released her.
She later used that state to concoct a story of kidnap.