For more than three years, police received intelligence information on B13, a criminal gang that was formed and survived in Nakivubo tunnel, in Kampala, as their safe haven.
Their plans on who to rob, where to stage their attacks and how to evade police were made in the tunnel and the police escapes ended in the sewerage tunnels that connected into the channel.
B13 was named after the movie Banlieue (French for district) 13. It is a 2004 French action film, directed by Pierre Morel, written and produced by Luc Besson.
The plot for the movie is 2010 (six years in the future) when social problems such as violence, drugs and organised crime have overrun the poorer suburbs of Paris, especially Banlieue 13, commonly referred to as B13, a ghetto with a population of two million people.
The idea behind naming a criminal gang after the movie was self-preservation, according to one of the suspects arrested.
“I was around since it was founded. A group of the leadership sat down to formulate a name and the best name that would help give the members confidence was B13,” the suspect says.
The gang members, the residents as well as traders in the area, have for long listed the Nakivubo channel among the no-go zones for both civilians and police.
Even before the criminal gang was formed in 2010, a lot of pickpocketing and theft happened in the areas surrounding the channel.
Some of the suspects performed their mischief in broad day light and on being spotted, ran to the no-go zone -- Jumping into the channel and disappearing.
But it was July 3, 2014, when the luck of the criminal gang ran out. More than 130 members were arrested.
According to Mr Denis Namuwoza, the Divisional Police commander (DPC) Kampala Central Police Station (CPS), police had been planning for the operation but a few strings were yet to be pulled.
“For a while, an operation at the channel was in plan but we lacked some information on the operations of B13 and someone who was well informed on their hiding schemes and hideout,” Mr Namuwoza says.
The operation materialised when on July 30, CPS received a call from a group of boda boda cyclists who were having stage conflict issues with about four young men.
Information was relayed that the young men were part of the B13 criminal gang and one of their hideouts was revealed.
CPS police in coordination with the Flying Squad Unit stormed the Kisekka-based hide, out smoking out nine of the men while some disappeared into thin air.
The message to the officers was simple; the members of the gang were fast and effective in their escapes and understood the area better than the police.
The initial operation nearly collapsed when the B13 mobilised crowds in Kisekka Market against the plain clothed unarmed Flying Squad operatives, hitting them with stones as they approached Equatorial Mall on Kampala Road.
Luckily for the operatives, the driver of the police patrol pick up had an AK47 rifle that was used to fire rapid shots in the air, dispersing the crowds and creating way for the patrol vehicle.
It had been a suicidal mission, almost aborted at the last minute, but something had been learnt and it would help in the main operation that happened two days later.
Three of the suspects, after hours of interrogation, made a deal with police; they would show the police all the members of the B13, their operation areas and their hideouts as well as help in the arrest of their colleagues. All this was on condition that they were released after the operation.
The final operation
At exactly 2pm on July 3, a team headed by Mr Namuwoza, officer in charge of CPS Moses Nanoka, operations commander Aaron Baguma and about seven operatives from the Flying Squad raided the Nakivubo channel with the three suspects.
Starting from the Kisekka side of the channel, one by one, the police officers and the suspects, escorted by a platoon of fully armed and uniformed Field Force Unit (FFU) officers, jumped into the channel as a bunch of young men started to run. But it was too late.
Within the first five minutes, 10 suspected members of the B13 had been arrested and with the arrest, the channel seemed to clear all the way to the Owino Market side.
With assistance of the collaborating suspects, police then went for the hideout -- the sewerage tunnels.
Police officers did not need to enter the tunnels as tear gas canisters were thrown into the passages, smoking out three to four suspects at each point.
However, in one tunnel, the suspects got hold of the canister before it went off and threw it back to the police officers waiting outside.
At that point a new technique was adopted -- pepper spray. It was sprayed into the tunnels, bringing out already weakened and tear-filled dirty looking young men.
As much as the operation was up to the Owino Market side, many felt police was to give up at the point where the channel was filled with sewage. But they were proved wrong.
It was not without humour and laughter as a few police officers fell into the sewerage, leaving the traders who were already on the building veranda’s, watching the entire operation unfold in amusement.
Behind Nakivubo Blue, about 27 suspects had already left the channel and were hiding within the many cars parked in the yard.
Dividing into three groups, one of the police groups rounded them up as the other groups searched surrounding areas.
Another group halted the search when they reached the Clock Tower bridge, which creates a covered part of the channel full of darkness.
It was evident that there were more suspects -- probably already organised for retaliation in that part of the channel -- but police did not have enough men to enter that part.
“We are going to re-enforce and get a day and come to that part of the channel.” Mr Namuwoza said.
Just when all thought the operation was done with, 102 suspects had been arrested and more intelligence information handed to police by its Crime Intelligence Office.
A group of suspects who were senior in ranking in the B13 gang were at Cooper Complex, near the Old Taxi Park, at a pool table.
Immediately after the more than 100 suspects had been put on police patrol cars and driven to CPS, the entire operation group headed for Cooper Complex.
The officers divided into two, and would attack from different angles to prevent the suspects from escaping.
At the sight of police officers, tables were trampled over and saucepans of people cooking in the area were thrown off the fire as attempts to escape were made. But it was too late.
About 36 suspects were rounded up at the scene and taken to CPS for interrogation.
“The suspects who were arrested initially have been of great help in making the operation successful. We have arrested about 130 suspects in our first steps of ensuring that Kampala has no more thieves and pickpockets,” Mr Namuwoza said immediately after the operation.
“We want to see a secure city where one can drop a phone on the streets and find it there when they come back looking for it.”
About the movie B13
The plot for the movie is 2010 (six years in the future) when social problems such as violence, drugs and organised crime have overrun the poorer suburbs of Paris, especially Banlieue 13, commonly referred to as B13, a ghetto with a population of 2 million people.
Unable to control B13, the authorities construct a high wall topped by barbed tape around the entire area, forcing the inhabitants within to survive without education, proper utilities or police protection. Police checkpoints stop anybody going in or out.
Three years later, an almost feudal system has developed amongst the street gangs of B13.
The area is now flooded with drugs such as heroin and completely controlled by gangsters.