In 2017, Mark Tumwebaze parked his car, a silver Toyota Corolla outside a supermarket in Namungongo to buy groceries on his way to Sonde, a Kampala suburb. When he walked out of the supermarket about 10 minutes later, his car was missing.
He had parked it at the edge of the supermarket parking space since it was the only spot left.
Unfortunately, he recalls that the supermarket did not have security personnel to look after customer’s cars, save for those who checked customer’s entering the supermarket.
“The supermarket management did not help me in any way. They had an outdoor camera but it was defunct. So I reported to the nearest police station with hope that my car would be found,” Tumwebaze recalls.
Close to two months after the incident, Tumwebaze became hopeless. He realised that he was instead spending more money on the search. So he resolved to save and buy another car.
Car theft in Uganda
His experience is just a tip of an iceberg of how many other motorists have lost their cars through mysterious thefts especially in Kampala. What you should understand is that car theft can take place even during the day.
According to the Uganda Police Annual Crime Report of 2017, a total of 1,442 motor vehicles theft, cases, including Tumwebaze’s, were reported.
Of these, 782 cases were registered in Kampala Metropolitan East, South and North respectively.
According to Patrick Onyango, the spokesperson of Kampala Metropolitan Police(KMP), cars that are on theft market are mostly of Japanese auto manufacturer, Toyota brand. These include Toyota Premio, Toyota Noah and Toyota Land Cruiser Prado TX.
These, he says, are mostly sold in neighbouring countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that lies on the western side of Uganda.
The likes of the Toyota Spacio and Toyota Nadia, among other models are mostly dismantled in Uganda and sold in form of spare parts where you can easily buy a spare part of your own car.
“It is mostly Toyota brands that are on demand because it is the most popular brand across East Africa. This does not mean that other car brands cannot be stolen. You have to use measures such as installing tracking systems in your cars to make it easy to track once it has been stolen,” Onyango advises.
Abubaker Kasozi, a spare parts dealer, agrees with Onyango, reasoning that Toyota brands are yearned for by thieves because of the high demand of their spare parts. According to Kasozi, most Toyota brands share spares.
For instance, the doors of a Toyota G-touring are shared with those of a Toyota Corolla while the brake pads of a Toyota Premio can be shared with those of a Toyota Spacio and other Toyota brands.
“Instead of a thief selling off a stolen car as a whole in Uganda, they dismantle it and sell the parts. These parts may not fetch as much money as the cost of the whole car but a thief is only after getting rid of what they possess to make quick money,” Kasozi explains.
According to Kasozi, thieves break into most stolen cars using master keys that can open and ignite or start the engine of any car.
“It is on rare occasions that a Germany or British brand car will be stolen because they are opened with programmed keys. The worst a thief will do to such cars is pluck off spare parts such as lights or side mirrors,” Kasozi says.
Denis Otuku, a security inspector with one of the private security, companies observes that most car thefts happen at shopping mall parking yards. While sometimes those parked on the streets are also not spared, those parked at public places such as churches and mosques where you least expect car thefts to happen, are also sometimes targeted.
At shopping malls, Otuku says thieves take advantage of the fact there are many cars parked very closely to one another and mostly go for those at the exit or those positioned in a parking driveway.
They (thieves) mostly target cars whose owners park for long hours.
If your car is being targeted, the thieves normally trail you for a long time to understand and monitor your movement and where you park your car. They are many and work as a coordinated team.
They will find out what time you leave your home, when you arrive at work, where you park, if you installed any safety system and when you leave work,” he says.
“When they have mastered your movements, they will make a calculated move of stealing the car. This happens in hours between when you park your car in the morning and in the evening when you leave work,” Otuku adds.
As the festive season approaches, apart from installing a tracking device in your car, you can as well safeguard your car by using different car locks. You can either choose to use a circular door lock whose key is also circular but does not start the car engine or install a system that allows you to unlock fuel supply to your car engine using your phone. It costs between Shs200,000 to Shs400,000.