In the wake of fears of increasing insecurity among Kampala dwellers where households are attacked, robbed and sometimes residents killed or left with injuries, some members within different suburbs have taken personal safety into their own hands by starting up WhatsApp groups.
A case in point is the Operation Kyanja Close WhatsApp group that was initiated in 2015. Anthony Katabazi is one of the administrators.
At the time, Katabazi says the group had been formed for members to discuss how they could raise funds to have their short access community road that leads to all households, tarmacked.
A few months later, when the mission was accomplished, the group incorporated the aspect of neighbourhood security. Initially, the group comprised 12 members but has since grown to 15 from six different households, with each in a separate perimeter wall.
The group derives its name not only from the access road, but the members strongly believe anything that happens in their area is still an operation.
Work with police station
Katabazi thinks that most Kampalans only get to find out where their local police stations are after experiencing sad scenarios such as murder of a resident or when they have community household issues that require police intervention.
Even without home or community issues, Katabazi advises that it is important to build rapport with your local police station even in times of peace.
“We are closely in touch with Kyanja Police Station. We know the police officers by name and each member in the WhatsApp group keeps their mobile contacts. When the ones we know are transferred, we establish a relationship with the new ones. These officers also take time to know our homes. They may not enter our houses but they know where each resident stays,” Katabazi says.
Support your local police
Operation Kyanja Close members collect an unspecified amount of money every month that they give to police as fuel for them to carry out day and night patrols in their area.
“We do it in good spirit because sometimes police officers have vehicles or motorcycles but without fuel. We give them this monetary support so that they respond faster when a call is made to them in case of a robbery,” Katabazi explains.
“If I am driving or walking out of my gate and I meet someone new in the area, I will stop, greet them and ask them where they are going and whose home they are coming from. If they do not respond, I communicate to the group and call the police to arrest them,” he adds.
Being neighbour’s keeper
Pius Kabala, a resident of Mbalwa village in Namugongo, is one of the five administrators of the Just Us WhatsApp. Started in 2017, the group comprises 30 members from 25 households. He says every resident on the group keeps watch on a neighbour’s house regardless of whether they are in or out of their homes because they are adjacent to each other.
“I will send a message to the group to inquire about a new person I see entering or coming out of my neighbour’s premises. We know that thugs might claim they are from someone’s home in the community yet the resident does not know them. Also, if my neighbour has an alarm and it goes off in the night or any time of day, I will check it out,” Kabala explains.
Kabala adds: “If I see someone carrying household items at weird hours of the day, I will stop and ask them where they are taking it but also communicate to the group or call the resident where the person claims to come from for clarity.”
Know your neighbour
In August, one of the occupants in the 12-unit apartment block a few metres across Kabala’s house was robbed during broad day light. The occupants returned to a television-less house later in the evening.
Kabala got to know about the robbery when the victim asked one of his neighbours if he had seen anyone walk into their house.
Surprisingly, someone had seen the culprits around the premises earlier but did not bother talking to them to find out if they stayed within the same premises.
“The challenge with apartments is that occupants do not know and do not talk to each other. During weekends when you are home, walk out of your house and find out who your next door neighbour is even when they stay in a perimeter wall.
“Have a courtesy chat with them and know what they do, instead of locking yourself up so that they are on the lookout for any break-ins when you are away,” Kabala advises.
Communicate when away
On top of locking your house from the inside and outside, Katabazi advises that you tip off your group members or immediate neighbour or two so that they keep an eye on your door to make sure it’s still intact.
“If one family or parents are to be away for a weekend getaway and have left their children behind, they notify us and we act as security personnel to their property.
“You may not tell people where you are going but the important information is to communicate that you will be away,” Katabazi advises.
When you hear of a burglary or alarm in a surrounding area, do not take it for granted. Take safety measures such as installing razor wires around your perimeter wall to safeguard your property.
Work with private guards in homes
When one of your neighbour’s homes is guarded by private personnel, it is important to build a relationship with the home owner, who will then introduce you to their guard so that in case they (guard) hears an alarm from the neighbourhood, they come in to help. They are part of your community.