Last week, the Law Development Centre Court remanded six people, who are suspected to have kidnapped and murdered two women.
One of their suspected victims, Rose Nakisekka, was targeted at the New Taxi Park, Namirembe Road on May 11, 2018. The suspects allegedly demanded Shs1.1m ransom before they killed her.
The same group is also accused of targeting Brinah Nalule, a student of YMCA Buwambo Campus, at the Old Taxi Park and murdering her after receiving a ransom in May, 2018.
The remanded are Shakur Mugabe, Bosco Olo, Ssalongo Ali Dumba, Frank Sendi, Brian Kaaya and Herbert Lukwago.
Both the Old Taxi and New Taxi parks have been soft spots for kidnappers lately.
It is an indicator of how far Ugandans have backslidden on security cautiousness since the twin bombings at Kyadondo Rugby Club in Nakawa Division and Ethiopian Village Restaurant in Makindye Division.
After the al-Shabaab attacks in Kampala City, the taxi parks were among the safest areas in the city centre.
Security agencies invested a lot in both hardware and human resource.
The number of officers dedicated to fighting terrorism rose from 600 to 4,000 in just four years (2010-2014). Right now they are around 5,000 officers in Counter Terrorism Directorate.
The parks, seen as a major target for terrorists because they are often crowded, were given security attention. The managers created official exit and entry points and everyone who accessed them had to be searched to ensure that firearms and explosives were not brought in.
The security situation over the years however has declined, and the situation at the taxi parks mirrors the level of preparedness in other public areas in the city centre and countrywide.
Vigilance at bars, arcades, restaurants, buses and markets is flat. Many police posts that were erected near high target areas have since been removed or abandoned.
Mr Robert Mutebi, the secretary general of Bus Owners and Operators, says after the bombings, the enforcement of regulations was its peak, but the biggest challenge was to sustain it.
“We left security issues to the owners of the bus terminals. They have officers with metal detectors carrying out searches before people access the terminal,” Mr Mutebi says.
He adds that at the peak of the terror threats, security agencies used to provide them with a number of armed officers, who would seat in the buses to prevent highway robbers from waylaying them on the way, especially at night.
Robberies dropped and the police guards withdrew. Now, cases of highway robberies are back, including the recent incident reported in Mbarara when a bus owned by Link Coaches was waylaid and passengers robbed.
Similar incidents have been reported on Fort Portal road and Mityana Road.
Mr Mutebi says security agencies should go back to the old system of deploying police officers in buses.
“The dark spots are known, but they don’t cover a long stretch. If police concentrate in those areas, especially at night, the robbery cases will drop. That plan also needs some financial resources to be fully enforced,” he says.
The impact the July 11, 2010 terror bombings have had on the entertainment industry is still felt eight years later.
Events to be held in open spaces, however small they are, have to be reported to the office of the Inspector General of Police beforehand. The notification letter is then delivered to half a dozen other officers who must acknowledge their receipt.
Event organisers say from the lower levels at the regional police office to the district command, huge sums of money are demanded for provision of security at the venues.
Mr Dixon Okello, a professional events safety and management official, says the entire system has been dogged with abuse, especially in form of financial gains.
“You pay police for security and they promise 200 officers. But they underdeploy. Sometimes the officers they have brought complain that their commanders did not pay their allowances,” Mr Okello says.
The result is officers deployed at different points use their powers to solicit money from revellers to allow them in without really caring about security standards, which Mr Okello says has compromised security of events.
He says in some instances security agencies show their rivalry at the event.
“Each security organ, Internal Security Organisation, Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence and the police is giving different commands. You find that there is no proper chain of command,” he says, which creates gaps that can be exploited by criminals.
He says since the terror attacks in 2010 there has been improvement in vigilance among the civilians and security agencies, but there are still many security loopholes as a result of shortage of skills of security officers.
“Before, there was no security at bars. People would just walk in. Since the terror attacks, entertainment places hire security personnel who search people before they access the venues,” Mr Okello says.
However, crime that results into mass deaths especially in crowded areas has drastically reduced.
Attacks at gate
Crimes against targeted individuals and businesses in the communities on the other hand, is said to be on the rise.
Mr Joseph Mukasa, an accountant, said he would be more worried about security at his home and workplace than in a public place, like a bar.
“Since 2010 bombings, I have not heard of stories of where people have been killed in a bar by terrorists. But I have read stories of dozens of people shot dead or strangled just outside their homes. I am always worried about how I will reach my home,” Mr Mukasa says.
The security demands have shifted from public places to personal safety, both for very important persons, businesses and the ordinary people.
The killing of Arua Municipality legislator Col Ibrahim Abiriga, police spokesman Andrew Felix Kaweesi and senior prosecutor Joan Kagezi increased the demand for bodyguards for very important persons.
Counter terrorism officers are the most preferred as guards.
Mr Yasin Ssekamatte, a security expert and executive director for Jet-Tech Security Uganda Limited, says personal security should be left to private security companies because their guards are skilled to deal with such challenges.
“If we are employed by government, we can provide bodyguard services to VIPs. There is no reason why banks are guarded by police when you have private security companies. They have the capabilities to secure them,” Mr Ssekamatte says.
Fight for spoils
He says it is mostly private security companies that carry out such services in countries where the security threats are worse than those Uganda is experiencing.
Police spokesperson Emilian Kayima says Ugandans need to be vigilant because police have few numbers and they cannot be at every public place.
He, however, encourages managers of entertainment places to have trained guards but always liaise with area police commanders to ensure safety for revellers while at these public places.
“We discourage open places where everyone enters and leaves freely. There must be security vigilance provided by guards, or owners of these places must seek police protection. Ugandans must also comply with security measures put at these public places,” Kayima says.
He also says they have never received any complaint on police officers demanding for money from revellers. He encourages event organisers and managers of public places to avail evidence of police officers and commanders soliciting money from them in order to provide security.
“We don’t charge to protect Ugandans because it is our duty. We have a name to protect and we cannot just respond to every allegation,” Kayima says.
On deploying several security agencies with no proper chain of command, Kayima says it is not a concern of event organisers to question why more than one security agency is deployed to protect citizens. He says police is always the lead agency but recognises the duty of its sister security agencies.
“We deploy jointly and supervise jointly. It is not your duty as an event organiser to know which agencies we have deployed. Some Ugandans want to question everything. Your duty as a citizen is to comply,” Kayima adds.
Overworked: A day in a guard’s life
A private security guard at one of the shopping malls in downtown Kampala, who preferred anonymity, said he checks a few people and lets others just enter because he gets exhausted.
“This place has several entries and exits. I am one guard here whereas my colleague is at the other side. More than 100 people enter this place every hour. How can I check all of them at the same time? By the time it reaches 1pm, I am already tired and hungry and I take some rest. I sit in my chair and let people enter the shops they want,” the guard said.
Festo Nsubuga, a journalist, doubts whether these security guards have skills to detect bombs and other explosives or spot criminal elements in crowds.
His bases his doubts on the fact that he often goes through several electronic detectors with his phone in the pocket but the guards never notice.
“These guards cannot detect someone with a bomb or any explosive. They check cars for purposes of assuring drivers that their cars will be safe in their hands and expect a token at the end. But they pay very little attention to pedestrians,” Nsubuga says.
Julius Opun, a security controller at Pinnacle Security Limited, dismisses Nsubuga’s opinion saying guards are given necessary skills in the one-month training that usually focuses on weaponry usage, quick response to security threats and explosion detection.
“We train our guards for one month but in this period they are taught how to spot an explosive from other things like garbage with or without detectors. We give them handheld detectors and at some places we place walk-through check machines. Our guards know what they are doing and they have spotted several criminal elements,” Opun says.
Opun adds that they have a 24/7 control room which monitors their guards in the field through phone calls and radio calls.
He adds that they have standby teams whose main task is to back up a guard who could be overpowered by the security situation.
“When we get an alert from our guards about fragile security, we send an advance team using motorcycles because there is always traffic congestion in Kampala. Other guards on a vehicle follow. We also conduct spontaneous checks on our guards to test their vigilance,” Opun adds.
Opun says many people always want to access public places unchecked and they often give guards a hard time.
He reminds Ugandans that security vigilance is for everybody.
What does your guard know about security?
Revellers and residents in hotels and bars, customers at banks, shoppers at arcades and families at homes rely mostly on security provided by guards from private security firms.
The guards often frisk people or check their cars and bags ostensibly for weapons and explosives as a pre-condition for granting them access to premises. In some places, armed individuals have to deposit their guns at for safe custody in a locker at the gate.
The elephant in the room is: Do private security guards have the competence to secure places they are deployed to safeguard? What do they learn during training? Can they even identify a bomb or any Improvised Explosive Device (IED)?
Superintendent of Police Samson Lubega, the spokesman of the Directorate of Police Operations that supervises private guards, said private security guards are given basic training in their field.
“We vet and supervise them while they are undergoing training and supervise them when they are on duty. Those that are incompetent, we throw them out,” SP Lubega said.
A senior police officer, who is often hired by the private security companies to train their guards, and asked not to be named due to sensitivity of the matter, contradicted this rosy account.
The officer said private security guards are supposed to undergo training for more than three months, but many of them run course of two weeks to a month-long.
“The companies don’t want to spend more money on instructors and training. It is the reason that many companies choose to poach already trained guards from other companies other than training new ones,” the officer said.
The officer says the problem emanates from private security companies having no standard training manual.
“After running around, understanding parade and shooting at the range, the guards are deployed,” he said.
Ugandan guards deployed in developed countries, the officer noted, are subjected to at least 14 concepts before they are deployed.
These include guard duties, weapon handling, escort duties, powers of observation, basic crimes occurrence vulnerability, basic intelligence gathering, patrol, gate management, personal, language and vehicle scanning, basic parade, statement recording, station dairy book entry, gate records monitoring and applicable laws to private security.
In Uganda, most private security guards are not drilled in even half of these concept. Their crush courses touch parade, physical fitness exercise and shooting. Many learn about visitors’ log and gate records monitoring and have never touched or know how explosives look like.