Black market fuels theft of smartphones in Mbale City

Monday April 12 2021

Authorities in Mbale City say criminals rob people of their expensive items and sale them at cheap prices. PHOTO/FILE/PPU

By Olivier Mukaaya
By Fred Wambede

A black market operated by a network of dealers and street children in Mbale City is fuelling theft of smartphones, a Daily Monitor investigation has revealed.

The dealers, some of them are well known to security personnel, have set up outlets to buy and sell the stolen phones in the middle of the city and its suburbs.

Some of the outlets are on Republic Street and in Half London area. Other traders operate from Kikindu market and Nkoma Trading Centre on Mbale-Soroti road.

The traders buy the stolen mobile devices at giveaway prices from mostly street children, who steal from people during the rush-hours on the streets.

Some of the dangerous spots for phone theft are Nabuyonga Rise, Mbale-Soroti road near Ahmadiyya hospital, on Bishop Wasikye Road, Clock Tower near Abrah Supermarket and Cathedral Avenue.

When Daily Monitor visited one of the outlets on Republic Street, a man who refused to be identified but was found manning one of the outlets, said street children sell the stolen phones to them.


“The street children bring here the stolen phones and we buy them, and nowadays,  most people, when they lose their phones, they check with us first before they report to police,” he said.

The man added: “The stolen smartphones are stripped of private information and reconditioned before they are put on market for sale.” 

The man further identified one of their colleagues in the business as CBS, whom he said has instant access to the stolen phones and  buyers as well.

Our reporter learnt that the alleged CBS has on numerous occasions been arrested  by police.
 However, when contacted, CBS, who refused to disclose his real names, said he is one of the people, who are on the frontline in the  fight against theft of phones and other related robberies in the city. “l am a well-known hardware technician, who also helps police in arresting criminals who steal phones, nothing else,” he said.

Mr Rogers Taitika, the Elgon region police spokesperson, confirmed the challenge of stolen phones on the black market.

“Last month, we registered more than 30 cases of phone theft being committed by street children,” he said.
Mr Taitika added that they have also registered simple robbery cases, which happen during the rush hour. “We have so far tracked five phones and the culprits are being prosecuted in court,” he said.

Daily Monitor learnt that some of the robberies involve street children armed with knives.
Ms Catherine Nambuya, a resident of Mission Cell, said her Techno smartphone was snatched after she was attacked by a group of about four street children on Nabuyonga Rise last week.

“I was attacked while walking home. I tried to fight but they overpowered me and took my smartphone,” she said. 

Another incident happened on April 4 near Ahmadiyya Hospital, where Mastulah Nambozo, a vendor, was waylaid, beaten and her Samsung smartphone taken. Mr Swaibu Walukhu, a businessman on Naboa Road, said the street children involved in criminal activities have become a security threat.

“They also sneak into people’s shops and  steal any electronic items. Police should come to our rescue,” he said.

Mr Akim Watenyeli, an opinion leader, said the collapse of the children restoration centre has pushed street children to crime.  “They used to provide them with basic needs,  including meals and also educating them,  but since its collapse, the children now have to fend for themselves,” he said.

Ms Rosette Kutegeka, another resident, said women and girls are also sexually abused by the street children.
“I have seen women being sexually abused by the street children during night hours but sometimes the police officers just look on,” she said.
 Ms Sarah Kalenda, a probation officer at Mbale City, said they resettled 130 street children at Namakwekwe rehabilitation  centre last year but they escaped.

Acting district police commander Arafat Kato, said they will crack down on the criminals behind phone theft and robberies. “We are going to arrest them,” he said. 

A phone dealer, who preferred anonymity, said a new Samsung A10s, which costs about Shs500,000, is sold at about Shs100,000 to Shs130,000. New Samsung A31 and A51, which costs more than Shs1m, are bought ranging from Shs 200,000 to Shs 300,000.

Other smartphones such as Spark5pro, InfiniteHot10play, Infinitehot10lite, Sparkgo2020, which costs about Shs 480,000, Shs 520,000, Shs 400,000, Shs 370,000, respectively, can be bought between Shs 90,000 and Shs 150,000.