CCTV cameras on 8th Street in Namuwongo, Kampala. Police are currently burdened by how to fix a litany of problems with the CCTV network. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA


Inside story of failing cameras

What you need to know:

  • An officer in the CCTV control room at Naguru gets Shs200, 000 monthly allowance while those at other centres in the city are entitled to only lunch.

Fresh details have emerged showing how recurrent breakdown of the network system, incompetent personnel, poor remuneration, and corruption have dogged the Kampala metropolitan Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) security camera project.

This publication can exclusively reveal that Uganda Police Force is currently burdened by how to fix a litany of problems with the CCTV network.

Top police leadership denied our March 15 exposé that the multibillion shilling hi-tech surveillance investment had run into troubled waters.

The National CCTV Network Expansion Project started in 2018 and was bankrolled in part with $104m (Shs364b) loan that the government picked from Standard Chartered Bank.

The government moved to install the spy cameras at the prodding of President Museveni, the Commander-in-Chief, on the back of inconclusive investigations into the then rising killing of notable citizens.

This followed the brutal and separate assassinations of then police spokesman Andrew Felix Kaweesi and Arua Municipality Member of Parliament Ibrahim Abiriga, after assailants gunned about a dozen Muslim clerics and before them senior State prosecutor Joan Kagezi.

The spate of the killings at the time, some in broad day and in city outskirts, prompted President Museveni to address Parliament in June 2018 about the security situation in the country where he proposed, among a raft of new measures, the installation of CCTV cameras as additional eyes and ears of the state.

“Installation of cameras on town roads and streets and along highways. Potentially the criminal, or enemy, can evade other forms of detection except the optical; eye, camera and telescope. If necessary, the cameras will have thermal sensors. If criminals try childish games of covering their heads, they will be seen at the command post,” he said, according to a June 20, 2018 information on State House website.

However, four years since inception of the project and installation of thousands of CCTV cameras in metropolitan Kampala, which combines the capital and its neighbouring Wakiso and Mukono districts, highly-placed sources said significant portions of the camera network are dead, some for anywhere between a month and longer.

For instance, five CCTV cameras in Nakawuka in Wakiso district have reportedly been off the network for close to one year despite several reminders to management by the technicians.

Some of the city police divisions and stations, another source said, have had blackouts of about two weeks due to fibre cuts that connect the cameras to the main grid at the National CCTV Command Centre at Police headquarters in Naguru, Kampala.

Accounts offered by sources familiar with workings of the security cameras show that Kampala Metropolitan South and North, where the city centre falls, have the worst performing CCTV camera network.

Police data current as at last Monday indicated that of the overall 222 cameras in Entebbe Police Division, only 173 were functional. Another 39 were categorised as “faulty”.

Entebbe Police Division covers key areas with critical State assets such as State House and Entebbe International Airport, which are understood to run their own separate cyber security system.
Seven cameras in the area, whose precise locations we are withholding for national security reasons, were reported defective and off the network.

In Abayita Ababiri, a thriving township on Entebbe highway, 10 out of 42 CCTV cameras reportedly do not work.  

Kampala Metropolitan Deputy Police spokesperson, Mr Luke Owoyisigyire, described the subject as “sensitive”, referred our inquiries to overall Police spokesperson  Fred Enanga who did not receive or return our repeated calls.

We then last evening reached out to the Deputy Inspector General of Police (D/IGP), Maj Gen Katsigazi Tumusiime, but he referred us back to the police spokespeople.

In the night, however, Deputy Police Spokesperson Claire Nabbaka referred us to a statement that the Force issued on March 16, a day after our exposé of the troubled CCTV security cameras project. 
“We do strongly refute these claims,” police noted, saying there was no massive malfunction of the devices. 

“Since the launch of the National CCTV Project by H.E the President, in 2018, a total of 5,709 CCTV cameras have been installed in 2,027 camera sites, country wide.  And out of the 5,709 CCTV cameras installed countrywide, only 450 CCTV cameras were affected by the ongoing road and civil works [on] selected road sections in Entebbe, Mukono, Kira, Kawempe, Kampala Flyover, Mpigi, Hoima, Kyenjojo, Gulu, Mbale and Kasese.  These disruptions arose due to civil works contractors not following procedures as well as their failure to conduct sufficient due diligence,” the statement read in part.

However, this response does not directly address particulars in our extensive investigations and reporting, including references to off-network cameras and the security implications.

Earlier in an interview with this newspaper on April 11, D/IGP Maj Gen Katsigazi said “cameras are supplied by underground cables that connect a camera to the other which then then feeds into the central command to produce the images”.

“However due to the ongoing road construction works across the city, these cables are destroyed and once this happens then there is no image that can come out,” he said.

The problem of failing cameras was reported most in Wakiso District’s Nsangi where more than half of the 98 cameras are dysfunctional, creating partial surveillance blackhole over Nabbingo, Kitemu, Buddu junction, Nalumunye, Hana junction and Kyengera Town council.

Insiders reveal that effectiveness of CCTV cameras in the Kampala metropolitan is estimated to have dropped by 18 percentage points over three months from the 80 percent high of the past.

More functional cameras are reported in Kampala Metropolitan East than the Metropolitan South and North.

The problem is not just off-network cameras. Police reportedly has no budget for the vast infrastructure; so, routine maintenance is missing and there is no company contracted to conduct remedial works.
As a result, most of the network links go off for days without being fixed because repairs require highly-skilled personnel, also in short supply within police.

Multiple sources spoke to us on condition of anonymity to freely discuss sensitive security matters that they claimed to have raised through police hierarchy, but without success.

This publication understands that Entebbe-to-Katwe loop a year ago had two links, while Kajjansi-to-Kabalagala was a link, but there is currently only one link from Entebbe to Kajjansi, leading to regular blackouts.

Individuals briefed on the matter say the failures have meant the network links and rings within the CCTV camera network no longer close like they used in part due to fibre cuts by road construction companies.
A source said destroyed network infrastructure like optical fibre cables remain faulty for many days, sometimes weeks, while money paid by mainly motorists who crash into camera poles are allegedly pocked by high-ranking police officers.

We could not independently verify these claims.
Among cameras toppled by motorists last year include at the Old Kampala Police Division headquarters, Mandela National Stadium’s western gate, and Mutungo sites.

In addition, our findings reveal that most of the automatic number plate recorder (ANPR) cameras within the safe city CCTV camera loop have been offline for days, impinging tracking of wanted or stolen vehicles --- a core purpose of the installation. In some cases, the camera switches are dust caked.

Maj Gen Katsigazi in the April 11 interview told Daily Monitor that “… I would like to assure Ugandans that our cameras aren’t faulty”.

Our inquiries show that the problem with the project started at birth. For instance, it is alleged that when the government embarked on CCTV camera project, senior police officers at Naguru hijacked it and went to China for training and left behind officers whose job was to operate the system.

As a result, the officers could barely do any technical work when the project started and that’s how the crisis started.

“They (police bosses) considered ranks instead of skills and that was the biggest mistake. They took high-ranking officers who were not even going to be part of the implementation phase and left behind officers skilled officers,” one source said.

To fix the problem, police invited the Chinese trainers to fly in from Beijing to train the police officers who had in the first place been left behind.

The Chinese trainers found handful officers willing to train, with many opting out on grounds office-based monitoring of CCTV cameras would make it hard for them to make money.

“Not even 10 people in the entire police acquired the skills. By standard, each division is supposed to have a technician of optic fibre cable, network configuration and transmission and electricity because you can go to a camera site and find that the problem isn’t about the cable, but power. This will require an electrician. But where are they? These people aren’t there,” another source said.

Each of the 20 police divisions, by plan, is to be staffed with a technician, an electrician and configuration technician and need operational resources including to hire casual labourers who can extract cables in case it has been cut.

This publication was told that there are presently only two CCTV camera technicians supervising over 20 city police divisions and they sit in Naguru.

One Information Technology (IT) expert and a former police detective separately said the law enforcement agency requires substantial investments to maintain the security infrastructure and reward officers manning it.

Former Makerere University Vice Chancellor Venansius Baryamureeba, an IT professor, yesterday said to avoid breakdown of the CCTV camera system, the government should sign up M/s Huawei Technologies Uganda, the CCTV Project contractor, to maintain it.

“For me there are three things that must be looked into; the budget has to go up, staff have to be recruited and you have to retrain and retool; and [strengthen] supervision because you not only need people at the centre, but also others at the substations,” he said, pointing out that police, due to inadequate skills, are underutilising the capabilities of the installed CCTV cameras.

On his part, Mr Fred Egesa, a former police detective-turned-private investigator his former employer needs to bolster information gathering through intelligent infrastructure with human intelligence through reviving the disbanded Special Branch of police.

“This has to be followed by better remuneration because if you don’t facilitate officers very well, it means that they will start misusing the CCTV camera department and end up compromising the system. That’s why police have to do a lot of lobbying in terms of resource mobilisation to avoid cases of bribery,” he said.

Already, police are among a dozen government ministries, departments and agencies earmarked to share Shs913b in supplementary budget allocations in this last quarter of the Financial Year.

An officer in the CCTV control room at Naguru gets Shs200, 000 monthly allowance while those at other centres in the city are entitled to only lunch.

Worse, some graduate officers are being paid what a police constable earns.
“The officers assigned to do the job end up losing interest because they are not motivated. That’s why it is hard at times to track criminals because those who are assigned to monitor the CCTV camera network are frustrated because they have a notion that while they are seated in one place, their colleagues in operations are getting some allowances,” one of the officers said.

The officers who preferred anonymity warned that the government could lose billions of tax payer’s money if the hamstrings are not addressed.

Sources also revealed that there is limited backup of two months for image captured on street security cameras.

After this period, the system rewrites new recordings, erasing the existing ones from the memory.

How the security CCTV network cameras work
Each camera connects to an access switch and there are two boxes on the camera poll; one a switch while the other a backup battery.

Images are captured by cameras and each camera is supposed to have a memory card. However, most cameras in Kampala don’t have memory cards.

Storing recorded information on memory cards ensure images are safe in the event of a destruction, or when a fibre cut takes the camera off the network, the stored information can, with network restoration, be auto-recovered and transmitted to the CCTV National Command Centre at Uganda Police Force headquarters in Naguru, a Kampala suburb.

Ordinarily, every image captured by a camera, or network of cameras, is transmitted to the nearby police sub-station that in turn sends the information to a police division.

From the division, the images are shared with police regions for onward transmission to Naguru Command Centre.

It is from the National CCTV Command Centre that images are broadcast back in a traffic for the relevant personnel to monitor.