What you need to know:
‘Mine was an easy purchase’
It was a Sunday when I called on an old friend at Makindye. We settled at a pub on Salama Road. Here, we found a lively group of five men chatting over bottles of beer. They conducted their conversation in Luganda and Swahili, and owing to the kind of calls they consistently made, it was clear there was something cooking.
We took up seats close to their table and could clearly eavesdrop on their conversation. One of the men with bloodshot eyes – wearing black military jungle boots and an army dog tag around his neck, said: “Bwana leta hizo njugu.”(Sir, bring those g-nuts).
The conversation was coded, talking about barracks, g-nuts and Russian babies. I later learnt ‘Russian babies’ were actually AK47 rifles and g-nuts were bullets. I later followed a waiter to a washroom and asked what are the patrons were dealing in.
“Man, their business is complicated. Those are soldiers, so you might not want to interfere with them,” he replied.
I walked out of the washroom just when one of the men stood up to play pool. I joined him. But two others joined us and he led them to the table. The newcomers placed a black bag on the table and were quickly handed a wad of cash, which they counted gleefully.
The buyers then opened to inspect the “goods”. One of the men then held up an item. It was a bullet. He nodded in approval. I watched from the pool table as this unfolded in broad day light, in a pub, by the roadside. To them, it was a ‘juicy ‘business.
I later beckoned one of the men who delivered the bullets. I feigned a hitman’s bad face and told him I had also come to the area in search of “g-nuts”. “Where are you from?” he asked. I told him I was from Kasese.
He went to consult with his friends and came back to the pool table. “How did you realise that we were dealing in g-nuts?” he asked me. I had no answer but clenched and we fist-bombed. “How many do you want, each is Shs25,000?” he said. No queries on my intentions or probing my background.
I told him I wanted about 10 but at only Shs200,000 in cash. In less than two hours, another member of the group arrived carrying nine bullets – and the deal was sealed.
Uganda has some of the strictest gun control laws in the region. Yet Saturday Monitor investigation has revealed that these laws have not stopped illegal gun trade and ammunitions or the deaths they might cause.
Investigations show that the guns and firearms responsible for thousands of death in Kampala and neighbouring districts are easily accessible and the rogue dealers selling them are hardly put out of business.
We followed the dealers across the city and they finally led us to Makindye, a city suburb, where suspected UPDF soldiers and their middlemen behind the hideous racket ply their trade. At this ‘market’, people alleging to be soldiers and their middlemen meet and sell bullets for as low as Shs25,000 per piece.
We bought nine bullets specified for use in Russian-made Kalashnikov AK47 gun for Shs200,000.
“Next time you come back, be ready to pay Shs25, 000 for each,” said the dealer. The two dealers we worked with said the choice of bullets depends on the mission but those for AK47 are the highest in demand. They said they get the bullets from UPDF soldiers, “especially those who have participated in quelling demos or those from refresher courses after target shooting.”
According to the dealers, some who act as hit men, finding soldiers with extra bullets is “almost normal” because their guns are rarely checked when being removed or returned to the armoury.
Makindye suburb, the market base, is also home to the biggest barracks in Kampala, housing military police, armoury and the military court.
Army spokesman Felix Kulayigye, who visited our offices on Monday to collect the bullets, did not rule out the possibility of soldiers selling bullets. “If the officers concerned with the stores are not serious then it is possible. This is an eye opener for us. Who would be buying bullets unless of course you have a gun? Soldiers must declare all weapons taken out of stores or being returned. We even have parades every morning where we declare what we have,” Col. Kulayigye said.
He added: “If those bullets are from the armoury, then the one responsible should be held accountable, but if they are from the soldiers’ magazines, the section commander, who is normally a Corporal, should be questioned.”
Col. Kulayigye also said it was possible for criminals to masquerade as soldiers for their cover.
“Makindye area is very dangerous. Criminals could hide both in the slums and the posh Kizungu Zone,” he said, adding that a recent decision to bar the Military Court Martial from trying civilians was letting criminals off the hook.
“With our courts, we were able to detain such suspects and make thorough investigations. But these are the consequences of leniency,” he said. Our findings resonated with that of the Justice Julia Sebutinde commission into corruption in the Uganda Police, which implicated senior officers in hiring out guns to gangs.
Police reports in recent years indicate a rise in crime, with accounts of civilians killed in cold blood. A 2010 report detailed at least 239 deaths by shooting, with 280 recorded the year before. The same report said about 1,154 cases of aggravated robbery where lethal weapons were used while a year earlier 1,909 cases were registered.
The highest number of these cases was registered by Katwe Police Station, located in the Makindye Division.
cap: Some of the bullets the Monitor purchased during the investigation. According to army sources, the bullets are made from the factory in Nakasongola while others are bought by the government from Europe and Egypt.