What you need to know:
- On Monday I heard that Susan Alweny, a lady who had helped me process a car insurance claim earlier in the year, had been murdered on Friday night. She was on her way home to her husband and children when a stone paver was smashed against her head. All for her phone and whatever was in her bag. It wasn’t even 9 pm.
A drive across Kampala on Saturday night left your columnist feeling nervous and fearful of what the country, at least as represented by the city, has slowly become.
In Kyambogo, near the City Oil service station, cars had come to a standstill. It wasn’t clear why, given that it was too late for traffic. I was still fighting the instinct to get out of the automobile and walk ahead to investigate when a stream of humanity sped by helter-skelter in the opposite direction.
As the cars finally inched forward, the method to the late-night madness became clear. On the right-hand side of the road, a half-smashed motorcycle lay on its side, half-hidden from view by at least half-a-dozen other motorcycle riders.
To the left of the road, a man lay face-down, a trickle of blood emerging slowly from underneath him. Bent over him, a young man holding what looked like an iron bar, was emptying his pockets in quick, practiced movements. Nearby, a young woman, legs covered in either mud or blood, hyperventilated as fear coursed through her veins.
The road ahead had opened up and I sped away like the cars ahead had done, dodging a stream of humanity on both sides of the road. At the Lugogo Mall another forest of motorcycle riders had planted themselves in the middle of the road jostling for passengers.
It was then that the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. There had been a concert nearby and gangs of young men were waylaying concert goers, perhaps including the hapless ones in Kyambogo, and separating them from their valuables.
All the way to the Airtel House roundabout, past Kitgum House junction, to the Clock Tower junction and beyond, small gangs of young men lurked in shadows robbing pedestrians and grabbing people off boda bodas. The roads are mostly dark, and the thugs had plenty of places in which to hide. It was a dark, violent jungle.
Apart from two soldiers at Lugogo who were helping to clear the road for their master’s car, I did not see any security and certainly no police officers. Not from the Kyambogo Police Post or from the Police Barracks in Naguru, and none from the Jinja Road Police station, all of which are within a three-kilometre radius of these incidents.
Where were the police, I wondered? What happened to the night patrols? Where do all the police patrols which scream like banshees during the day as they escort government officials to their errands disappear to at night? Why is it that you hear police sirens all over Kampala during the day when it is relatively safe, but never in the night? Has law and order been reduced to an eight-to-five?
These concerns are not new, of course. The first time I knew we were in trouble was in 2006 during the presidential swearing-in ceremony when I went to Jinja Road police station to report a theft case. I was told there was not a single police officer to attend to me, even if the station was teeming with about 200 policemen ready to put out political protests that never came.
By the time my brother was knifed for a $100 phone and left to bleed to death outside his house in 2013, it was clear the police had been hollowed out and turned from a tool to keep law and order into a baton of political repression.
Today crime statistics have become portraits on coffins as the angel of crime death visits one family after another. It isn’t just the rough ghettos anymore, mind. A jogger was bludgeoned to death just outside a mall in the city centre earlier this year.
Every other day a report filters in of a gang riding on boda bodas waylaying someone in broad day light, moreover “in people”, anywhere from downtown, to Bugolobi. It has even happened in Kololo, once a quiet, leafy, residential neighbourhood in the diplomatic quarter. Kampala’s thugs no longer renew assurances of highest consideration.
I don’t know if the man I saw lying limply on the side of the road on Saturday night as his pockets were emptied made it. I haven’t seen it reported anywhere. But on Monday I heard that Susan Alweny, a lady who had helped me process a car insurance claim earlier in the year, had been murdered on Friday night. She was on her way home to her husband and children when a stone paver was smashed against her head. All for her phone and whatever was in her bag. It wasn’t even 9pm.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and poor man’s freedom fighter.