What you need to know:
- The massive malfunction of the devices installed just in 2018 to serve as ‘eyes and ears’ of the state following a spate of killings of notable citizens, raises questions about the project’s value-for-money and accelerates the urgent need to restore the capabilities, writes Benson Tumusiime
Nearly four in every 10 state-run security cameras installed on buildings, inner-city roads and along highways to catch criminals are dysfunctional, this newspaper can reveal.
Highly-placed sources, speaking in confidence due to sensitivity of the matter, said that 900 cameras in Kampala Metropolitan, which combines the capital and the neighbouring Wakiso and Mukono districts, do not work.
In total, 1776 out of the 5,153 cameras installed countrywide under the CCTV surveillance camera network project superintended by police have malfunctioned, among other reasons, due to optic fibre cuts during road or utility works.
It is unclear if the collapse in the workings of some of the cameras have anything to do with their quality, adverse weather or physical condition and human mismanagement.
We could not also establish whether the government negotiated a defect liability clause in the contract, during which the contractor would be responsible for rectifying any defects, and if so whether the period has lapsed.
Mr Gao Jian, the deputy managing director of Huawei Technologies (Uganda) Company Ltd, promised to respond to our inquiries by 9pm, but had not done so by the time we went to press at 11pm.
Police said inebriated drivers have smashed at least 39 poles, each holding 3-4 cameras.
In response to our inquiries about the widespread malfunction of cameras or the command centres, Police Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Director, Mr Yusuf Ssewanyana, admitted the challenge and said they are exploring options to restore the digital capabilities.
“As I talk now, the National Water & Sewerage Corporation [has written] to Uganda Police to remove 80 camera sites in Kampala because they want to upgrade their pipelines, it is already work in progress and our network is going to be affected,” he said.
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Mr Ssewanyana added that about 240 cameras, which work in a ring according to the network design, have been removed from the capital for various infrastructure works, presenting a headache since the removal of one camera can affect the functioning of four others or more.
“I have also received letters from Hoima and Kasese districts demanding the removal of the camera sites and it is already work in progress and our network is also affected,” he said.
The government through Uganda Police Force contracted Huawei Technologies (Uganda) Company Ltd in 2018 to install the cameras countrywide.
The National CCTV Network Expansion Project that started in 2018 was bankrolled in part with $104m (Shs364b) loan 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 increased killing of notable citizens.
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This followed the brutal and separate assassinations of then police spokesman Andrew Felix Kaweesi and Arua Municipality Member of Parliament Ibrahim Abiriga, a mascot of ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, after assailants gunned about a dozen Muslim clerics and then senior state prosecutor Joan Kagezi.
In many of the cases, the killers were not captured and in the killing of Kaweesi, court had to order the government to compensate the suspects who proved that security forces tortured them with the aim of extracting information to incriminate them.
The spate of killings, some in broad day and in city outskirts, prompted President Museveni to address Parliament in June 2018 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.
The President who had previously berated police as force infested with lazy, inefficient and corrupt officers, argued upgrading the technical capability to monitor crime in urban areas would cure the limitations of human, who still would remain critical in information gathering and crime prevention.
“I now order the following technical measures to be put in place countrywide starting with towns. Cameras mounted along the streets and highways, assisted by cameras by individuals, at their own cost, on their business premises and homes, improved forensic capacity of the police and electronically-monitored devices mounted on all cars, other automobile, boda bodas, that are not removable from the platform that will help us to know where a particular vehicle was at a particular time. This will be done by vehicle owners at their own cost,” Mr Museveni said at a 2018 parliamentary session to honour late Abiriga.
Following the proclamation, work began in earnest and by July 2019, police said they had installed 2547 out of 3233 cameras in Kampala metropolitan, with 1,565 inter-linked online.
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Thousands of fibre cables were laid to connect cameras to sub-monitoring and monitoring centres established under police divisions in the city and district police commands upcountry.
Police have indicated installation of the cameras has scared some criminals, and reduced crimes.
In November 2020, a police flying squad team used footage captured on the cameras to track and arrest a one Emmanuel Ssimbwa Ssebuliba accused of repeatedly striking female police officer, ASP Consulate Kasule, with hammer in Kampala during a riot sparked by the arrest in Luuka District of then presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine.
During a visit to the Nateete police camera command centre on October 9, 2018, then police ICT Director Felix Baryamwisaki briefed and demonstrated to President Museveni how the network of CCTV cameras could detect and alarm in the control whenever a crowd gathers at a location. The President left impressed.
The purpose of the CCTV network was to “monitor public places, where they are installed, to assist in the prevention and detection of crime”, police said in a July 1, 2019 statement on its website.
However, several months later, the usefulness of the cameras in crime detection was tested when a 14-member gang, riding on a motorcycle, in July 2021 attacked a man of Asian origin, who was also riding a motorcycle in broad day in Mawanda Road in Kampala.
They assaulted Mr Jiwan Lal, an accountant working with Rigil Agro Peck Limited in Kololo, and stole his phone as well as Shs5m.
Besides a myriad of other cases, the CCTV cameras also captured an attack on an Ethiopian diplomat, leading to the arrest of the assailants.
However, despite these gains, our investigations indicate that many of the cameras are now blind spots.
According to a credible source, non-functioning units include intelligence traffic management system, electronic counter measure cameras, national emergency call centre cameras and the national command and control centre.
One senior police officer, who asked not to be named in order to freely discuss confidential matters, said that they had noted rising car thefts in towns and highways where automatic number plate recognition cameras (ANPR) malfunctioned eight months.
The official provided no figures and we therefore could not ascertain the extent of the spike.
Among the automatic number plate recognition cameras that are not working are those on Mityana and Hoima roads and Entebbe and Gulu highways, according to the source.
“We have 274 ANPR cameras, only 132 are on and 142 cameras are off. This has increased the crime in both towns and highways,” the added said.
As a result, said a police detective, cars stolen from near the Central Police Station and another on Yusuf Lule Road, both in Kampala, could not be followed on cameras.
Katumba attempted assassination
In addition, police said in June 2021 that the riders who attempted to assassinate Works minister Katumba Wamala could not be spotted on the camera network once they sped past the Kisaasi round-about toward Bahai Temple.
This publication has exclusively learnt that 14 work stations out of 35 under the National Emergency Call Centre, a unit responsible for countrywide emergencies response, are routinely not attended to for proactive intervention whenever crime happens.
Instead, police routinely play back the footage for a post-mortem to know how a crime happened, many times after a delay providing the culprits sufficient legroom to escape.
Our investigations, independently corroborated with security sources, and which account the police Information Communication and Technology (ICT) director partially confirms, shows that up to 900 cameras out of the 3,233 cameras installed in division centres and sub division centres in Kampala metropolitan are not working.
That is three in every 10 police cameras in Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono going blind.
Another source indicated that faulty cameras have also been reported in Kisubi, Lobowa and Namasuba, and Rubaga, among other city suburbs.
It has also emerged that 774 out of 1,828 (42 percent of) cameras installed upcountry are not working.
“In Kampala Metropolitan policing area, we have 70 CCTV monitoring centres; they include 20 division monitoring centres and 50 sub-monitoring centres. Most of the cameras in the sub-monitoring centres are not functioning,” the source said. The non-functional devices, according to the source, comprise those for traffic monitoring, automatic vehicle and motorcycle number plate recognition, static and wireless cameras.
A week ago, Police Spokesman Fred Enanga told a media briefing at police headquarters in Naguru motorists had smashed at least 39 camera sites in the capital.
A camera site, officials said, is the physical location where one or more CCTV cameras are installed. At most sites, there are 3-4 cameras, sometimes five such as the one near opposition leader Robert Kyagulnayi, alias Bobi Wine’s, residence in Mageere, Wakiso District, to ensure round-the-clock monitoring.
At the press conference on Monday, last week, Mr Enanga raised concern that many motorists were crashing into poles holding cameras.
“So far, we have a register which indicates a total of 39 camera sites that were vandalised,10 cameras were damaged beyond repair and are not operational anymore, 28 were damaged [but] reinstated to operation, two Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras (ANPR) damaged and reinstated to operation and two ANPR cameras that were damaged beyond repair and not operational,” he said.
The damages, he said, disrupts CCTV coverage within that radius, which impairs police capability to monitor safety and security of persons and properties in affected areas.
“We want to come out strongly to caution drivers and other road users and even owners of the vehicles to know that the cameras are there for a reason, which is to monitor the security along the CCTV zones and eliminate those threats,” Mr Enanga said.
He added that some of the cameras were knocked by inebriated drivers while other motorists upon experiencing brake failures use the camera poles as car stoppers.
Police ICT forensic experts working with ICT ministry counterparts are reportedly working to restore the damaged cameras, networks and sites.
Police explain CCTV camera malfunction
Mr Yusuf Ssewanyana, the director for Information, Communication, and Technology (ICT) in Uganda Police Force, said that emerging physical and infrastructure developments are a challenge and disruption to the cameral network.
“As I talk now, the National Water & Sewerage Corporation wrote to Uganda Police to remove 80 camera sites in Kampala because they want to upgrade their pipelines. It is already work in progress and our network is going to be affected,” he said.
Mr Ssewanyana added that 240 cameras, which work in a ring according to the network design, had been removed from Kampala. The removal of one camera, or a camera site, can affect four or five cameras or site, he said. The ICT director said that another challenge they face is the ongoing construction of flyover connecting Jinja Traffic lights to Clock Tower and onward to Katwe. Cameras on the routes stretching from Hotel Africana to Nsambya are being affected by the project, he said, raising question about the quality of planning and spatial relation to other land uses before installation of the cameras.
Mr Ssewanyana said in the suburbs, in Busabala, a 9-kilometre road being constructed to connect to the northern bypass, necessitated removal of cameras there. Other cameras are similarly being affected by ongoing upgrade of Gayaza and other roads.
In Wakiso, police cameras are being removed to pave way for the construction of a road connecting to Entebbe highway. According to Mr Ssewanyana, road construction ongoing along Jinja road in Mukono, which work is mostly done at night, have caused cameras there to be removed as well.
“On Entebbe Road, we are affected because of the ongoing construction, but the good thing [is that] our National Operation Command Centre [in Naguru] is working well. We are even able to see Katuna and other borders where we have linkages,” Mr Ssewanyana said.
He said drunk drivers and motorists experiencing brake failures have smashed more than three dozen cameras sites because they use the poles as stoppers.
“I have also received letters from Hoima and Kasese districts demanding the removal of the camera sites and it is already work in progress and our network is also affected,” the director added. He has since written to his superiors, detailing the encumbrances for a solution.