How safe are we?

On September 23, 2015, The Observer court reporter, Derrick Kiyonga, was kidnapped by security personnel while covering the ongoing terrorism trial case at the High court. He was bundled onto a police pickup truck, similar to suspected terrorists in the case he was reporting, and driven off to what may be a safe house in Nakawa at breakneck speed.

Earlier, he had been approached by a couple of shabbily-dressed men who had warned him against passing on chits (messages) from prisoners to their lawyers. Apparently, this is a known practice and presiding Justice Owiny-Dollo had warned security not to intimidate journalists passing on messages because it was allowed and acceptable in court.

This did not deter the security officers who summoned Kiyonga during the lunch break, confiscated his notebook and phone and then ordered for a patrol car that took him away. At the safe house, he was assured that he would not be tortured if he told the truth. They wanted to know if he had links with the suspected terrorists. He was made to sit on the floor and asked all sorts of questions including why his phone had contacts of lawyers, magistrates and other judicial officers. He is a court reporter, of course!

Kiyonga is a lucky fellow! The same patrol car took him back to the court where he was handed over to a police officer in charge who in turn took him to the judge’s chambers. The judge had ordered that Kiyonga should be returned unharmed on hearing about the kidnap.

A teacher of science I know was not so lucky. He was mugged and hit by an object on the head by thugs as he made his way home at about 10pm a week ago on Entebbe road! His rucksack containing a laptop and other work material plus his phones and some money were taken. He survived the attack but was admitted at Nsambya hospital for a week and has had surgery to repair cheekbones.

The teacher left school at 9:30pm after supervising Saturday evening entertainment. His regular boda boda rider confirmed that he had dropped him off at a local supermarket but sometimes the rider takes him home. It seems that after some light shopping, he was attacked as he walked home.

Tellingly, the boda boda man says that there are some paths in that Bwebajja area off the main road that are no-go zones after 7:30pm or when it is dark. Apparently, everyone knows this. However, there are rumours that some people have been attacked during the day.

It is true there are many other urban areas in which petty crime thrives and where assaults usually involving iron bars are reported. The difference here is that this is Entebbe road, which I believe is one of the most secured roads in the country. Sometimes there is a patrol vehicle every kilometre all the way from Lubowa to Entebbe!

Now throw in police officers that ride up and down the main road on official motorbikes plus the stationary, armed soldiers standing by the roadside right from Zana roundabout.

Consequently, it is right to assume that Entebbe road areas should be the most secure in the country! Perhaps not! In December 2014, there was a wave of violent crime in different parts of Bwebajja. This went on for over a week and about twenty families were affected. Two people died and many were critically wounded with deep machete cuts. Eventually the criminals were stopped and residents think that some were apprehended.

Now in one week, Kiyonga, who was innocent, was grabbed and speedily taken away to an illegal facility suspected of aiding terrorists. A science teacher was assaulted and narrowly escaped death in Bwebajja. But security officers disguised as shabby civilians hang around the High court while hordes of uniformed officers patrol the Entebbe road.

The big question is how can our Uganda Police Force and the many other security services make us feel safer and more secure? I asked relatives of the science teacher if they had reported the assault to police. They are thinking about it but not expecting anything!

I conclude by picking up a good news story from last week. Daniel Tashobya, a Taibah International School student, who organised a fundraising event and collected Shs 800,000 to help a school guard that had been involved in a boda boda accident, presented a proposal to disburse the money.

In a well-presented Microsoft Word table, he recommends that the school should buy foodstuffs for the guard’s family, leaving a balance of Shs 2,000 that should be passed on to him. Asked why so little, Tashobya says adults cannot be trusted with cash!

The author is one of the founding Kigo Thinkers.

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