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New crime wave

By rukiya makuma

  Iron bar hit men spread terror beyond Kampala 
  Property crime up in Mbarara

Corporal Patrick Nyamua, RA No. 162991, a chief clerk in Bombo General Military Hospital, is fighting for his life in ward 3A, bed 11, in Mulago National Referral Hospital, Kampala.

He has a deep cut to the back of his head, which has been bandaged. Connected to the bandage is a tube in which a red fluid is running into a container right below his bed. Another transparent tube is running through his nose and draining a green substance from his stomach.

When we first visited him, Cpl. Nyamua had not eaten for two days though he responded when spoken to. He could move his body slightly and used his hands to shift the bed sheets he was covered in.

Nobody knew exactly what happened to Cpl. Nyamua, 35, but doctors said he was hit on the head with an iron bar (katayimbwa).

Nyamua’s younger sister, Loyce Dawa, told The Independent that she received a call from soldiers at Bombo Army Headquarters about her brother’s condition on Oct.25 and found him unconscious in Bombo General Hospital.

Sitting at her brother’s bedside in Mulago, she could not explain the fresh scars on his chest, elbows and another on his big left toe. She said she has been told that he had fallen backwards after taking a lot of alcohol, so-called ‘alcoholic coma’ in parlance used by the military.

But there were no eyewitnesses. Instead Cpl Nyamua was discovered unconscious in his bed in the barracks on Oct. 22 by neighbours. He was rushed to Mulago Hospital, and immediately underwent an operation to remove blood clots from his brain.

A few days later, on Oct.30, Cpl. Nyamua was able to speak. His sister said, he had told her that he had been hit on the head.

Table showing relationship between wealth distribution by region and public perceptions of increase in crime

The Chief of Land Forces, Lt. Gen. Katumba Wamala, has instituted investigations into what happened but Cpl. Nyamua is lucky to be alive. Many people have been clobbered to death using iron bars commonly known as Katayibwa.

Katwe Police Station CID Officer, Vincent Okurut, says some of the victims are deliberately trailed from the city centre; others are waylaid while boda-bodas are mainly hired from the city centre and killed on the way by their ‘passengers’.

He says investigating cases of iron bar hit-men are very difficult because the crime is committed under the cover of darkness and most victims are left either dead or in a coma so they cannot identify the assailants or give police useful information for the investigations.

The current spate of iron bar hits is reminiscent of the mid-1980s when it was rampant in Jinja.  Every evening people were waylaid as they returned home from work and were killed. Their bodies would be found in the morning.

At the time, there were claims that it was politically instigated to discredit the then government of Apollo Milton Obote.  Such speculation persists today but the official police position is that the target of the assailants is robbery and hitting victims on the head is meant to disable, not kill them.

Many killed

On Sept.13, Dickson Ssentongo a journalist and news anchor with Prime Radio, a faith-based radio in the city suburb of Kirekka, was hit and killed with iron bars by unknown people. He was killed while going to read the early morning news bulletin in Nantabulirirwa near Seeta in Mukono.

On Oct.7, a body of Kagoba Mugweri, a boda boda rider, resident of Ntinda, was discovered in Ntinda.

Another body of an unknown male adult was found lying near the home of the vice chairman for Kisubi Mission Zone, Emmy Lujja.

On Oct. 10, the body of Moses Mutagubya, a boda boda rider in Ntinda, was found lying in Busega, Rubaga division and taken to the city mortuary.

On Oct. 18, unknown thugs hit Namubiru on the head near Ridar Hotel along the Seeta-Namilyango road and she died on the way to hospital. Namubiru had woken up to go to her stall in Seeta town to fry cassava.

Cases of iron bar hit men have not only been reported in Kampala alone but also other parts of the Central region.

In Luwero, between August 20 and September 9, three people were killed and four others admitted after they were robbed of their motorcycles.

On Sept. 20, at Kamu Kamu stage in Luwero Town Council two men hired Haruna Kasirye to take them to St. Mark Cathedral. They hit him on the head and his motorcycle UDQ 185Q was stolen. He was rushed to Kiwoko Hospital.

On Sept. 21, Patrick Sande, a rider at Kayembe stage in Luwero was hired by two people to take them to Bukenya Foundation. On reaching Kakokolo, they hit him on the head, killing him instantly.

On Sept. 22, two men in Wobulenzi purporting to be passengers going to Kikoma hired Shem Kasozi. On reaching Kikoma they hit him on the head and his motorcycle UDK 394A was taken. Victim was rushed to Kiwoko hospital.

On Sept. 23, at Bombo Abdu Kasibante was also hired by two men to take them to Nanywa market. But before reaching the market, they hit him with an iron bar on the head and a motorcycle a UDD 959B was taken. He was rushed to Bombo Military Hospital.

On Sept. 29, Seddimbo Musa, 20 years, operating at Wampamba stage in Wobulenzi, was hit on the head and his motorcycle UDN 960X was stolen. He was admitted to Mulago Hospital. Seddimbo was first lazed with chloroform in a soda by a woman before he was hit with an iron bar.

Lameck Kigozi, the Police Spokesperson (Central), says that following the incidents, police moved in and advised boda boda riders to always wear helmets since all victims had been hit on the head.

He says boda boda riders also need to adopt a way of labeling motorcycles with numbers and districts of operation so that when robbed it’s difficult for the robbers to hide them.

Freddie David Egesa, a private investigator, describes use of iron bars in robbery as cheap thuggery to which government has not paid much attention.

Iron bar crime needs spying, adding that the prevalence of the iron bar hit men is exposing the weaknesses in Uganda’s intelligence network. According to him, no police officer ever follows any case of iron bar victims and one feels satisfied with the work done.

Dr Sylvester Onzivua of Makerere College of Science who is a Consultant Pathologist says he has examined bodies of iron bar victims.

According to him, during his years of service, he has discovered that most victims have injuries on the head and are normally hit from behind or sideways. Dr Onzivua says that the attackers use surprise and a few of the victims die on the spot. But most of the victims die on arrival in hospital.

Poverty blamed

According to a new report, Crime Victimisation and Reporting Trends in Uganda; perceptions and facts, murder by iron bar hit men is high and is among the most feared crimes.

The findings of the report are similar to those of the Uganda Police Crime Report of 2009 that showed a 43 percent increase in robbery cases from 4,258 in 2008 to 7,519 last year. In the report, 165 people were killed in domestic violence compared to 137 in 2008.

Other crimes highlighted in the report by the  NGO, Human Rights Network, include criminal trespass, thefts, defilement, drug abuse, assault, housebreaking, corruption, murder, child sacrifice, robbery, fraud, rape, idle and disorderly, mob  justice, arson and kidnap.

The report is based on surveys done in Gulu, Kampala Metropolitan, Masaka and Mukono, Mbale and Mbarara.

Up to 61 percent of respondents said there was more crime in their area than last year. Up to 29 percent said there was ‘a lot more crime’ and 32 percent said ‘there was a little more crime’. Although these are perceptions and do not necessarily reflect the fact, the figure shows the extent to which people feel insecure.

Respondents in the Kampala feel the most unsafe, 55 percent, followed by Mbarara, 35 percent and Mbale, 23 percent.  Interestingly, these regions, other surveys of economic indicators show, are among the most prosperous. By contrast, only 27 percent of respondents in Gulu, northern Uganda which is the poorest region feel that crime is on the increase.

According to the latest figures released by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics on Oct. 26, residents in the northern Uganda Gulu area are three times more likely to be poor than their counterparts in central Uganda. Almost half of the population, 46 percent, are absolutely poor (consume less than the equivalent of one US dollar a day). The corresponding figures for the other regions are 9.7 percent for central Uganda; 18.2 for western, and 24.2 percent for eastern Uganda. Nationally, 23.3 percent are estimated to be below the poverty line.

‘Respondents based their views on increased crime incidences in the community,’ the report says.

According to the report, the most rampant crimes are related to property, 75 percent, and include theft, criminal trespass, robbery, arson, and housebreaking. These are followed by bodily crimes like mob-justice, domestic violence, and assault at 18 percent, and lastly sexual crimes like rape and defilement at 2 percent.

The crime considered to be the most prevalent by the respondents in any region is criminal trespass, which includes land grabbing, in the Mbarara area. This is followed by drug abuse in the Gulu area, and domestic violence in the Kampala area.

Domestic violence was more prevalent in Central Uganda followed by western Uganda as compared to other regions. In northern Uganda drug abuse was the most common crime committed followed by assault.

In addition to abusing drugs, defilement was also ranked highest crime committed in Gulu though the police reports indicated a reduction in the crime from 12,230 cases in 2008 to 7,360 cases in 2009. The 20-year war in Gulu made people drop out of school and others to lose jobs and the desperation resulting from unemployment forced people to drink endlessly and the young girls were pushed into prostitution as a source of income.

In the central and southern regions, the respondents cited increased cases of murder mainly the iron bar hit-men, child sacrifice and highway robberies as indicators of increase in crime. The frequency at which crimes were reported in the media contributed to people’s insecurity.

The report says respondents blamed the increased crime and feeling of insecurity on the growing number of unemployed youth, poverty, and drug abuse. Other factors that drove people to commit crimes include poor policing, breakdown of family traditions, corruption, lenient court sentences, general insecurity, and ignorance of the law.

The reports shows that lack of basic necessities forced most of the people into crime since they did not have jobs that would enable them afford what they needed.

Some of the worst affected areas in Kampala that are infested with  iron bar hit men are Maganjo, Bwaise especially in Kimombasa in Kawempe division where there is big group of idle youth. They mainly target women and other people coming home late.

Bwaise, the expansive slum area north of the capital Kampala ‘“ just off the new Northern Bypass, is a well-known haven for hardcore criminals.

They hide in congested quarters with squalid buildings most of whose paint is dirty brown and peeling off. The walls look like they could crumble any moment. To get to them, one has to jump over open gutters overflowing with suffocating stinky sewage. Most residents are unemployed youth who while away the day doing drugs and scramble out of their hiding at night to unleash terror on the city dwellers.

In Katwe area, Najjanankumbi and Nyanama, Kyengera and Kinawa are some of the areas most affected by iron bar hit men. Katwe Police Division CID Officer, Vincent Okurut, says these areas are most affected because there are many dark spots.

In Gulu, the criminals take advantage of police absence and the darkness to waylay and rob unsuspecting car owners and pedestrians.

Most people in these places feel unsafe because, despite their location, environment, and suspicious characters, they do not have police presence and most of the crimes committed here, however grave they are, go unreported.

Most feel unsafe

According to the Old Kampala Division Police Commander Siraje Bakaleke, cases of iron bar hit men and rape were common in Kibuloka and Jenina, Luyinja, Namugoona, Lubya, Ganda in Nansana and Kosovo near Lungujja.

They targeted boda boda riders, businesswomen especially those going to market very early in the morning or those returning home late. Others have been known to break into people’s houses and hit them with iron bars.

Bakaleke says iron bar hit-men in Nansana are youth born in the area and, wiping the crime out requires involvement of the residents, especially village elders, identifying the suspects.

Police in Maganjo near Kawempe have resorted to foot patrols in the notorious Bwaise area. According to the Kawempe Division Police Commander, Moses Ochieng, with public help they had by Oct.30 arrested 19 suspects in the iron bar crime.  He blames the increasing crime rate on former street kids who have grown into adults but lack means of survival.

Most of the interviewed people did not believe police are doing a good job but the force is hindered by corruption, lack of resources and cooperation from the residents and the police failure to patrol all areas.

Out of the 268 people interviewed in the country only 16 felt they were very safe. Even the 120 people who reported feeling safe attributed it to a combination of their own efforts like building perimeter walls and using guard dogs. They do not attribute their safety to police presence in their areas. The rest, 105 people in the survey, felt they were unsafe and 27 people were not sure whether they were safe or not.

The survey was funded by the Netherlands embassy in Uganda and involved the Uganda Police, government ministries and agencies and NGOs like the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, the African Centre for the Treatment of Torture Victims and Human Rights Concern.

About 80 percent of the people interviewed for the HURINET report said they did not report cases to police because they did not trust that the police would do anything, only 19 percent reported crimes that occurred in their areas.

The report recommends that for crime to be prevented there is need for a joint effort by the community, police, government, and parliament. The government needs to tackle rising unemployment, put in place a national crime prevention policy, and increase funding to the police.

The report recommends that the government carries out wide civic education about the national justice system, focuses on crime reporting, and increased civilian oversight of security agencies.

The public needs to collaborate more with the police in community policing, crime prevention and investigation of crimes.

The community policing programme needs to be strengthened to cover all sections of the community; people need to be educated about the job of the police, how to report cases, and how investigations are carried out.

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