26 March 2019

Uganda: Who Will Save Motorists From Criminals On Northern Bypass?

Until 2009, Kampala's traffic congestion was at overkill levels, suffocating mobility of motorists and growth of businesses.

When the Northern Bypass was officially opened in October 2009, motorists breathed a sigh of relief as it became an alternative route to resolve the city's traffic jam.

However, ever since it was officially opened for public use, the 23km road which stretches from Namboole, east of Kampala, to Busega, west of the city, has turned into a den of thugs.

The terror caused by the criminals on the road has left motorists, pedestrians and residents, who live on the bypass, on tension. The criminals attack both day and night.

Our interaction with robbery victims on the bypass reveals that some criminals rob and clobber unsuspecting motorists and pedestrians and walk away freely. Some of them, we were told, wield iron bars and move in groups.

Daily Monitor spent three days walking the entire bypass and identified notorious hotspots and level of security in the area.

However, our spot check revealed glaring gaps, which criminals exploit to torment pedestrians and motorists. The victims accuse security agencies of failing to patrol the road.

On August 4 last year, Mr Godfrey Sserubiri, a journalist with Success Radio in Kyanja, Nakawa Division, cheated death near the Bwaise flyover. Mr Sserubiri explains that on that fateful night, he left work at 10pm and proceeded to board a taxi. When the taxi stopped at Kalerwe to enable passengers to alight, he got out and waited for another taxi to board to his place of residence in Namungoona.

However, he says as he waited, he saw two well-built men walking towards him but when he attempted to move faster, they pursued him, dragged him off the road and beat him up, leaving him seriously injured.

"I cried louder but no one came to my rescue. What helped me is that my phone rang and when they removed it from my pocket, it was the DPC Kira Police Station calling. He was returning my missed call. They later dumped me in a trench and took away with my two phones," he recounts.

Mr Sserubiri, who is still nursing wounds, says he was rescued by a boda boda motorist whose lights shone at him as he crawled from the scene. The motorist later took him to the clinic.

He accuses police of not doing much to follow up his case even after his wife reported the matter.

"They [thugs] are always stationed at the stretch from Bwaise to Namungoona. That stretch is very deadly, especially during the night. It is one of the areas on the bypass where security must be beefed up because many people have been attacked from there," he says.

From our interactions with various people, we learn that some motorists now fear to drive on the bypass beyond 9pm.

At Kalerwe taxi stage, we meet Mr Ismael Katende, a taxi driver, who survived an attack by thugs recently.

He says he nearly met his creator when he met thugs at Kyebando Flyover at around midnight last month as he was retiring to his home in Kanyanya, Kawempe Division.

"Four men stopped me and I thought they were innocent passengers but when I stopped, they asked me to get out. When I got out, they took me off the roadside and asked me to surrender whatever money I had but when I pleaded with them, they threatened to hack me to death. They grabbed me and took off with my wallet, which contained Shs160,000, my driving permit and national Identity card. I gathered the courage to enter the car and sped off," he says.

Mr Katende says some of his fellow taxi drivers have previously faced the same challenge.

Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesman Patrick Onyango says the Force is overstretched to effectively monitor the entire bypass.

"Contrary to what people are saying, police have done their best in weeding out crime on the bypass. Just about a week ago, we arrested 14 criminals around areas of Namungoona-Nansana and seven on Kira Road and sent them to Luzira prison where they will serve four months," Mr Onyango reveals.

However, he says although they prosecute criminals, the latter resume thefts when they are released from prison.

Although some people have been reportedly killed or raped on the bypass, Mr Onyango says such cases are rare unless when one is killed from a different place and then dumped on the road.

Homes targeted

Some residents living near the bypass say they have suffered continuous house break-ins by the thugs.

The residents say one must have retired for the night by 10pm lest they fall prey to the thugs.

The bypass also snakes through city suburbs such as Naalya, Kiwatule, Kulambiro, Bukoto, Bwaise, Kawaala, and Namungoona. But residents in these places, especially those closer to the bypass, are always groped with fear of being attacked by thugs.

"You just need to be alert all the time because thugs keep roaming the area during the night. Last year, they broke into the store and took away various properties. Since our house isn't fenced, we installed security lights at every corner of the house to keep them off," says Mr Benjamin Lubwama, a resident of Namungoona.

Our investigations found out that there are majorly two categories of criminals on the bypass. For instance, there are those who snatch phones, handbags and laptops from either pedestrians or motorists trapped in traffic jam. These normally operate between 5pm and 10pm.

The other category is of iron-bar hit men who operate from around 1pm until 5am. These target motorists and residential homes.

Mr Onyango acknowledges that break-ins are common but says police are always working to arrest the criminals.

During our spot check, we found out that while the bypass is one of the busiest roads in Kampala, there are still many security gaps, which criminals perhaps take advantage of.

On the entire bypass from Namboole to Busega, we only found a handful of operational police booths, with others abandoned. Several crime hotspots have no police booths.

For instance, from Namboole flyover to Naalya roundabout, there are only three police booths. However, of these, only two; the one at Namboole and the one at the Naalya Roundabout, are operational. When we visited the Mbalwa police booth, there were no officers.

We also found out that the police booth at Kiwatule flyover is no longer operational yet it is one of the crime hotspots, according to police.

Security gaps

Mr Onyango stresses that while there are no police officers at the Kiwatule flyover police booth, there is always a police van patrolling areas of Kiwatule and Kisaasi.

He also reveals that some of the police booths are only used as resting places by police officers after patrolling in the night.

From Kiwatule flyover to Kyebando-Kisalosalo, a distance of 7.3kms, there is only one police booth.

The other police booth is at Kalerwe, just after the roundabout as you proceed to Bwaise. This is backed up by police officers who usually camp at the roundabout, especially during demonstrations. There are also temporary police officers at the Bwaise flyover.

Daily Monitor further established that the stretch from the Bwaise flyover to Busega does not have a police booth. This stretch, we were told, is one of the big crime spots at the bypass. The only police booth between Namungoona and Busega is the one at the Nansana-Nabweru junction on Hoima Road.

However, a police officer, who prefers anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to the media, says the booth has about four police officers who cannot contain crime on the entire stretch.

Asked how police intend to heighten security on the bypass, Mr Onyango says the recently-passed out Local Defence Units (LDUs) will plug the deployment gaps.

We are further told by residents and motorists that what makes the Bwaise-Namungoona-Busega stretch a big crime hotspot is the fact that it is bordered by Lubigi channel, where criminals hide. This whole stretch also does not have any police booth.

Mr Onyango says while Namungoona and Masanafu used to have police booths, they were removed to pave way for the expansion of the bypass.

"However, they will be reinstated when the construction works are done. But for now, we use police patrol cars to monitor all those places that don't have police booths," he says.

But Mr Mustapha Mayambala, the chairperson of Uganda Transport Development Agency (Utrada), argues that the incessant attacks on taxi operators by criminals on the bypass would be no more if police carried out operations.

Mr Mayambala says at least three taxi drivers are attacked by criminals on the bypass every week.

"We have tried to engage police on the same in vain, and this worries us a lot as transport operators. If police can't help us, then where do we run for help?" he says. Mr Mayambala also stresses that illegal taxi stages on the bypass also later morph into criminal hubs, urging police to close them down.

We also found out that the entire bypass has only two CCTV cameras. One is installed at Busega roundabout while the other is at Kawaala Flyover.

Therefore, from Kawaala to Namboole, there are no other CCT cameras to record criminal acts to aid police investigations. Mr Onyango acknowledges limited installation of CCTV cameras on the bypass but he says that police cannot install them now because the cables would be destroyed since the expansion works on the bypass are still ongoing.

When the expansion works are done, Mr Onyango says, the cameras will be installed.

It remains unclear when the expansion of the bypass will be completed. Last month, this newspaper reported that construction works to expand the bypass have since stalled.

Darkness reigns

Besides, we also found out that the bypass is grappling with darkness. Lights are only found at roundabouts while the rest of the road is dark during the night. This, police and residents agree, gives criminals leeway.

But even at roundabouts, some lights are faulty.

Mr Onyango says Kiwatule, Kyebando, Bwaise flyovers, and Kisaasi and Kalerwe roundabouts are crime hotspots.

However, our investigations revealed that the Bwaise-Namungoona-Busega stretch is the most notorious crime hotspot. Motorists say police should put a police booth at Kawaala flyover because it has turned out to be an extortionist centre for criminals.

Places such as Bwaise flyover are notorious crime spots on the bypass because they connect different roads.

For instance, the Bwaise flyover connects Sir Apollo Kaggwa Road, Bombo Road and the Northern Bypass itself. The traffic congestion at the roundabout gives leeway for criminals to start snatching property from unsuspecting motorists.

Mr Onyango says crime at a particular area is triggered by the congestion of people.

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