Uganda Turns to Tech to Curb Violent Crime

President Yoweri Museveni announced two weeks ago that government is considering a plan to install electronic tracking devices in vehicles and motor cycles.

This is the latest technology-based initiative that Uganda is considering to solve the spate of crime that has beleaguered the country since 2012.

During a speech addressing leaders of the National Resistance Movement, President Museveni also said that thieves who had been caught on a closed circuit television (CCTV) camera killing a boda boda rider in order to steal his motor cycle had been arrested.

Following the murder of Ibrahim Abiriga, the Arua municipality Member of Parliament and maverick NRM supporter who always wore yellow to depict his devotion a year ago, President Museveni decided it was time for Uganda to splurge on security camera.

So far, Uganda has borrowed, Ush438.5 billion ($119.3 million) for the installation of cameras in Kampala and its surrounding areas.

The gruesome CCTV video that President Museveni was hailing for exposing criminals was, however, captured by a private camera.

The video showing the two thieves strangling Derrick Mulindwa and stealing his motor cycle, was circulated on WhatsApp groups, seizing national attention in the process.

Killing of boda boda riders

It emerged amid reports that the police was ignoring such evidence to apprehend crime suspects. Police have since arrested the two men.

Police spokesperson Fred Enanga now says the trend of thieves robbing and killing boda boda riders has moved to areas far away from Kampala.

In his latest weekly brief, Mr Enanga cited Kasese district in the west and Butambala district in rural central Uganda among areas where boda boda riders are targeted.

He asked boda boda riders to only accept customers travelling short distances and to areas they are familiar with.

The killing of boda boda riders for their motor bikes is the latest spate of violent crimes.

In recent years, Uganda has experienced different violent crimes, taking place around the same time, after which these occurrences dissipate, even in cases where the security forces have failed to arrest and prove that the individuals in their custody committed the crimes they were accused of.

The highest number of cases of violent crimes reported involve the killing of prominent Muslim clerics. This period was interposed with recurring robberies and murder of mobile money agents.

Then there were panga wielding thieves invading people in their homes in Kampala and central Uganda. This happened alongside the rape and murder of women in Entebbe and Wakiso region in 2017.

Focus on technology

But the spate of violent crimes that galvanised the focus on technology was the murder of politicians and government officials including that of 28-year-old Susan Magara the daughter of John Fitzgerlad Magara, a prominent businessman.

In 2017, following the murder of Assistant Inspector General of Police Felix Kaweesi, the government announced a fresh registration of Sim cards using national identity card.

Godfrey Mutabazi the Uganda Communications Commission executive director and Kale Kayihura the Police Chief at the time argued that use of national identity cards would enable traceability of criminals.

While telecommunication companies have refused to comment on what it cost them to switch off three million Sim cards, The EastAfrican has obtained information showing MTN, the biggest telecommunication in Uganda, experienced the highest drop in revenue in 2017 within five years.

In 2018, telecommunication companies were asked to back subscribers details with their finger prints. The decision was prompted by the kidnap and murder of Ms Magara.

Asked about the impact of these technological devices on crime, Uganda Communications Commission spokesperson Ibrahim Bbosa said they are as good as the security forces using them.

On his part, Mr Enanga asked for time to respond to questions on the technological initiatives. A week later, his calls went unanswered.

But observers in Uganda generally agree that the use of technology has not had an impact on crime. Other investment in security forces which include community policing and the recruitment of local defence units have not had an impact either.

Two weeks ago, Bwogi farms which is close to the border with Tanzania reported the loss of 76 goats, all stolen in one night.

In areas around Mukono just outside of Kampala vanilla farmers sleep in their gardens for fear of thieves, while goat herders and cattle keepers who have not taken strict security measures are reporting frequent losses.

"It is not surprising that crime isn't declining, because despite the heavy investment in security, the government's focus has been on policing political players," said Muwanga Kivumbi the Butambala County Member of Parliament.

Mr Kivumbi who is also the shadow minister for Internal Affairs, said the focus on political players has meant security forces and especially the police ignore areas like intelligence gathering which would help in the detection and apprehension of criminals.

In the meantime, Ugandans are resorting to desperate measures to protect themselves. In Masaka district and surrounding areas, poultry farmers who supply eggs to Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo are now forced to sleep in the chicken pens for fear of thieves stealing their birds.

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