By Jackson Mutabazi
Going by all the reports, it has long become clear that the crime of kidnap for ransom has become epidemic in Uganda.
The recent high profile kidnapping of an American only served to galvanize the issue into the international sphere. There are daily kidnappings in many parts of the country.
Speaking to the media on Monday this week, Police Spokesman Fred Enanga said there have been nineteen recorded cases since February, to April – a period of only two months.
Analysts say it is not difficult to trace the kidnap epidemic to the Museveni regime’s complete failure to guarantee the safety and security of Ugandans. “In Uganda public safety has long broken down in the Museveni years,” said a newspaper columnist in one of the dailies.
His words are borne out by the daily occurrences of violent crime including armed robbery, house break-ins and the like. However kidnapping is what has most alarmed residents of Kampala and the other major towns.
In February this year, two children were kidnapped and murdered in the Wakiso District of the Ugandan capital, a typical Ugandan crime. The children were Margaret Akech, 3, and Johnson Sempereza, 6. The children were killed in some gruesome ways and dumped in ditches.
Uganda Police came and recorded statements and said it would “investigate”. As usual, that was the end of the story. No one was apprehended for the crime. It was suspected that agents of witchdoctors were behind the abductions, looking for body parts to use in witchcraft rituals. There were no further reports of follow-up.
“This is Uganda after all, where even the security people themselves most of the time behave like criminals,” said the analyst.
It has long been speculated that kidnaps in Uganda are, in fact, carried out with the full connivance of “elements within the Police force itself”.
Norman Tumuhimbise of the Kampala-based youth activist group, The Alternative, said, “Ugandan authorities have failed to investigate kidnap cases despite access to intelligence reports that could nail the criminals.”
Such suspicious behavior on the part of the authorities is what has convinced many Ugandans that at least a good number of the criminals have links within the police. “Rise in kidnappings shakes faith in Uganda’s Police”, said a headline on the Reuters website last year on 16 April.
The public’s faith in Museveni’s police force was already next to nonexistent. Several women had been kidnapped, and murdered in the Entebbe area for instance. Those whose relatives could pay ransom and survived were the lucky few.
The tragedy involving the family of Charity Kyohirwe, 32, was far more typical for when calamity strikes and a family member falls into the hands of kidnappers in Uganda.
Kyohirwe was kidnapped in March (2018) by criminals who demanded ransom. When the poor relatives failed to raise the ransom of 5 million shillings, the thugs killed the woman.
More than a dozen women suffered the same fate in the Entebbe area alone.
One of the most high profile cases of kidnap in Uganda – which too never was properly solved – was that of Susan Magara. She was taken in February 2018, held for three weeks, then killed and dumped in a banana plantation along the Entebbe expressway.
That Magara – a lady described as coming from a “very prominent Ugandan family” – could be killed in such a way, even when the family paid the ransom, US$ 200,000, highlights the extent to which law and order have collapsed in Uganda, analysts remarked.
However the abduction of US tourist Kimberley Sue Endicott did more than anything else to jolt Uganda into international attention, way up there with Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.
The kidnappers of Endicott were using her phone to extort ransom, demanding US$ 500,000. Ugandan authorities grew panicked, especially when US President Donald Trump issued a stern warning for Kampala to produce the American.
Within a few days the kidnappers released the tourist, and her Ugandan driver cum guide. Kampala’s spin machine initially worked frantically, putting out the lie that “Ugandan security forces had rescued the American tourist.” The drama got uncovered soon after the government had paid ransom.
The lucky Endicott was soon on her way back home.
But observers in Kampala were smelling a rat.
“How had the kidnappers known whom to telephone?”
“How had they known WHOM to issue the threats to, that they would murder the American if government did not pay the money?”
“And how was that money delivered, anyway?”
Sure enough, everyone was convinced this was an “inside job”; meaning elements within the country’s security forces had engineered the kidnap.
After that scare, the US is not taking any chances with its citizens who might want to go to Uganda. The US State Department has included Uganda in the new “K” categorization.
“K” stands for “kidnap”.
Any American that takes the risk to travel to Uganda is told he or she does so at a serious risk of suffering this frightening crime.
What they do not add is that the risk could be even much higher given that elements in Museveni’s own security forces may in fact be the masterminds of Uganda’s kidnap racket.