By Lino Owor Ogora
About two months ago, my car was stolen from Kampala. In broad daylight, along Yusuf Lule Road at just a few minutes to midday. The thief apparently did his homework well. He probably trailed me for several days and figured out my routine and the fact that I had no car tracker installed. He learned that I sometimes parked my car along the road instead of the designated staff parking at the office. He chose the hour well; just before midday when office workers rarely surface until lunchtime. It was a Friday, and Kampala’s skies were awash with a drizzle, making all potential witnesses more preoccupied with seeking shelter.
To cut a long story short, I emerged from the office, and the car was not where I had left it. It was gone, and there was nothing left to do but to report the theft to the police, which I promptly did by heading to Wandegeya, the nearest police station.
I was received by a police officer who recorded the theft and then handed me over to a female detective who took my statement.
Then it was time for the much-hyped CCTV cameras that would presumably give us a clue to the theft. The detective took me to the CCTV room where I found more police officers busy monitoring several screens. I described my car, and one of the police officers started searching the system.
After some moments of fiddling with the computer, we were able to view footage of the car driving past one of the security cameras along Yusuf Lule road. Unfortunately, the cameras did not stretch far enough to capture the actual moment of the theft. We had to be content with watching footage of the thief driving past one of the first cameras. On a disappointing note, the cameras could not also capture his face as he drove by. The windshield was presumably too dark for the cameras to pierce through.
We learned from the footage that after the theft, the thief drove to Mulago Hospital roundabout. From there, he drove to the Mulago Mortuary roundabout, then he took the road heading to Kyebando. From there, the Wandegeya police lost track of him because they presumably did not have the authorization to access footage beyond that point. It was a dead end.
The detective promised to put out an alert for the vehicle, and one of the CCTV room guys promised to sound the alarm if the car popped up on the CCTV screens.
Then a police officer with whom I was friendly advised me to go to Naguru headquarters where the CCTV cameras could presumably track the car for a longer range. He referred me to a police IT technician who would presumably help me. I promptly took a bodaboda to Naguru.
At Naguru, the IT technician listened to my story, took a description of the car then disappeared into the CCTV room. He emerged later with a computer flash drive into which he had downloaded some footage. He showed me the footage I had already seen, of the car driving along Yusuf Lule Road, then Mulago, then to Kyebando. But for some reason, he could not or would not track the car further. His conclusion was that the car was still in Kyebando.
Then, with a strange sidelong look, he slyly told me he could analyze the footage further, and thereafter deploy on the ground in Kyebando to physically search for the car. For this, he would need some ‘facilitation’. In other words, a bribe.
It was Friday, and it was coming to dusk. Any sensible person could tell that no search would be fruitful at that hour. Did this fellow think I was that dumb?
For a moment, I played along, and we haggled about the price until he settled on 200,000 shillings. I then politely informed him that I did not have the money. He promptly lost interest in helping me.
I left and spent a weekend absorbing the reality of my loss.
On Monday I reported back to Wandegeya police station to check on the detective handling my case. She had long forgotten about it. Apparently, between Friday and Monday, she had received other cases and mine had moved down her priority list. I jogged her memory and she remembered quickly. Then she informed me that she had not been able to progress because she had not been able to analyze the footage from other cameras in other police stations. For that, she would need transport facilitation to move to Ndeeba and other police stations.
It was another soft and polite suggestion for a bribe. I did not want to pay. But on the other hand, if she needed transportation to do her work, then it was in my best interest that I pay. I was torn in between. In the end, I paid.
Then I sat back and waited for updates. Three days later, I received a call which I eagerly picked. My excitement quickly died when she informed me that the car had been captured on one of the CCTV cameras driving towards Nansana in the dead of the night. Again, there were no further details offered, but just that the car had been spotted. No action had been taken to pursue the driver, no description of his face had been captured, no clue as to where the car headed in Nansana or from Nansana. No patrol pickups were alerted to pursue the thief.
After this, I never heard from the detective again. That was the end of my escapade with the CCTV cameras.
So, exactly how useful are the CCTV cameras when we need them?
Recently, on June 1, 2021, a prominent old army general in Uganda was ambushed by gun-wielding thugs on two bodabodas who sprayed his car with 56 bullets. The good old general survived, but unfortunately, his driver and his daughter who were present with him in the car did not. The much-hyped police cameras were able to capture the riders as they drove to and away from their mission. The cameras did not capture the proceedings at the actual crime scene. Neither did they capture the identities of the assailants.
Ironically, Uganda’s much-hyped CCTV cameras were installed after a spate of shootings that rocked the country several years ago, leading to the death of various prominent figures including a judicial prosecutor, a jovial legislator called Abiriga, some high-ranking police officers, and prominent Muslim clerics. These cameras were supposed to help the police in detecting and solving subsequent crimes. The installation of CCTV cameras was considered to be the beginning of an era of ‘nunca más’ to such crimes, or the easy crackdown of criminals thereafter.
Several years down the road, however, it appears the CCTV cameras are toys that are used to offer insights into how crimes occurred, but not to solve the crimes.
It is disturbing that a police officer has to move from one police station to another to view footage of other cameras, and even more disturbing that a taxpayer – whose taxes were used to purchase the cameras in the first place – must foot the bill of that movement. Preposterous!
Even more shameful are the ‘facilitations’ that are demanded by the corrupt clowns who monitor the cameras. Be ye warned, the deepest parts of hell awaiteth thou.
Totally laughable, not to mention pathetic and obnoxious, are the sloppy pot-bellied malwa imbibing clowns who monitor the cameras all day long. One gets the feeling that the fellas basically earn a living by simply keeping their rear ends intact, looking out for dramatic moments on the cameras, awaiting the day’s end to hit the nearest malwa joint. How I wish someone would pin-prick some of those huge bellies and let out some bio-gas. Just to deflate the bellies slightly, not to kill them. The pinholes can always be sealed up with surgical plaster or cello tape.
Then, there have been stories of footage that is not available when needed, or of cameras that were not working at the time of the crime. In other words, the CCTV cameras work for some people, and not work for others. Ludicrous!
My heartfelt apologies to the honest hard-working men and women in uniform who do not fall in the category befitting the harsh words above.
I could rant on for many more lines. But to end the story, the much-hyped CCTV cameras were totally worthless for aiding the recovery of my stolen car. It is highly unlikely that they will be useful in solving the attempted assassination of the good old general, and several crimes thereafter.
That is, unless the sloppy les incompétents pot-bellied malwa imbibing officers in charge up their game.
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