By Dennis Katungi
What is Government in the first place? The people, in an organized set-up.
In the stranger’s gallery at Parliament, I listened to the President intently. Having given context to Uganda’s past, the journey thus travelled and current locus, he concluded with proposed remedial actions to the wave of insecurity recently causing concern to all of us. I’ll pick on a few of his proposals starting with vigilance by citizens. This has no cost implication and we can implement it straight away. It is the critical first line element to security.
I have the benefit – having lived and worked away from Uganda for many years. I was part of a Neighborhood Watch Scheme somewhere in England for a decade. My area had low levels of crime and vandalism as a result. Neighbourhood Watch is an organized group of civilians devoted to crime detection & collaborating with law enforcement to prevent or aid arrest of offenders. The Watch also aims at educating residents of a community on Security & Safety in order to achieve safe & secure neighbourhoods. In recent years, Uganda Police Force adopted Community Policing with varying degrees of success, more so in urban areas. It is not yet established why crime has escalated despite the Community Policing Endeavour.
In the UK, when crime or vandalism is suspected, residents are encouraged to report to authorities and not to try to intervene. The security of my area in Becton, East London was our (residents) immediate responsibility, well before Law enforcement came in. The first line of Security against criminality or offending of any nature is the eyes and ears of the citizens. Even elderly retired people who stay at home, as well as child-minors were active useful participants in my Neighbourhood Watch.
Do you wake up and tune your mind to observe and note goings on around you, be it in the neighborhood, on the Roads, around your work place? At your evening stop-over, be it a Club, Bar, or Sports-centre, is your ear deliberately on the ground? Do you discern public transport before you board? Many people jump into Taxis of robbers - they don’t take a moment to observe, read body-language & analyse. The tactics used are always the same; a door fails to shut properly and the victim’s attention is concentrated on just that, meanwhile the thieves are emptying the bag or wallet! I have to say that such is very unlikely to happen to a conscious traveler.
Do you know your neighbours reasonably well? Remember, the twin attacks in Kampala of July 2010 - the bombs were prepared in a house neighboring a UPDF Colonel. That’s an indication of a serious neighbourhood watch security lapse. Criminals know the loopholes and exploit them.
Do you have the contact of your Local Police and the LC1 Chair of your area? Do you have weekly or bi-weekly Community meetings and invite the Police & local authority people to attend? Are you & your local Police aware of incidents in your neighbourhood? Have you got an active Social Media Platform e.g WhatsApp for your neighbourhood that includes your local Police Commander?
Do local authorities & the Police know the identities of Boda-Boda riders at stages around neighbourhoods? Is there an accessible register of local repeat offenders known to Police and the Community? These are normally the first suspects to be eliminated in local crime.
Do you take interest in the activities of young people in your neighborhood including your own children? The President gave a recent example of women murders in Wakiso where he arrived at the scene and quickly picked clues from residents on unemployed youth, regular hangers on – the information yielded immediate arrests. Do you observe and note new people in your neighborhood and pick interest to establish who they are or inform Police?
Technology is quite useful and the President enumerated measures including Finger printing all guns, electronic vehicle number plate tagging, ban on hooded riders, installing security cameras, building a modern forensic laboratory, utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles, and checking abuse of social media. These will all be second, third and forth lines of attacking criminality. Like the biblical trinity of faith hope & love (Corinthians 13:13) where love is the most pertinent, I would argue that vigilance by the citizens is the anchor of the other measures proposed.
It’s amazing how quickly members of the public can offer useful clues to preventing or solving crime by being vigilant. Let’s make it our obligation to be keen observers of our neighbourhoods; that way, we will tackle crime head-on.
The writer is the Communications & Media Relations Manager, Uganda Media Centre