Rise in kidnappings shakes faith in Uganda's police

“Kidnappings have been rife in some African nations where security is weak such as oil-rich Nigeria.”

But their numbers have spiked recently in Uganda, emerging as a new source of insecurity in the East African nation.

One February evening in a small town in central Uganda, Juma Nsereko took an anguished call from his wife announcing that their five-year-old twin girls were missing and the mother suspected their neighbour, a jobless man, had kidnapped them.

A frantic search ensued, ending after three days with the recovery of the children unharmed and the detention of the neighbour, who had demanded a ransom of 13 million Ugandan shillings ($3,500).

“I was so devastated and spent that whole time in tears because the police did not care about my situation and had already lost the money I raised for ransom. Even if I were to get the money back, I didn’t have any hope seeing my children again, said Nsereko.

Police failure to apprehend kidnapping suspects has created outrage in the press and on social media, and exposed the wafer-thin public faith in the police, who are routinely accused of ditching their primary role of fighting crime to focus instead on harassing opponents of long-time ruler Yoweri Museveni.

Two days later, after multiple phone calls from his neighbour demanding ransom payment, police had not found his children.

A 2017 report from Uganda’s statistics agency contained homicide data from 2015 that it sourced to the police. It said there had been nearly 4,500 murders in 2015, nearly twice as many as in 2013, when police last released a crime report.

Police spokesman Emirian Kayima says criminals are exploiting technology gaps like unregistered SIM cards to conduct kidnappings.

“For the public, yes they may point fingers, they may accuse. What we are focusing on is to find the criminals because the crime was committed. We must find them and the law must work,” Kayima said.

“One would expect that the state would come out openly and expose this particular problem of kidnapping and the extent to which it has grown. But of course one also needs to bear in mind that the state cannot do that cannot be seen to expose as many cases as possible because that would not speak well of its ability to contain crime. said Livingstone Ssewanyana, head of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative.

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni acknowledges growing crime and has repeatedly alle ged that criminals have infiltrated the police.

Last month he removed his long-serving police chief in a move seen by analysts as a response to public concern with security.