F orget about the gangs that used to throw letters with threatening messages before attacking their victims in districts of Bukomansimbi, Lwengo, Ssembabule and Masaka early last year. In most city suburbs, residents live in fear because of the cases of house break-ins by gangs in balaclava, armed with machetes, bricks, axes, hammers and other crude weapons.
On the night of July 16, I was robbed. They say that when something is fated to happen to you, you go against your own norms and you do not even stop to ask yourself why. It was the case with me that night. Every night, before giving myself over to sleep, I always check the doors and windows to make sure they are locked.
This night I did not. Either I always stay up late in the living room, reading, writing or watching TV, but this night. I was in bed by 11.30pm.
For several weeks before this night, I had been working on a big article which required as much attention. And, I had spent some hours of that Monday afternoon researching and collecting data to give perspective to the information I had already gathered. My plan was to go to bed early so I could wake up by 4am and type the story with a fresh mind. And that is what I did.
Like in the game of chess, it appears that Satan was constantly scrutinising my plans for loopholes. Every move I made, afforded him a better stake in the game until I had no more moves.
It must have taken these minions of the dark world less than two minutes to snip the four weld-points of the buglar-proofing bars to create a hole big enough for a man to pass through.
At least three thugs entered the house in the pit of the dark night and carried away whatever they fancied.
As fate would have it, the house help had not latched one of the sliding panes in one of the windows. I could tell because the hook was not damaged and had it been latched, the window would probably have made some sound upon trying to force it open, and that could have changed our fortune.
It looks like the thugs simply slid the window open and went to work on disabling the buglar-proof bars. From my later analysis, it must have been a walkover. All signs on the damaged window pointed to the fact that they snipped the hollow-section bars with what could have been a powerful pair of shears. They had managed to keep the noise levels at the very lowest, thanks to some rugs they picked from the veranda.
At about 2.45am, we were all sleeping like heavily sedated teenagers. As the bad men climbed into the house. They used two old car batteries as stepping stones and none of us stirred from our deep slumber.
Nothing prepares you for that moment when you wake up and see three men standing by your bed, flashing torches in your face asking for money.
“Give us all the money you have in this house,” said one of the attackers in a husky voice. Before I could answer, he added, “If you have nothing to delare to us, then we shall deal with you accordingly. Why should we beg you for what you have?” he said in a near whisper.
Nothing prepares your mind for that moment you see a stranger in your bedroom at 2.45am holding a machete. Each of the men had a torch and a machete. The machetes looked like they had been modified for the job as they were all cut short for easy hiding while walking on the streets.
On machete point
As they demanded for the money, they seemed to get agitated whenever we told them we had none. They also demanded to know the whereabouts of the safe as they run their hands through every suitcase, bag and wardrobe in the bedroom.
They were extremely precautious as they looked around for it. They were so thorough in their search for the safe, they even checked behind a world map that hangs on the wall. They did not find any because we do not have any. It was during that search that they picked whatever caught their eye. Watches, perfume, shoes, handbags, name it.
The loud bang
All the while, I craned my neck to see beyond the bright beams of the torches to try and identify one or two of the faces.
One of the men saw through my plan and almost chopped off my head. He took a long stride toward me, and struck the headrest with his machete, a few inches from my head and sent chills to my soul. A cold sweat gushed through every pore of my skin. I can still see that machete come towards me whenever I close my eyes.
The bang was so loud it woke up our one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Seeing the torches, she must have thought it was time to wake up and go and play or something. She loves playing given any chance. The toddler made efforts to jump over her mother to go grab one of the torches or something, but her terrified mother grabbed her and held onto her.
Trying to break away from her mother’s embrace, she called out in a loud voice, “Teacher!” That is no reason to put your hopes up. It is highly inconceivable that one of her teachers was in the house robbing us. Now, she tends to call everyone “teacher”, something she must have picked from her prekindergarten school.
I have occasionally heard her say, “Teacher me!” which uncannily reminds me of myself in lower primary school.
Face-to-face with trouble
In that moment, while the toddler was trying to create friendly rapport with these men, I knew the game would completely change if they grabbed her. My mind was in overdrive trying to find out if I had any options at all, any defensive plan. I had none. So, I prayed.
I prayed that no blood would be shed. I prayed that God would distract them with whatever they wanted, just so they would not harm anyone. And God came through.
They took everything their hands could land on and we could not do anything. My weapon was not very far from my hand, but three men with machetes and a hyperactive baby called for us to suffer in silence. Also, do not ask what kind of weapon I have, you might set yourself up for disappointment.
After 15 minutes of picking anything that looked valuable, including dead phones, they left. As they walked out of the back door, which they had opened with the key they had picked from the top of the fridge, the leader whispered to the others to prepare the fuel and the match, just in case we try to make an alarm or follow them out. If this was just a threat, it worked very well for we did not move a muscle for five minutes after they had vanished.
After ascertaining that they were gone, we got up to assess the damage. They had taken six phones, three laptops, the TV set, jewellery, perfume, shoes and just anything they fancied.
A week later
Just a week after, to crown it, after buying another laptop, I discovered that my backup hard drive had also been taken. This device had all my work spanning more than 10 years. All of a sudden, it hit me that I had lost much more than I had envisaged. I just could not stop myself from mourning my loss. I cried like I was watching Braveheart. But it helped because I feel better now, and I can finally be me again.
While we reported…
The era of peaceful sleeping has most probably come to an end. During the time we spent talking with the police over the matter, we heard several cases of other families in the neighbourhood who had gone through worse situations. Harrowing stories of thugs entering people’s houses and raping women in the presence of their husbands before walking away with property.
In one of the stories, they even asked for the car key and drove away with their loot. One thing is for sure, most of these stories are kept out of the media by victims for obvious reasons.
One strange thing about tragedy is that you never believe that it could happen to you until it does. Which is why I was shocked beyond my capacity to say it when this happened to me. Now I see the importance of investing in canines or a home alarm system. Now I make sure to lock the bedroom door when I am going to sleep.
This will not bring back my backup external hard disk drive. It is time to muster our own security.
Did you know…?
Terrifying incidents have been reported in residential areas of Kampala City and the neighbouring sprawling suburbs of Kireka, Bweyogerere, Najjeera and Mbalwa in Kira Town Council, Wakiso District.
According to victims in Mbalwa village, the armed gangs are increasingly becoming bolder and calmly knock on victims’ doors ordering them to willingly open and let them in lest they break in.
According to victims, those who refuse to open their doors as ordered get their door glass shattered before the gangs force open the locks, beat up the occupants, and rob them of home appliances, laptops, mobile phones and money. In Kampala City areas of Makindye and Kawempe divisions, and Nansana Municipality in Wakiso District where residences are close to each other, the criminals strike in the dead of the night when the victims are asleep.
The victims only get to know about the break-ins in the morning when they find their doors flung open and mobile phones and home appliances stolen.
During 2016, Uganda experienced a general increase in petty and violent crime, threats of political violence, and a decrease in the general threat from regional and worldwide terrorism.
In 2016, Gulu, Lira, and Kampala experienced an increase in violent crime with the use of weapons and the presence of criminal gangs becoming more common. People were targeted for crimes of opportunity, particularly the theft of smart phones, jewellery, and bags . -internet