Christmas is for Christians a holy period which celebrates life with the birth of Jesus Christ. But for many this year- reports of ritual sacrifice of children, have soured the holidays. It’s not just that the practice is considered heathen; child sacrifice is being is being fanned by the desire for money and therefore doubly immoral even for non-Christians 2008 has been a bad year for children.
Unexplained school fires spread fear in homes but most foul have been the tragedy of parents doing the unthinkable and taking the lives of their young ones out of frustration or worse. According to the Uganda Police Force, the upsurge in general crime is mainly due to a worsening economy which translates into poorly mitigated social and personal pressures. The national average for homicides is 160 per month- the highest figure in several years. “There are crimes of passion but the bulk of the murders are because of money” said Asan Kasingye, the officer in charge of community policing countrywide.
This is consistent with national polling on crime and the Police’s own crime records. The last Police Crime Report showed two things; the majority of crimes had to do with valuable property like the theft of cars, phones and laptops and secondly over fifty percent of offences are in the urban areas. The economy of crime is tied, Kasingye acknowledges, to urban poverty buoyed this year by a slow but consistent rise in the cost of living fueled by high transportation costs which affects vulnerable urban poor populations.
The initial crime wave in the country came on the back of rising food prices which have been followed in the last half of the year with high fuel prices. In the poor neighborhoods that ring cities like Kampala, a slight change in the cost of food means entire families go hungry or reduce on the portions they eat. It is from these areas that desperate young men, like the ones who killed their victims with iron bars along the northern by-pass, emerge to commit crimes. The road cuts through the affluent areas of Ntinda-Kiwatule, Nalya and Bukoto which are edged along the un-opened road by slum areas. The contractor for the road,Salini, is overwhelmed by residents of old ages who leave the poorer neighborhoods in droves to earn a few thousand shillings planting grass to protect the road from flood waters. “Economic hardships could explain the high rate of homicides in Districts like Bushenyi” Kasingye said. For two months Bushenyi pushed the national murder rate with 80 or so murders police say are mainly about unresolved land disputes which are the consequence of recent demand for land.
“In some counties entire families have been wiped out” Kasingye, who is born in Bushenyi, said. The Ministry of Internal Affairs says a communal approach is necessary to prevent crime in part because the drivers of crime are broad and involves factors outside the control of the police. “I cannot deploy a police barracks in every neighborhood” said Matiya Kashaijja, the junior minister there. “Every home should take reasonable precautions especially this season. Most criminals live in neighborhoods and are known but people do little to help the police catch them” he said on 933 KFM’s hot seat. This is only partly true.
A Daily Monitor commissioned poll at the close of last year showed that over 60% of Ugandans report to the police whenever a crime is committed even if a far smaller percentage expect the police to do something about it. This is in part because the numbers of the force [which have slightly increased] are too narrow to provide effective cover nationally. Police to population ratio is 1-2000 and worse upcountry because deployments tend to concentrate on urban areas. The resulting situation is that the police cannot satisfy the demand for their services a factor driving corruption in the already underfunded force. It’s a “black market” for justice where individuals seek personalized solutions from a force unable to protect and serve all.
The police, who have been voted the worst institution in the country consistently, say it is simply the public face of the general weakness of the criminal justice system. “Local Council’s for example are in abeyance. Small disputes used to be resolved by LC’s who know homes and their occupants but now these matters are referred to the police” Kasingye argues. Institutional decay locates the problem of crime in many quarters and often rightfully so but the argument is that where the legitimacy and efficiency of arbiters of social, economic or personal conflict like the police, courts or other bodies cannot be relied on- it is not surprising that the alternatives sought in the black market for justice are not necessarily legal. Child sacrifices flourishes for example not because it is not illegal- but often because there is no one to stop it. It’s everyone’s problem and no one’s responsibility.
Submitted to the Daily Monitor- December 2008