Jenifer Nambozo, a student of Mbale secondary school in Mbale Municipality was attacked last August by a group of six boys at Nabuyonga rise in Northern Division Mbale municipality as she made her way to the bank to pay school fees.
The attackers were boys in their teens who beat her up and took all the Ushs 300,000 she had been given by her parents as school fees, in addition to taking her mobile phone.
Nambozo recounted the incident saying: “I met three boys at the street that joins Namatala and Kampala roads at around lunch time back in August of 2017. They surrounded me, beat me up and forced me to hand over anything I had on me. I was so scared that I had to give them all the money I had. That didn’t satisfy them as they asked for everything else I had. In the process I lost my phone and books.”
Fortunately for Nambozo, she recognized her attackers and reported the incident to Gangama police. The boys were arrested and forced to return everything they had snatched from Nambozo.
Nambozo is hardly the only one who has suffered at the hands of what now appears to be a growing trend of indolent young men terrorizing residents by snatching personal items and in many cases beating them up. The recent death of girl, allegedly killed by one of the youth gangs, has heightened fear among residents some of whom say that the security agencies are not doing enough to address the situation.
With reports of murder of women in Nansana, Masaka and Entebbe, the attacks in Mbale are beginning to cause serious unrest in the community.
An investigation by this reporter revealed that the gangs are a new phenomenon and comprise mostly boys in their teenage years. Many of them are students in schools in and around Mbale municipality who target the dark or unlit spots of Mbale town such as Nabuyonga, Namatala from where they pounce at unsuspecting pedestrians.
Mbale residents are in great fear due to the rapid growth of gang groups of young boys who have become a security threat.
One dealer in second hand clothes who identified himself only as John working in Kikindu market in Mbale district confirmed he had suffered a similar incident when youthful boys attacked him and took away Ushs 70,000 the first time he came to Mbale. This was about a year ago when he approached three boys at around 8pm and tried to inquire about accommodation in the city.
Local leaders speak out
Robert Kabili, the village council chairman of Kiteso cell in Mbale district confirmed the presence of youth gangs in the area and said he had received reports from people about boys waylaying them and snatching their belongings.
“Recently following the murder of one girl in this area by one of these boys, police carried out an operation and arrested over ten (10) boys who were found with drugs and residing in one room’ Kibili said adding that all this is due to the laziness on the part of the boys. He fell short of condemning the boys parents or the security agencies who are key stakeholders in ensuring peace and security in the area.
Naima Abdu, the LC I chairperson of Kisenyi cell in Nabuyonga ward in Mbale district also revealed she has encountered the boys three times. “Recently I encountered the gang at night. The members were dressed in Gomes, (women traditional attire), fortunately, when I saw them, I went back and waited for company of men.
Naima says she has reported cases to Nkoma police post but officers at the station only promised to take action when they get more reports.
Naima also expressed reluctance to have the boys sent to jail noting that many of them are children and are children of our own residents.
Gang representatives speak out
One of the boys identified by residents as a member of the hated gangs was approached by this reporter to give his side of the story. He declined to reveal his identity but accepted he had friends with whom they move to entertainment places for purposes of doing karaoke.
He said: “We are just musicians and most of us are still at school studying in schools like Nkoma secondary school, Mbale secondary school, University link high school, Oxford high school. We just train in singing and acting in drama and that’s all.” He added that the only incident he recalls are ones that involve small fight between the groups as inter-school social events such as bashes like welcoming parties, fair-wells, handovers and variety shows. “But this does not mean that we’re criminals as alleged by residents.”
Sowed Mansur, the Elgon region police spokesperson told this reporter that the police has on several occasions acted when such complaints have been reported. “We have arrested some of those boys and taken them to court although most of them, are still on the streets. For the case of the adolescents, we have the remand home where we keep them until they reform, after trial,” Mansur said.
On the wider issue of growing level of lawlessness among the youth, Mansur said that as police, they have done their part but called on the parents and local leaders to do their job of instilling morals among their children. He noted the unwillingness by school heads to cooperate with the Police to ensure the errant boys are taken to court and tried.
“Together with the municipal council, we carry out operations and arrest these boys but the problem we face as police is some of them are in boarding school and the schools don’t cooperate by producing those implicated to ensure they are tried. This is mostly because they fear to ruin their school’s reputations,” noted Mansur.
What residents say
Namono Sarah, student at ucu:
All this is due to poverty. Some of the young boys are not in school. They have teamed up with those that are in school to terrorize people.
Canary Emma (Kiteso cell):
This is due to unemployment levels in the country. The government should address this problem otherwise we’re witnessing another Kifeesi gang in the making.
Moses Kanyike (Nakaloke)
These boys are too dangerous. I think they should be kept in prisons for life because they threaten our Security, especially the ladies
Naulele Florence (Namakwekwe):
Police should help us bring this insecurity to an end. These boys are too hostile. One time they beat me and grabbed snatched my phone.
By Busein Samilu and Phoebe Masongole