KAMPALA — Joweria Nanyonjjo is a 34 year-old mother of 4, who vends charcoal during the day to put food on the table for her family. Her lockup is located in the junction at the busy Conta Africa Village, commonly known as the Ghetto in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb.
Business for her starts as early as 6:30am when most mothers wake up to begin making meals for their families, and also that time when restaurant owners and chapatti vendors begin to make purchases of her charcoal to start their daily chores.
She admits she earns enough to sustain her family but would have made even more if not for the high levels of insecurity in the area. Nanyonjjo narrates to this writer that by 7pm, she has to close shop and get home which is only a few meters away from her business premises, lest she is attacked and loses all her income for the day.
“As busy as you see this street right now [2:30pm on the day of the interview], all these people disappear when darkness falls” she says, pointing at children playing in the road filled with people crisscrossing from shop to shop and house to shop.
A close examination of most buildings in the area reveals that the security bulbs installed are broken. Something that the Local Council chairman of the village, Mr Ssebata Kabuye, says is done by criminals who want to ensure that their area of operation remains dark for them to swing into action without being recognised.
Asked to give us numbers of how many people report to have been attacked in the area, Kabuye, who says he has been chairman of the village since 1997, reveals that he does not have to wait for reports from the victims. “Every night, we hear on average 8 to 10 women making an alarm that they are being attacked,” he says, adding that while his vigilante team has on occasion come to the rescue of some victims, the nature of the village makes it difficult for a small team of security people to chase and catch the attackers especially since it is always pitch dark.
Several residents that we spoke to confirmed the chairman’s testimony of attacks in the night. “It is nearly impossible for a night to go by without hearing women screaming as they are beaten. And these are only those that actually scream, there are others whose bags are snatched in the dark and they are left in too much shock to scream,” narrates one resident who told us his name was William.
Leading off the main street on the village, which runs from Old Kira road, next to Xentral Inn building, down into the slums, are many corridors that separate houses. One corridor, to a person familiar with the area, leads into another, past houses, lodges and bars. This makes a chase after a thief in the dark a very worrisome task.
Sanyu, a 60-year old, whose house verandah also doubles as a stall for one bunch of matooke, that she sells in fingers, four fingers at Shs1,000, tells us that they always hear footsteps just after a scream. From her narration, we discover that toward her house and beyond is the common escape route for the attackers.
“Look how narrow these corridors are and imagine them at night with no lights,” she says. Revealing that no one in the safety of their houses would get out to help a victim being attacked.
While not many women have openly come out to say they have been raped in the area, probably for fear of stigmatisation, Kabuye says that the area residents have complained that men abuse them in many other ways, some are groped, on top of the other despicable sexual immorality that happens on shop verandas in the cover of the dark.
On the day we visited the area, a team from Kampala Capital City Authority led by Abdallah Ssenyonjo, their engineer, was present to oversee the installation of solar powered street lights to increase security in the slum as part of its wider efforts to curb crime in the city.
The Phillips street lights were a donation from Signify Foundation and Dembe Group made to the COVID-19 National Taskforce to support government’s efforts to respond to the pandemic.
According to Martha Osiro, the program manager for Signify Foundation, the donation is part of their commitment to support communities to improve their quality of life.
“Signify Foundation works closely with Dembe Group and Village Energy to provide clean lighting and energy solutions which are also financially efficient in areas where there is lack of sustainable lighting which leads the community to use alternative sources that are harmful to health such as kerosene,” Ms Osiro notes.
The area chairman, however notes that while the streets are lit, the challenge remains in the corridors which is where the attackers take cover and wait for their victims.
Dembe Group Chief Executive Officer Anil Damani says the group is considering working with building owners to install lamps on which will be secured from potential breakage and these will help light up corridors where attackers hide.
The donation is part of an earlier pledge by the consortium of partners including the Dembe Group, Signify Foundation, Sendea, Village Energy and the Danish Refugee Council to the government to help in fighting COVID-19.
On Friday May 15, 2020, a delegation led by Mr Damani, along with Jean- Christophe Saint-Esteben, the Country Director of the Danish Refugee Council, Martha Osiro, the Program Manager for Signify Foundation, and Wairinga Matindi, CEO of Village Energy, met with Prime Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda to brief him on steps being taken on delivering promises of access to lighting support for vulnerable communities, which had been donated through the COVID-19 National taskforce, which is mobilizing resources in support of different responses to the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Prime Minister was informed that the start of supply and installation of the different lighting facilities to different government facilities will start with the Rhino Refugee Settlement, equipping health facilities in the refugee camp and outdoor areas for the security of the camp in general.
The Prime minister appreciated the donation as a welcome gesture of all parties in supporting vulnerable communities when Uganda is struggling to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Rugunda noted that the support to refugee communities is most appreciated because of the vulnerable nature they find themselves at a time as this.
Mr Saint-Esteben, reiterated commitment to improving lives of refugees and other Ugandans, by providing opportunities for them to earn income using solar lighting and energy. “Providing indoor and outdoor street lighting, during such a time, will help improve response to COVID and reduce risk of gender-based violence, other protection and other security challenges in the community,” he said.