Holiday Crime in Downtown Kampala? Not This Year, Shopkeepers Say

Police pledged to stamp out petty crime this holiday season, and shopkeepers in Uganda’s capital city say they were successful. It’s a huge change in a city where theft is a big problem.

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Holiday Crime in Downtown Kampala? Not This Year, Shopkeepers Say

Edna Namara, GPJ Uganda

Traders and shoppers crowd one of the busiest shopping areas in downtown Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Petty theft was a serious issue in this area in years past, but police say they’ve cracked down on crime, and vendors agree.

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KAMPALA, UGANDA — Stella Wanichani and Vivian Lalobo run a stall selling fresh food in St. Balikuddembe Market, a major shopping area in this sometimes-chaotic capital.

The women left their stall for three days this holiday season, to travel to their home villages for Christmas. When they returned, their stock was intact.

That discovery might have been surprising in years past, but police and military officers patrolled the city’s busiest shopping districts this year. Shopkeepers say that those officers successfully thwarted the type of crime that had plagued market areas each and every holiday season for as long as many people cared to remember.

“I am so grateful to the police patrol,” Lalobo says.

It’s not entirely the police, though, who ensured that the two women’s stock was safe while they were gone. These days, traders pay 1,000 Ugandan shillings (27 cents) each month to what Wanichani calls a “local vigilante group.”

“Given the good work they did, these night guards deserve the money we give them,” she says.

Still, Uganda’s police agency, which partners with the military to secure the city, is quick to take all the credit.

“The town business center is well-supervised by police and army to ensure safety,” Uganda Police spokesman Luke Owoyesigyire says.

No matter the source of the shopping district’s security, shop owners say their experience around the holidays is different – and better – this year. (Read our story about pre-holiday policing here.)

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Edna Namara, GPJ Uganda

Mary Tukahirwa is surrounded by the grains and other foods that she sells in downtown Kampala. She says her wares were safe from thieves this holiday season.

Mary Tukahirwa sells nuts, millet flour and grains in a market area downtown. On Christmas Eve, when this city was gripped by the spell cast by holiday lights and the booming crescendo of Christmas carols, she planned to leave early the next morning to visit her family’s home village. In other years, a shuttered storefront in this city acted as an “Open” sign for thieves, especially on holidays, when everyone seems to shut down businesses.

The market areas have been so secure this year that Tukahirwa is not worried about whether she’ll be robbed, she says.

Abdul Nasser, the owner of a lighting equipment shop, says he took a holiday break and returned to find his stock intact.

“This was no surprise,” he says, adding that he credits local police efforts, as well as strong security in the arcade where he has his business.

Edward Lwanga says his interior décor shop is monitored by security cameras that he can view on his phone.

“I was quite sure nothing would happen, although one cannot rule out any eventuality,” he says.

But Lwanga left his shop over the holiday with confidence, he adds, because local police have created a sense of calm throughout the area.

“This is the time that gives me a breather in life,” he says.