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How concerts have become dens of thieves

Revellers enjoying Bebe Cool’s concert. Unfortunately, not everyone who attends big shows is there to watch the artiste. Some  are there to tob showgoers valuables like mobile phones. Photo by Eddie Chicco.

We have all heard stories of people who lose valuables like phones, wallets or handbags at concerts. A Sqoop investigation reveals that these are not just random happenings, but organised crime by thugs who can’t wait for the next show, write Emmy Omongin & Emma Ikwap.

Last Friday, singer Bobi Wine held a free mega concert at the Lugogo Cricket Oval. But several people who lost valuable items like mobile phones to thugs must have learnt that free things can indeed be expensive.

Unfortunately, showgoers not only lose their property at free shows but also at events where they have dug into their pockets to gain entrance.

While revellers look forward to attending a show to watch their favourite, some other people are also eagerly waiting for other reasons. These are gangs of thieves that “work” at these shows robbing people of items like mobile phones, silver and gold ornaments like necklaces, earrings, bangles, watches and in many instances ladies’ handbags with all their belongings.

At the recent Bebe Cool concert, two boys standing next to the entrance of the venue were whisked into a police bus as the show went on. “Those boys are criminals. They were making plans to rob revellers after the show is done,” the officer only identified as Okwir told us.

But they are not only outside the venue as we witnessed a robbery in Lugogo Cricket Oval while Jamaican artiste Konshens performed recently. In the middle of the crowd were two guys who beat up a girl because she had refused to hand them her phone which she had been using to record Konshens’ performance. For refusing to hand over her phone peacefully, they also made off with her handbag. And unfortunately, many other neighbours who had her scream thought she was shouting in excitement as their eyes were also glued to the stage.

After the show, several people who dared to pull out their phones to make a call fell victim to the robbers.

These gangs of organised criminals have taken to concerts to make a living. The bigger the show, the higher the number of gangs (they move with knives, pangas, razor blades and other weapons to hurt those resist).

Organised crime
These gangs are led by bosses or commanders who deploy them in different areas of operation. Sqoop made investigations that led us to the ringleaders of these gangs who did not hesitate to grant us interviews. Ssula (second name withheld for security reasons) is the leader of a gang called Abepanda that camps in Katwe. “We do not steal because we want, we do so because people at these shows just throw away money on booze and girls yet there are so many people like us that lack something to eat in order to survive,” he tried to justify his actions when we spoke to him.

According to Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, Ibin Ssenkumbi, police has managed to arrest a few leaders and other gang members and is still in the course of arresting others. “Our intelligence has brought forward leads to gangs like Kifesi from Makindye, Lipanda from Katwe and Kikosi from Nakulabye, among others,” he adds. “Many of them” he says “are in custody and some have been remanded to Luzira prison. We have Kifesi’s leader (the most dangerous gang that sometimes stab people) Paddy Sserujoji commonly known as Ssubi locked up in Luzira.”

Planning the attack
These gangs organise prior to the event and get specific spots to camp at during the show. They plan how, who to attack and what to steal. Some camp outside the venue and others pay to enter (if they did not get free tickets as some of them have made connections with big artistes and show promoters). One gang member Ssenyonjo (not real name), says, “We rarely pay entrance fee. The tickets we get are from promoters and musicians.” “Some of us enter to ‘work’ while the show is going on and others stay outside to wait for those getting out when the show ends. We are always well equipped with knives to stab, not to kill but scare those that resist,” he reveals.

Ssenyonjo also adds that most of them move with razor blades to cut pockets of those that are drunk, they also use many other sharp objects in case of resistance. “Some of us move with money to bribe policemen in case they arrest any of our colleagues in the course of ‘work’,” he adds. Sometimes, the police gets some of them but they are their brothers’ keepers. “We are united and strong, if one is caught, he will not tell where the rest are because unity is our motto.” says Ssula.

Whereas most of them went to school and dropped out, others completed their studies but cannot get jobs or are just addicted to the vice, which they find lucrative.

When asked how they spend their ill-gotten money, Suula breaks it down, “Some of us use constructively while others use it to buy either clothes, drugs and gamble. There are few who go to school. Of course this (robbing) is their source of income.”

The target
According to Ssula, the gangs mostly target phones, ladies bags, golden and jewerelly. “Women usually have shoes, expensive phones, and many other accessories which are of great value to us. And besides, women are weak, all they do is cry when we grab their bags.”

Franklyn Nampanga a victim recalls, “Last year after Sean Paul’s concert, as I walked along Jinjja Road with my boyfriend at around 1.20am, a group of about 20 men surrounded us and in just a minute they had taken my bag where I had placed my phone, other shoes, money and make-up. My boyfriend lost his phone, watch and the shoes he was putting on.”

Ssekumbi says most crimes committed include snatching of bags and phones, vandalising cars, and theft of shoes among others. “We have intercepted a few who are helping us with various investigations, the challenging bit is that not all of them give accurate information and the whereabouts of their other colleagues,” he adds.

Ssenkumbi reveals that they normally arrest 50 to 70 robbers, if it is a local artiste holding a concert and approximately 100 to 200 robbers if it is an international artiste holding a concert. “For example, we arrested over 150 thieves during the Sean Paul concert and more than 100 during the P-square show. When we arrest them, they are taken to court and charged. We normally deploy police officers depending on the size of the place or artiste holding a concert, for example for the recently concluded Pastor Wilson Bugembe’s show, we only sent 80 police officers because we expected low crime rate and it went on peacefully,” says Ssekumbi. He also adds, “If it is a venue like Lugogo, we usually send about 500 to 700 officers.”

Groups and where they operate from
Our investigations led us to the various gangs and their areas of operation.

They operate on the streets of Kibuli, Namuwongo and surrounding areas. They move in a clique of eight to 10 people and use knives, pangas and chloroform for robbing. They “work” during shows that take place in Ggaba.

Happy Street
This gang basically uses roller skates in areas of Kabalagala, Kansanga, Ggaba, Nsambya and Entebbe Road. They use skates to steal people’s handbags and phones through clinging on a car and forcefully grabbing items that are inside the car, usually during the traffic jam as revellers leave the show. They “work” at shows that are staged in Ggaba.

This is the biggest gang in Kampala with sub cliques like Nato, Babuni and Lipanda. They are based in Katwe. They operate along Queen’s Way, Clock Tower, Entebbe Road and surrounding areas. These gangs consist of boys of about seven to 18 years but they also have adults among their ranks. The young ones “work” mainly during high school events like Buzz events, High School Kadanke and Miss Teen whereas the adults operate during the late night shows (album launches and concerts).

They normally steal gadgets like laptops, phones, handbags, golden and silver jewellery and also pick pocket. They use knives, broken bottles and chloroform.

This clique also has branches in Mengo, Kisenyi, Zzana, Makindye and Kibuye among others.

This gang is based in Nkere Zone, Makindye. They operate around Nsambya, Kasubi and Bwaise. They mainly use iron bars and knives. Their main focus is shows at the beach.

So next time you are enjoying a concert, know that some people are just after that smart phone you are using to take photos of your favourite artiste.

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