New approach clearly needed to curb out-of-control thefts

October 1, 2012

A fresher unwittingly gives her laptop to someone posing to be from UCU’s IT department. The computer is never returned.

An Honours College resident has her laptop and i-Pad stolen through a broken window. A couple of nights later, a camera and money are lifted from the same residence.

A pair of laptops are taken from the home of two staff of the Ugandan Studies Program. Cameras are also stolen during this forced entry.

This, all to start this semester. Yes, welcome to UCU, Mukono’s Thievery Centre, a university in dire need of new thinking on security.

Of course, stealing at UCU, like broader Uganda, is nothing new. Campus security reportedly put ‘corrective measures’ in place months ago after a rash of thefts. It wasn‘t enough. We know now that what’s really needed is a fresh and proactive approach.

One consideration is to finally build a campus perimeter fence. This has been rejected in the past because of cost. Now there’s the rising cost of stolen items and UCU’s reputation.

Then there‘s the question of just who is strolling through UCU‘s gates. Has the time come for staff and students to have photo identification? Should visitors have other forms of clearance?

Certainly, this campus needs more guards, and with better training. Fifteen for days, and 18 at nights – the total quoted previously by UCU‘s security chief – can’t cover 89 acres. Hot spots include certain offices and expatriate residences that now get hit so often, it’s as if anyone can get what they want at will.

The university might also organize sessions on how to better protect our valuables. This is better than simply blaming victims, which, at times, has also happened. No, nobody should be blamed for assuming they have a reasonable level of protection while working or studying here.

When thieves walk into private homes, even occupied homes, or when they cut screens, even when children are on the other side, then what they’re really saying is “I believe that I can get away with this because, well, nobody at this institution can, or cares, to stop me.” No?

This is what happened in my home. Thieves cut a screen, reached into my children’s room and stole a laptop – a gift from a friend – and scared the wits out of them. Months later, my kids still fear shadows of the night. Other UCU families have had similar experiences.

Maybe these brazen incidents have worsened because we haven’t talked enough about them. Our Christian and institutional subcultures easily say to be quiet. “This is embarrassing. We look bad.”

Which is exactly why we should talk openly. We look bad. We can do better. For all the committees that our world our academia can strike, a publicly-accountable security committee has to be the most overdue. Let it explore change, report to us as a community, and lead improvements.

We know that these threats won‘t go away. Technology is falling in price and becoming more accessible. The more laptops we see, the more they become crime magnets with nearby cameras and phones as bonuses.

What’s most disturbing is that a thief can be anyone, including that bright, well-mannered friend in our midst. And inside help? There has to be some. Here are your shillings. Hush now.

Few things are more disturbing than being robbed. When I arrived in Uganda years ago, I was here one week before some cowards smashed my vehicle’s window and took what wasn’t theirs. In a public parking lot. One week.

“Sorry,” the dumbfounded guards said. They looked at the smashed glass lying on the pavement. “Sorry,” they said again.

Well, I’m sorry too. But if sorry is all that I am, I won’t get by in Uganda for long. No, I’m a little more than sorry. I’m outraged.

You should be too.


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October 1, 2012 • Posted in ,
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