Thursday, 22 December 2016

Are We Taking Phone Theft in Uganda Seriously?

I don’t know about you, but shs50.3million is a lot of money to me! Christmas is looming. Tis’ the season of  landlords/landladies tormenting their tenants, debts and bills needing to be paid, children needing to be fed, wives needing a reason to stop nagging, relatives starting to demand, and mistresses needing to be kept quiet. With that in mind, it becomes quite discernible to see why financially-vulnerable individuals are turning into professional phone thieves given the levels of unemployment. It’s an easy side job to maintain that doesn’t require an ‘education’. One need only google phone theft to see that it is growing into a lucrative ‘illegal’ industry all over the world.  If a phone can’t work in the country it was stolen in, it’s simply shipped across the borders and sold to a willing customer. In January 2016 the numbers increased, 104 cases of phone theft were recorded in Kampala. Luckily shs7.5 million worth of phones were recovered and 34 cases actually made it to court. Wouldn't it be useful to enforce legislation that makes it extremely troublesome for stolen phones to enter the market? I think high end brands like Apple are moving towards that….
Holiday Season makes us vulnerable to theft..
According to Uganda Communications Commission, Twenty three million people in Uganda are mobile phone users, six million of those users have smart phones. Our phones enable us to virtually coordinate our personal and professional lives effortlessly. It’s totally changed the way we work because now our employers know we are available 24/7. I know I am not the only person, who’s developed a peculiar attachment to my phone. We record moments in our day on our phones through pictures, audio recordings and videos. Cleverly designed apps connect us to more gadgets, a tablet, a laptop even security cameras in our homes. Whether we like to admit it or not some of us have become brand snobs, because the type of phone we have defines our status in society.  We’d all prefer an iPhone, Samsung or HTC if we can afford it. Some of us haven’t even purchased a car or a small piece of land, but we would never be caught dead with specific brands, our dead body would miraculously chuck the phone out of the coffin if they buried us with it. I won’t name names though; the point I am trying to make is we invest in our phones, on some level they are valuable to us. Our lives are stored on our smart phones. Heck, Mark Zuckerburg has been developing personal assistant with Morgan Freeman’s voice, which coincidently can be run from a phone!?

And yes some would argue that smart phones are becoming more accessible to people of different purchasing power, it’s no longer reserved for the elite few.  Select brands are making affordable smart phones sold at shs300,000 or more. However not everyone can afford one….. so people steal. I guess it’s important to note that some thieves are not stealing because they want a smart phone, but more to acquire the money they get from selling the phone to a dealer, which is probably pennies compared to the original price of the phone.

This brings me to the point of this blog post, last week my phones were stolen. My main phone was stolen from right under my pillow!  

The man who stole my phone had been hired to paint our house over the last two months. Unbeknownst to me, he was given the perfect opportunity to paint my room while I was away for work in Karamoja. During that time, I suspect he went through all my things and learnt that the sliding door in my room was broken.

My second night home back from Karamoja, I woke up in the middle of the night to find a dark figure in my bedroom clutching a phone. He took it from under my pillow! Yes from under my pillow while I was lying on it!? I thought I was dreaming; it’s an extremely rare occurrence to find a man in my room with my phone, so it took a while for my mind to process the visual.  I quietly stood up on the opposite end from him, because the stories of thieves hacking people to death in their homes was now flashing through my mind. What if he had a big panga, or a knife? Should I scream? How many men did he bring into my room? Have they penetrated the whole house? From the dim light of the outside security lights peeping through the net curtains covering the windows, I could see the panic on his face. He appeared unsure of what to do next. So I used this odd juncture to scream loudly. He darted out the open sliding door, ran across the balcony and then he jumped. Fortunately, the security light helped me catch enough of a glimpse to identify the painter, I ran to the bedroom door and called out for my father, who was already making his way up the stairs having heard my screams.

“There was a man, a Man, A MAN in my ROOOOOOM!” I shrieked

My Father had his torch, he reached the balcony and called for the policeman. By now a mixture of angst and rage was churning in my stomach because I had recognised the man. I knew for sure it was the painter. I had watched this man sheepishly work around the house and thought nothing of him. He rarely spoke and when he did he really took his time to comprehend what would appear to be a simple question and then respond, so I assumed he had a speech impediment. He’s eyes with natural slits in the corners, didn’t match is dark brown skin or his small statue. He always sat on chair in the garage like a lost little boy swinging his short legs. He looked like he’d had a difficult childhood. He was always fumbling and fidgeting with the paint brush. All warning sides I ignored. I figured my father knew best. I am now kicking myself for not ensuring that door was fixed. All the phones in room were gone including a box of change and an personal security alarm I kept on my desk.  My father and the policeman agreed to call the Officer in Charge(OC) in the morning.

At 9.30pm a policeman arrived on the OC's behalf , I took him through the whole episode I showed him the abnormally small footprints on the balcony covered in cut grass. He took a picture with his smart phone.  And then low and behold the idiot painter turned up at 10.00 am clean shaven and dressed for work.

Idiot of all Idiots.

He’d already gotten away with phones. What the hell was he doing back?

I pointed right at him and told the policeman

“That is the man! That is THE MAN!”

He unexcitedly looked from the piece of paper from which he was writing my statement and told me he would arrest him after taking our statements.

“Madam, he thinks that he has gotten away with it, don’t worry we shall arrest him.” He reassured me.

 My father rushed to secure the house so that the painter could not leave the premises .Eventually after taking our statements the policeman still with the same calm composure made his way outside, told his colleague to get out of the car and collect the painter, then they drove to the police station. They kept him for 48 hours. But before they put him in the cell, they offered him the chance to give back the phones. He refused. His ‘wife’ called my father multiple times begging for him to be released. But it was in the Police’s hands now. (The man is going to enjoy his Christmas based on the money he made off my phones. BahumBUG!!!! I hope karma intervenes on my behalf. )

I wasn’t a fan of registering my sim card when they started the process. Was it two years ago? But I MUST tell you it’s the best thing that has ever happened, because I recovered all my data including the contacts. I also kept my old number. I’d be surprised if my phones are recovered, and my case is most likely not going to make it to court because I don’t have  the receipts, so apparently I can’t prove that the phones were mine and therefore I have been advised that the judge will throw the case out of court.Yap, it will be thrown out court even though I can identify the thief and caught the desperate fool in the act. I have also learned that even if  you lock your phone there is a ton of free technology online that will allow the thief to remove the sim card and unlock it.

It’s three days to Christmas and I am hearing more and more incidents of theft occurring. We need to be careful they say. But can’t we just take this phone theft thing a little bit more seriously? It’s becoming a business….

Thanks for reading.
Have a Safe & Merry Christmas, Thanks for reading the Happily Flawed Blog this year!
Here are some useful articles I read before writing this:

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