’I Was Naked – Blood Was Flowing Out of Me, but They Didn’t Care’

A street vendor’s tale of KCCA law enforcers

When little Ryan Ssemaganda was run over by a KCCA vehicle last month, the incident revived debate on the conduct of the city’s law enforcement officers. The 18-month-old Ssemaganda’s mother had been arrested a day earlier for hawking oranges in the city. The 22-year-old woman was stopped from breastfeeding her son during her incarceration.

Eventually, the KCCA law enforcers offered her time to breastfeed the crying baby, who had been brought by his grandmother. However, they abruptly revoked the permission and, in the process, the baby strayed off to the parking lot where it was crashed by a reversing vehicle.

Before – and even after – Ssemaganda’s death, the way KCCA personnel go after street vendors is law enforcement in its most cruel and inhumane form. Just days after Ssemaganda’s death, and following profuse apologies from the minister for the Presidency, Frank Tumwebaze and KCCA Executive Director Jennifer Musisi, the city authority law enforcers were at it again.

Cat-and-mouse:

It is 10am on a bright Wednesday in the city as I walk towards Allen road, just opposite the New taxi park. The place is congested with pedestrians, but hardly any vendor. In the midst of the congestion, one can spot the most outstanding outfit – the yellow shirts and black trousers of KCCA law enforcement officers.

They move in groups of three or four. Meanwhile, some vendors who brave the conditions to sell their items crane their necks to study every step the enforcers make in what appears like a cat-and-mouse game. The vendors alert one another to beware of confiscating their merchandise.

In a flash, two enforcement officers confiscate jackets of one of the vendors. He looks on as his stock is thrown onto a KCCA pickup truck while others scamper towards Kisekka market – some jump into the Nakivubo channel.

The KCCA teams depart and some defiant vendors return to the street again. In a poor attempt at camouflage, they wrap their goods in tattered brown sacks and pitch camp in various places like stranded commuters.

Vendors’ tales:

Maria Namuddu, 26, has worked as a street vendor for the last five years, selling women’s knickers, handkerchiefs, men’s socks, boxers. The Kyengera-based mother of two says she loves her job but the brutality and high-handedness of KCCA law enforcement officers while executing their duties leaves her in tears.

“It pains me a lot that they pull us like chicken thieves,” says Namuddu. “When you fight back, they beat you up.”

Before the interview continues, she shouts: “Nalwadda gyawo ebintu byaffe obusajja buubwo” (Nalwadda, remove our stuff the men are coming).

Within seconds, two men in plain clothes swoop, their KCCA identity cards swinging around their necks. Namuddu jumps with her merchandise into a culvert along Nakivubo channel. Although Namuddu has been to the KCCA court thrice, and was once taken to Luzira for two months after failure to pay a fine of Shs 500,000, her biggest nightmare came in July.

“KCCA men were many that day,” she starts. “They came in plain clothes and took all my things worth Shs 50,000. They wanted to throw me on their pick-up [truck]. They pulled my skirt and tore my knickers yet I was in my monthly periods. I got ashamed because blood started flowing down my legs. I was naked but they didn’t care.”

Now sobbing, Namuddu adds that an unidentified woman stopped the KCCA officials from taking her and wrapped a piece of cloth around her waist. Namuddu was later admitted to Mulago hospital for two months after sustaining several injuries. She shows me deep scars on her right leg and left palm.

According to other female vendors who preferred anonymity, the KCCA law enforcers undress women as “a tactic” to shame them into surrendering their merchandise.

“They [KCCA] should also deploy female officers in the city,” says Namuddu. “I was undressed that day [and] many more women will be victims of these rude men.”

Robert Kalumba, the KCCA deputy spokesman, defends the law enforcers, saying the vendors have to be eliminated from the city centre by all means necessary.

“People should remember that vending is illegal,” he says. “It is so absurd that an illegal person is saying I should be handled like this. I would suggest that they stopped vending.”

Asked about the vendors’ complaints of being arrested by plain-clothed people who they are not sure are law enforcers, Kalumba says they are undercover they only help KCCA monitor the streets but are not supposed to arrest vendors.

Vending days:

Joyce Nakamatte, a fruits and bread vendor on the same road, also has scars she says came from scuffles with KCCA law enforcers. The 28-year-old says when they are not fighting with the law enforcers, they are being forced to part with some money in exchange for their merchandise.

“They come and take your things of Shs 10,000 but ask you to pay Shs 20,000 to return them. In case you refuse, they pack everything in their bags,” she says, adding that some officers share the merchandise rather than take it to City Hall.

Sometimes, according to Nakamatte, the law enforcers hire taxi conductors to help them confiscate their merchandise when they fail to pay the agreed-upon bribe.

“We have no one to tell that all this is happening because even Musisi doesn’t like us and will never come downtown to listen to our views,” says Nakamatte, who was once incarcerated at City Hall for two days.

“If KCCA gives us Saturday and Sunday as the only vending days, we shall be grateful,” she said.

New stations:

Peter Kalanzi, a 35-year-old vendor, says that since KCCA evicted them from the taxi parks, he has worked as a ‘mobile vendor,’ he works from any street where he feels that he is out of reach of the KCCA law enforcers.

Nevertheless, the long arm of the law catches up with Kalanzi every once in a while. The eye shades and watches vendor says that since January, he has lost merchandise worth Shs 600,000 in KCCA operations.

Kalanzi says since their evictions, KCCA has never bothered to allocate another place for vendors to do their business, which would have been one way of ending the incessant fights.

“The way KCCA is doing its work is not good at all,” he says. “Musisi should know that if she doesn’t work closely with us, she will never kick vendors out of the city.”

Not above the law:

KCCA officials say law enforcement officers are supposed to follow the law, like any other city authority officials. According to Kalumba, since KCCA took over city operations, more than 146 law enforcement officers have been dismissed over indiscipline and corruption.

Kalumba says the enforcement officers’ job is to impound the merchandise and hand over to court. The merchandise, he says, is only used as evidence in court and cannot be returned to the suspect. For one to be recruited as an enforcement officer, they must have completed their A-levels.

Once their application for the job is accepted, the enforcers go for oral interviews and physical tests carried out by the police. The successful candidates sign a four-month renewable contract.

Kalumba says they are then subjected to a customer care skills training programme organised by the KCCA human resource office “to teach them how to handle clients and the different situations while on duty”.

Currently, KCCA has at least 340 law enforcement officers. Kalumba urges all members of the public to use numbers inscribed on the uniforms of their officers to report any complaints at City Hall and Police.

Source : The Observer

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