Counting the Cost: Battling Phone Snatchers on Kampala’s Streets

kenyan police dismantle ugandan phone theft ring in nairobi
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The Perils of Phone Theft in Kampala: A Personal Account


  • Kampala’s Growing Phone Theft Problem: A Firsthand Experience
  • On the Prowl for Phones: Unveiling the Epidemic of Theft in Kampala
  • Counting the Cost: Battling Phone Snatchers on Kampala’s Streets

In a bustling city where traffic jams are a daily ordeal, the act of snatching smartphones has reached alarming proportions. As I reflect on my experiences over the past year, I find myself at the heart of a growing dilemma: I’ve lost four phones, totaling Shs6 million in value, to these audacious phone thieves.

This epidemic of phone theft is sweeping through Kampala, fueled by a perfect storm of factors that make it a lucrative venture for criminals. It’s a perilous situation for anyone commuting in the city. In my quest to share my personal story and raise awareness, I hope to shed light on the severity of the problem and offer cautionary lessons for others.

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The First Encounter

The sequence of events began when I found myself pursuing a phone thief who had leaped into a sewage channel, spurred on by some inexplicable impulse. Passersby became my cheerleaders as I summoned the courage to confront the thief. Ultimately, he abandoned the phone, leaving me with a sense of pride in returning it to its rightful owner. It was a bizarre introduction to the world of phone theft, and it foreshadowed more encounters to come.

The Battle on Mawanda Road

A few years later, my perspective on phone theft took a harsh turn. While stuck in a traffic gridlock on Mawanda Road, I had a fierce confrontation with criminals who attempted to snatch my laptop bag. A boda boda rider attempted to intervene, but the odds were stacked against us. Although they managed to escape with my phone, we successfully prevented the theft of my newly acquired laptop. This incident added to my growing understanding of the phone theft problem in Kampala.

A Frustrating Visit to the Police

Losing my phone on a boda boda ride prompted my daughter to advise against using phones while on the road. Still bewildered by the incident, I reported it to the police at Mawanda Road an hour later. However, the response I received was disheartening. The officer acknowledged the prevalence of smart and daring phone thieves in the area but did little to instill confidence. This encounter only added to my apprehension about the state’s ability to address this issue.

Lightning Strikes Twice: A Lesson on Vulnerability

I was under the impression that phone snatching was primarily an issue on busy streets. I believed I could safely use my phone when on the Northern Bypass. However, this illusion was shattered on April 5, 2023, when a thief forcibly grabbed my phone through the open car window during a traffic jam. The experience made me realize that no place was immune to such theft.

The Unfortunate Reoccurrence

On September 11, 2023, I was once again a victim of phone theft, this time briefly stopping in a traffic gridlock near the Mulago junction. The thief escaped with my phone despite my attempt to chase him. A visit to the police was met with little enthusiasm, as it had become apparent that these thefts were alarmingly commonplace.

The Relentless Phone Snatchers

A day later, my phone was snatched while briefly stopped in a traffic jam near Mulago junction. After giving chase, I realized I was up against a group of three thieves. It seemed that no precaution could completely guard against their audacity. Reporting the incident to the police was met with indifference, highlighting the systemic challenges in addressing this problem.

A Cycle of Loss

After losing four phones, it is evident that the financial cost of these thefts is substantial, totaling Shs6 million. This account serves not only as a means to vent pent-up emotions but also as a stern warning to everyone. The streets of Kampala harbor rogue elements who require minimal provocation to snatch your smartphone.

The losses were not just financial; they also led to data loss, including stories and content with valuable recordings. Some of the phones contained critical items like ATM cards and national identity documents, making the recovery process even more complicated. Replacing the SIM card has become a challenge due to new requirements, with my case now being handled by the Uganda Communications Commission.

The Growing Epidemic

Phone theft is no longer an isolated issue; it is one of the leading crimes in Uganda, with 6,936 mobile phones stolen in 2022. According to the 2022 Uganda Police annual crime report, Kampala Metropolitan North and South recorded the highest number of phone theft cases. This problem remains pervasive and challenging to address.

A Daunting Reality

These incidents and the prevalence of phone theft have led me to recognize the grave nature of this issue. It’s not just about the monetary loss; it’s about the invasion of privacy, the risk to personal safety, and the frustration of navigating a system ill-equipped to tackle this problem. My hope is that by sharing these experiences, we can collectively raise awareness and demand better solutions for this growing epidemic.

The reality is that in Kampala, the menace of phone theft looms large, and everyone is a potential target. Stay vigilant, stay safe, and keep your phones secure.

Statistics on Phone Theft in Uganda (2022)

Region Number of Phone Thefts
Kampala Metropolitan North 936
Kampala Metropolitan South 843
Total 6,936

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