Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Society | Face to face with Kifeesi: A tale of one stolen phone!

"Ku Wilson osanga banyumye, naye nga basiba kiwaani" (On Wilson Road, you’ll oft find them all neat and spruced up, but theirs is a life of deceitful trickery), sang Bobi Wine in "Kiwaani", arguably one of his greatest hits, in 2007. 

10 years since I first came across this jargon, I find myself silently humming to the song on one tepid morning, right in the middle of our beloved metropolis.

The subject of my expedition is an iPhone, a pricey handset that had been snatched from a Caucasian colleague during peak traffic hours on Kiira Road the previous evening, before taking off on a boda. 

The assailant is a dark-skinned slender male with bloodshot eyes, probably between late 20s to 30 years of age, that we shall call X. 

Now, iPhones come with that security feature that allows the user to report the phone as having been stolen or lost.  It then flashes a message on the screen, notifying whoever is in possession of the phone to return it to its rightful owner (I am still Android, unfortunately, so I don’t exactly know how this works). 

X, having possibly tried to unlock the phone in vain, chooses to call the contact. But his rather "charitable" act won’t come cheap. He wants a ransom of sorts, a cool 500K UGX before he can release his catch. A deal is struck, and the phone is to be collected from Pioneer Mall.

My Caucasian buddy is not familiar with this part of town, and that is how an apprehensive me gets sucked into the recovery process (you just do not go to meet a guy who violently wrestled away your phone, in Ugandan speak, "fwaa"). 

Minutes later, we set off for the mission. 

Having mentioned Pioneer Mall, X now asks the person on the other end to find him at Wilson Street before changing to Mutaasa Kafeero at the third time of interaction. 

It’s at Mutaasa Kafeero that a light-skinned, neat and burly chap accosts us, inquiring to confirm if we had indeed come for the phone. 

We had seen him skirt around the initially agreed meeting point but hadn’t really taken note of his movements, for he could have been just another City dweller scouring for his next meal. 

"I have worked with security circles before", says he, switching to a Nkore dialect once we are done with the pleasantries. "Once in a while, I run a few errands for police when they need me", he adds, before the topic changes to our subject of interest. 

It was at this point that he says he is going to hand over the phone, but not in the presence of my buddy. 


What if he chooses some dungeon as the handover venue before asking for more ransom, this time from my own family? I ponder. 

More nerves.

I then wear that veneer I usually assume when I am not sure of the person I am talking to. "So, boss, where do we go from here", I ask. It would be the next street, just below Wilson (the name skips my mind). Like a normal business transaction, he checks the ransom and confirms the amount.

He beckons one of his boys, another slender guy who emerges from the opposite side of the street, left hand seemingly girded. 

A couple of interactions between the two, later, I have the phone in my hands before handing over the ransom. 

"We sometimes help you people to recover your phones – if you cooperate", he says. "I have a group of boys running this, and most times I have no idea where the phone could have been stolen from. The other day we helped some Mzungu woman get her S6 back", he adds.

It turns out that the phone theft business is run by a racket of well organized gangs who choose what to do with every new acquisition, depending on the brand, perceived value or the victim’s attitude. 

If you show up with some security detail of sorts because you want to show your might, chances are that you’ll never meet these gangs or their representative. So you simply forget the phone. 

By changing location, the guys are actually monitoring your movements, just so they are sure you are either alone or they are safe. 

"How about the other items in the wallet – the Credit Cards et al", I ask. He says he would help track them, trying not to show assurance he knows where they were being kept. 

I pretend to believe him. Contacts are exchanged. "0752 xxx xxx. You can call me Hashim London", he signs off before we go separate ways. 

Barely 24 hours later, "Hashim" calls. He has traced the items. And he wants an additional 200K UGX!