As Nansana authorities and police struggle to contend with the unnerving gruesome women murders, Police chief Kale Kayihura has created Operation crime prevention, which is getting sex workers off the crime-ridden streets, YUDAYA NANGONZI writes.
Twenty-eight-year-old Judith Nanziri had never imagined a life of prostitution but poverty pushed her into the dreaded job. She has been a prostitute for the last five years.
Married with two children, Nanziri secretly joined prostitution to support her children and nephew.
“Whenever I searched for jobs, I was rejected because they wanted educated people. My husband is a low-income earner and things were not good at all,” Nanziri said in a recent interview, avoiding eye contact.
Out of prostitution, she has put her children through school, looked after her family and religiously paid house rent of Shs 150,000 per month.
She pays about Shs 250,000 per term for one child and about Shs 150,000 for her nephew– her husband rarely chips in.
“Unlike other prostitutes who start small, I have been getting high-end customers. I am also lucky that my husband has never been suspicious of my job,” she said.
“He literally doesn’t know that I am a prostitute. My own children and neighbours don’t know either.”
Although Nanziri used to earn at least Shs 100,000 daily working in Nansana, Ndeeba and the city centre, she abandoned prostitution last month.
She said the spate of unexplained killings targeting mainly fellow sex workers in Nansana shook her to the core and forced her to join Operation crime prevention launched by Gen Kale Kayihura here.
In Nansana, at least 10 women have been killed. And Nanziri suspects she knows the killers: “It is our customers who kill us; nothing else. Sometimes you may disagree on the prices yet he has already used you or maybe someone uses them to kill us for selfish reasons,” she said.
When this writer visited Royal gardens in Kabumbi where beneficiaries have been re-oriented since August, many women told stories similar to Nanziri’s.
Mary Nanozi is a mother of three. She and her husband separated two years ago. She has been a prostitute for eight years. Unlike Nanziri, Nanozi used to earn peanuts.
“I have been working in Nansana alone but men here are mean. In one night, you can sleep with about five men but get between Shs 30,000 and Shs 50,000,” Nanozi, aged 31, said. “Some even don’t use condoms and when you charge them an extra Shs 5,000 or Shs 10,000 as ‘live’ fee, they don’t pay,” she said.
She said the money was too little and she couldn’t afford to pay school fees. In Nanozi’s rented single room, she stays with her children and three other women – also prostitutes.
“Our rent is Shs 70,000 monthly and everyone is supposed to contribute. For meals, we all bring Shs 5,000 per day but sometimes we go without a decent meal since my children eat at school,” she said.
CHANGE OF LIFE
According to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity, there are over 200 people who claim to be former sex workers registered with the programme.
“We have done our best to sieve them…So far, we have about 100 who are truthful and are known to the other women [as sex workers],” the official said.
“There is no need to help someone who has some start-up capital yet these people have nothing to feed their children,” he said.
He said the women have been encouraged to form groups based on their interests and expertise. There are groups of women selling old clothes, food items, charcoal, doing hair salon work and craft work, among other businesses.
Nanziri, now a chairperson of the craft work group, has been joined by 22 former prostitutes. The group got a registration certificate issued to them early this month by the directorate of community-based services in Nansana municipality.
“With assistance from the inspector General of Police, we have so far made small things like hats, dresses, bags and T-shirts. We have not yet got a lot from the business but it has changed our lives,” Nanziri said.
“For one month now, none of my group members has gone back into prostitution because I know all of them and where they stay and what they do. We are focused on working hard instead of [being] killed in the night.”
So far, the group has made three boxes of counter books. The profits from the counter books are used to make bags sold between Shs 40,000 and Shs 100,000; dresses at Shs 50,000 and T-shirts at Shs 35,000, among other items.
For the last three visits at Royal gardens, more than 100 former sex workers have been given Shs 10,000 each in transport refunds at the end of the half-day trainings. The official explained that much as the transport refund is little, it has helped to deter some women from going out at night.
“Women involved in prostitution are very vulnerable to crime. This little we give them is not part of the IGP’s budget. We fundraise from security operatives who dutifully contribute whenever we approach them for support and give them accountability,” the official said.
Last week, other women groups dealing in charcoal and clothes were also given commodities to start new businesses.
Operation crime prevention was created after Kayihura visited Nansana and talked to residents on August 21 and promised to launch the programme.
Since then, he has visited Royal gardens where other groups of piggery, poultry and goat farmers, vendors, welders and washing bay operators occasionally meet Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) extension officers.
To join the groups, one has to fill a Nansana OWC profiling form, which bears a police logo and must be signed by the area local council chairperson. Possession of a national identity card is a must for any intending beneficiary.
Speaking to The Observer last week, Ian Kyeyune, the Wakiso resident district commissioner, said the project is a crime prevention model aimed at securing people in Nansana.
“The programme is spearheaded by the IGP but the president is automatically aware and behind it. Our aim is to reduce the anxiety of our youth who are saying we are in whatever we do because we are unemployed and not supported in any development projects by government,” Kyeyune said.
He said Kayihura tasked them to identify vulnerable people in communities that can easily be used to kill innocent people to get quick money. The project only targets residents of Nansana policing division in areas of Gombe, Nabweru, Nansana, Kyebando, Bujuuko and Kazo.
According to Kyeyune, the first phase of the project targets about 5,000 beneficiaries.
“Registration of beneficiaries ended on Friday [September 22]. Anybody who will not have registered will not go into the first group. However, we have noticed that new people are coming in and we are not turning them away. We are registering them separately to see how to reorganise them as per their interests,” Kyeyune said.
But Nansana East 1 zone general secretary, James Bbaale, doubts whether such employment interventions will end criminality.
“This approach of engaging people in employment ventures is good but I don’t think violent crime can reduce.
For someone to commit a crime, you don’t necessarily need to be unemployed,” Bbaale said.
“There are people who are naturally not satisfied with little things and even if you give them start-up funds, they will continue to be criminals.” Bbaale, however, commended police for setting up new posts in the areas of Yesu Amala, Kabumbi, Katooke and Gganda, as well as night patrols to heighten security.
Recently, Nansana police station was also upgraded to a division headquarters.