Despite the challenges in 2020, Uganda got one thing right, and that was a significant reduction in crime. The 2020 annual crime report by the Uganda police indicates 215,224 cases were reported in 2019 compared to 195,931 cases reported in the year 2020. This is an 8.9 per cent decline in the volume of crimes.
This dip in the statistics was attributed to the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, community monitoring, sensitization, and the installation of surveillance cameras.
However, this delight at the decline in crime was interrupted by a sudden sweeping spate of violent crimes in the month of September this year.
A series of unsolved murders that claimed the lives of more than 25 people in Masaka district has once again triggered a much earlier conversation on the role of technology in curbing down rampant crime. In the latest wave of crime, two domestic terrorism attacks have been registered, claiming the lives of two Ugandans, and injuring several others within two days.
What role can technology play in crime prevention?
In his remarks on the annual crime report, the Inspector General of Police, Martin Okoth Ochola in April said, “As our country evolves and grows in science and technology, so should the police force. We must adopt these developments and take on roles that reflect the changing values and expectations of the society we seek to protect. This, therefore, entails constant training and equipping of our personnel with more advanced knowledge, proper attitude and tools to fight crime.”
The good news is that young entrepreneurs in Uganda have been trying out a few innovations to prevent crime. Anatoli Kirigwajjo is one of those entrepreneurs and like all solutions, his innovation sprung from experiencing a security problem.
Kirigwajjo who lives in Kampala, has not been spared the indignity of losing his property to thieves. The greater Kampala Metropolitan area where he lives has a vibrant population of middle-class workers and traders that makes fertile ground for crime.
Lone thieves and small moderately organized gangs terrorize neighborhoods with their nocturnal break-ins in search of money and objects that can be liquidated on the market. Even for Kirigwajjo, successful burglaries in his own home forced him to confront the problem the best way he knew how.
“The trauma, pain and hustle of working again to replace what was stolen got to me and I went about creating a lasting solution through technology,” he says.
His approach was not just securing the individual, but the community as well as fighting against this widespread and notoriously persistent vice.
In 2018, Kirigwajjo cofounded, Yunga a company that reinforces security through a gadget connected to a mobile phone.
“We are using technology to connect a neighbor to another neighbor and law enforcement through a device that connects to a mobile phone. The gadget has physical buttons which, when pushed, trigger alarms throughout the community. The gadget is also installed at the local police station,” Kirigwajjo says.
Their first pilot was in five households in Kigoowa, a Kampala suburb. The technology has since been embraced in Kirinya, Kiwatule and Kyaliwajjala all together having 400 households on their network and successfully preventing 42 incidents of crime.
The first Yunga device was designed to run on electricity and with the prevalent power surges in mind, it was designed to back up power for three days. After observing that there are many communities in Uganda that exist away from the power grid lines, Yunga also made security devices that operate on solar power.
“There are still many areas in Uganda that are not only away from the electricity grid lines but also too remote for local police stations. By the time households in these areas alert the police, the criminals have already done the damage and gotten away. The Yunga solar device for instance could have benefited the households remotely located from electricity and from the Police to reinforce vigilance and gain community aid in real time,” Kirigwajjo says.
Their growth has happened amidst challenges like insufficient funds and delays in important partnerships. However, Kirigwajjo credits their resilience to support from various partners within the ecosystem.
“90 percent of Yunga’s growth I, attribute to HiiL -The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law,” Kirigwajjo says. Through participating in the accelerator program organized by HiiL, Kirigwajjo has been able to access mentorship and funding that sustained Yunga throughout its first years of existence as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Yunga Co-Founder says while everyone recognizes the value of their product in the ecosystem, for young startups, creating the necessary partnerships with powerful entities like government may not always happen fast enough.
However, if well-established tech hubs and other big players in the ecosystem co-sign on innovations, they can hasten partnerships that facilitate the adoption of these important technologies.
What ecosystem players say
Rita Ngenzi is the Justice Accelerator Head- Uganda, at HiiL. HiiL is a social enterprise devoted to user-friendly justice. HiiL works towards making justice easy to access, easy to understand, and effective through stimulating innovation and scaling what works best.
Ngenzi says technology can aid in crime prevention and reinforcing stability in the community. “Right from ideation stage, we have seen them grow to have partnerships with the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology. We have data showing a decrease in crime in the communities where Yunga is for example, after the introduction of their gadget,” she says.
Regardless of the vivid fruits of technology reducing crime. Ngenzi says that a few factors get in the way of its advancement.
“The space is very traditional. People are accustomed to traditional ways of reinforcing security. We hope to set the tone for people to embrace technological innovation and break the mould. The pandemic has been enlightening in that sense, showing us the importance of technology in every sector. Uganda is now embracing of technology, and it will only get better,” she explains.
As young people continue innovating, Ngenzi says that HiiL is committed to working with various entities like the Justice, Law and Order sector, and local government to provide the necessary support to innovators striving to make the world more peaceful.
With offices at The Innovation Village in Kampala, HiiL and Yunga who are both part of the innovation ecosystem, are testament to the impact that occurs when startups are supported through collaboration.
At The Innovation Village, The Legal Tech Lab is taking lead on catalyzing innovation within the sector.
“Every industry and profession are already on the digital track, in justice, law and order. Innovation is high on our agenda as well,” Hellen Mukasa, the Legal Tech Lab Lead says.
Mukasa says that the abundance of smart gadgets and increasing internet penetration already reflects how prepared the country is for innovation around Law and Order. Digital Innovation can connect communities to security services, increase surveillance and speed up justice processes which would lead to a decline in crime.
To get this work started, the Legal Lab mobilized innovators in the justice, law, and order sector. The plan is to set up programs that will enhance the innovators’ knowledge about building tech-based solutions.
With 22 innovators responding to the call, and 80 percent of the people not at ideation stage, the Legal Tech Lab is ensuring that there is a crop of innovators that will change the Law, Justice and Order scene soon.