KAMPALA, UGANDA – For the first time in its history, Uganda's police force has deployed a specialized team of investigators with the resources, training and mandate to respond to property grabbing crimes. At an event organized by IJM in December 2013, the Ugandan Police Force officially launched six new Property Grabbing Prevention Desks in Mukono District. The desks were resourced by IJM and the Ugandan Police Force and will be manned by IJM-trained investigators.
"A day when widows and orphans no longer have reason to fear that their homes and land will be taken from them can only come through our police officers," declared Assistant Inspector General of Police Edward Ochom, who officially launched the desks and accepted the equipment provided by IJM on behalf of the Ugandan Police.
Protecting Widows and Orphans
Property grabbing disproportionately affects widows and orphans. When a husband or father passes away, a stronger community member or relative often seizes that opportunity to take the land, home or small business enterprise that should belong to the woman or her children.
"A day when widows and orphans no longer have reason to fear that their homes and land will be taken from them can only come through our police officers"
--Assistant Inspector General of Police
Uganda has laws to protect vulnerable widows and orphans, but they are rarely enforced by police. If a woman reports being evicted, she will usually be turned away and told to settle the matter within her family.
IJM Uganda has been working with local authorities to combat property grabbing since 2006. By helping women like Grace—who faced death threats from more powerful community members—IJM has identified both why the justice system fails to protect vulnerable widows, and what needs to happen to make justice possible.
IJM Provides Training, Resources
Over the last three years, IJM has ramped up efforts to equip the police and courts in Mukono County with tools to address property grabbing as a serious crime. IJM has trained more than 250 Ugandan police officers—who had never received formal training on specific laws against property grabbing.
"Each time we trained police officers on property grabbing matters we were happy that they showed signs of improvement in knowledge, skills and attitudes," says IJM Uganda Director of Structural Transformation Juliet Musoke. "But it was always frustrating to learn that in many instances, the police were unable to respond to crime and arrest perpetrators due to lack of means to reach the crime scene."
As a response, IJM and the Uganda police department demonstrated a sustained commitment to fighting this crime by establishing the six Property Grabbing Prevention Desks in December 2013, with five more scheduled to open in 2014. IJM provided each police station with basic equipment, including a desk and chair, motorcycle, log books and office supplies.
Now these officers will not only know what to do, but they will have the resources to respond.
The Multiplier Effect
On December 13, IJM and leadership from the Ugandan Police Force hosted a ceremony to launch the new Property Grabbing Prevention Desks.
The mayor of Mukono County said, "The majority of property grabbing victims are unable to defend themselves. We are very grateful for the resource of these desks to provide defense to them."
Assistant Inspector General Ochom commended IJM's efforts to train and equip his officers and declared his hopes for widespread impact: "If everything is implemented from the training these police have received, when we arrest and charge property grabbing offenders, it will have a multiplier effect, restraining other perpetrators from these crimes."
"Now our police have not only been trained," he said, "but these desks provide them with the resources that will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of protecting the poor, vulnerable widows and orphans of this country."
One newly instated Property Grabbing Prevention Desk Officer echoed this sentiment simply: "Because of these desks, we can respond as we always should have."