Thieves In Uganda And Kenya Increasingly Targeting Churches


MUKONO, Uganda — Groups of thieves across Uganda and Kenya are breaking into churches, stealing and damaging expensive items kept inside the houses of worship.

Since the start of the year, vandals have broken into at least seven churches in Uganda and ransacked them. Several churches in the neighboring Kenya have also been robbed in recent months.  

In the latest incident, which took place during the wee hours of Oct. 8, unknown vandals broke into the Catholic Sub-Parish Church in Kyotera District, Central Uganda, and made off with an unspecified amount of money and musical instruments. Religion Unplugged has learned that the thugs broke the padlock and bolts on the church’s door before accessing the building. 

READ: The Reason Catholic Church Vandalism Isn’t A Big Story?

Paul Ssempa, the parish youth leader, said that after breaking into the church, the vandals stole the church’s piano, amplifiers and unspecified amount of money that had been kept in the “Mother Mary” donation box. He said the stolen amplifiers were bought recently by parishioners to ensure that Mass could be heard througohout the church building.

Dennis Tamale, who serves as Kamaggwa village chairperson, condemned the incident. He also expressed concern over the increased number of thefts targeting places of worship and appealed to local authorities to thoroughly investigate.  

Jamada Wandera, who serves as deputy police commander for the area, confirmed the incident, noting that investigations were underway to trace the suspects. 

Cases of people breaking into churches in Uganda intensified during the pandemic lockdowns, when church buildings were closed for a period of two years. Thugs took advantage of the lockdown to raid the churches, authorities said.  

However, the number of incidents have skyrocketed this year. Uganda Annual Police Crime Report, of which 2022 was the latest one available, indicated that cases of overall break-ins increased from 10,148 in 2021 to 13,826 in 2022 — a 36% rise. 

Cases of thefts also increased from 43,583 in 2021 to 61,508 in 2022, an increase of 41%. The 2022 statistics involve incidents where churches were targeted and Christians reported the cases to police. 

Since the start of this year, vandals have targeted churches in the central Uganda districts of Masaka, Mpigi and Kampala, robbing them of cash and musical instruments. On March 22, unknown thugs broke into the Living Word Assembly Church in Kampala and made off with property worth over $5,000. Police said the thieves stole five laptops, a music processor, a floodlight mixer and a TV screen.

Patrick Onyango, a Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesman, said the thieves sneaked into the church from the backyard during the wee hours of the night and accessed the sanctuary, where the valuables were being stored. He said police retrieved vital information about the attack from a CCTV camera and has also asked members of the public to help them arrest the suspects.

The attack on Living Word Assembly Church occurred two days after another incident at Nswanjere Junior Seminary in Mpigi District about 21 miles (34 kilometers) away. At the seminary, a group of men beat-up and injured three Catholic priests before robbing them of cash, laptops, TV sets and cell phones. They also desecrated the tabernacle inside the chapel, where they also stole unspecified amounts of  cash.

Police said that during the attack, the men injured Godfrey Kyeyune, a priest, Vice Rector Emmanuel Mukukule and Brother John Bosco Mwaasa before robbing them. The injured clergymen were later admitted and treated at Rubaga Catholic Hospital in Kampala.

Paul Ssemogerere, the Archbishop of Kampala, later declared three days of special prayers of reparation for the deconsecrated tabernacle. 

Luke Oweyesigyire, a Kampala Metropolitan deputy police spokesman, assured the public that investigators would do everything possible to bring the perpetrators to justice. No arrests have been made in this case.

Meanwhile, in February, thugs also attacked and robbed four other churches in the Diocese of Masaka. The churches were St. Joseph Lwaggulwe Parish Church in Kyannamukaka Sub County, Our Lady of St. Carmel Bethlehem Parish, St. John Mary Muzeeyi Mpambire Parish Church and Our Lady of Peace Parish Church Kasozi.

Crimes targeting churches have not not spared Uganda’s eastern neighbor Kenya. In August, unknown thugs broke into Holy Trinity Catholic Church Mlimani in Nakuru and stole property, including a chalice, golden cross, bell, incense bowl, holy water bowl and a laptop. That incident came after one on March 20, 2020, at the start of COVID-19 lockdowns, where an unknown group of thieves also broke into the African Independent Pentecostal Church and stole amplifiers and other equipment worth more than $3,000.

As for Uganda, some argue that high poverty levels and unemployment among young people were the reasons for these incidents.

The Rev. Dr. Grace Lubaale of Kyambogo University told Religion Unplugged that a lack of citizenship across Uganda was one of the reasons why thieves were targeting church property.

“Anybody in Uganda can steal public assets and walk away scot-free,” Lubaale said.  

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