Dashen's Yerer Ber branch was robbed three weeks ago at night, and the police still have not found the suspects.

Elias Fikadu is one young person who has benefited from the aggressive branch expansion of banks in recent years, which has seen the industry litter their storefronts across nearly every neighbourhood of the capital.

Elias, who is married and in his early 30s, has been working for Oromia International Bank for two and a half years and supports his family with the income he earns from the job.

However, over the past year and a half, many branches located in relatively secluded areas are becoming subject to armed robberies.

Elias, who works as a security guard at Oromia International Bank's Bekelcha branch in Yerer, is also alarmed about it.

Along with his two colleagues, he carries out his duties working in shifts. On the day shift, all three guards look after the bank; while on the night shift, two of the guards keep the branch safe.

But after hearing about the increasing bank robberies and the recent robbery of the Yerer Ber branch of Dashen Bank, which is right in front of where he works, he is very wary.

"Even though there were no robbery attempts on our bank," said Elias, "I have to be more cautious and vigilant."

Recently, two branches of Dashen Bank were robbed of nearly four million Br in a month, according to sources close to the case. Three weeks ago, Dashen's Yerer Ber branch was robbed at midnight, and the police still have not found the suspects, according to the same source. The other branch located in Kotebe was also robbed at midnight.

In the past two years, it has become casual chatter to hear about a robbery at bank branches situated in the outskirts of the capital city. In that time there have been robbery attempts on over a dozen branches in the capital including Dashen, Cooperative Bank of Oromia, Abyssinia, Debub Global and Awash.

A total of 16.4 million Br has been robbed from Debub Global Bank, Cooperative Bank of Oromia, Awash Bank, Bank of Abyssinia and Wegagen Bank.

The Jemo branch of Debub is one of the establishments that experienced theft six months ago. An armed group robbed 4.6 million Br from this branch, one of 57 branches of the Bank.

The management of the Bank believes the robbery was allegedly orchestrated by security guards. The Bank used to hire guards from employment agencies for its branches located in the capital. At the same time, it employed the personnel for the regional branches itself.

However, after the incident, the Bank took over the recruitment and employment of its security officers for all its branches, according to top management who wish to remain anonymous.

Debub Global Bank's Jemo branch was robbed of 4.6 million Br by an armed group six months ago.

Even though the robbery was immediately reported to the Addis Abeba Police Commission and the Federal Police Commission, the suspects, including the security guard, are still at large.

Currently, the security of banks is alarming, according to a source from Debub Global Bank, which registered 225.8 million Br in net profit in the last fiscal year.

The Ethiopian Bankers Association also acknowledges the increasing robberies on financial institutions.

Previously, it was uncommon to hear about robbery attempts on banks. But nowadays the crime is becoming more prevalent, according to Abie Sano, president of Oromia International Bank and chairperson of the Association.

"When the rule of law fails, financial institutions are the major target for armed robbers,” said Abie, adding that the absence of accountability for the robberies that are committed is another factor for their increase.

Most of the robberies took place at locations like Lebu and Jemo, which are on the outskirts of the city, because they are suitable for the robbers to escape quickly. The robberies are also typically committed at midnight when there is no human activity.

In the last fiscal year, 807 new bank branches were opened, raising the total number of branches to 5,564. About 34.6pc are located in Addis Abeba.

The total capital of the banking industry increased by 18.4pc and reached 101.5 billion Br by the end of June 2019, according to NBE's report.

The Addis Abeba Police Commission also agrees that most of the robbery attempts happen on the outskirts of the city.

Three months ago, there was a robbery attempt on Oromia International Bank's Beshale branch by a group of robbers who were assisted by internal employees. The attempt failed, and two out of the five suspects were captured.

Oromia International Bank branches located in the capital have had more than three robbery attempts in the past three years, though they were all unsuccessful, according to the Bank.

"We asked the government for weapons to protect branch offices," Abie said, "but still we haven't received an adequate response, and the government is afraid to give us the weapons."

Nowadays, the banking industry has become a hazardous area due to the increasing robberies, according to Deribe Asefaw, CEO of Cooperative Bank of Oromia.

"We care about the public's money, but it is not only that. We don't know for what purpose the robbers are using the money," Deribe said.

Beyond the robberies, the suspects remaining at large frustrated the bankers.

"After the robbery, the suspects were not captured, which makes us give up on justice," complained Habtamu Ebba (Com.), director of the Bankers Association Security Council. “The police's measures are also not enough."

Six months ago, Cooperative Bank of Oromia's Lebu branch was robbed with the help of its security guard. The robbers entered the branch at midnight using the back door and managed to break the safe deposit box.

The suspects, which were armed with guns and knives, robbed 1.7 million Br from the branch. The Bank reported the case immediately to the police and two suspected armed robbers were captured, while the rest escaped.

After the incident, the Bank requested weapons from the government and received 100 Kalashnikov guns. The Bank has also placed security structures at its branches, which were previously installed in the central office only. Besides this, the Bank also hired a security team that checks every branch at night.

Awash Bank's Jacross branch was another victim of a robbery in 2018. The suspects, five in number, robbed 1.1 million Br from the branch at approximately 4:30pm.

When trying to escape on their motorcycles, one of the suspected robbers was caught by the Bank's security personnel, and bystanders around the area apprehended another one.

Staff were on duty when the robbers came in and pulled a gun on the two security guards and took their weapons. The robbers, who were armed with guns and knives, broke the window of one of the counters and a television.

Four suspects who robbed 5.6 million Br from Bank of Abyssinia's (BoA) Tele Medhanialem branch in 2018 were sentenced to 13 years of imprisonment.

One of the main reasons for the increasing number of bank robberies is that the security personnel are hired through employment agencies.

Most of the robberies are committed with the help of the security guards, according to Yared Alemayehu (Insp.), organized crime investigation division head at the Addis Abeba Police Commission.

But Deribe argues that, even though the trend of outsourcing employment through agencies is in its infant stage, the strategy is correct.

"The reliability of the security guards is questionable," Yared said. "The robberies were conducted in groups using weapons, knives and other materials."

To minimise the number of robberies, Yared recommends that the police work in collaboration with the public.

A source from Debub recommends using technology like surveillance cameras, saying they would be ideal for minimising the problem. Still, Abie from Oromia doesn’t agree with this, stating that using security cameras will not be an immediate solution, because the police are not organised to have the resources to respond to a bank immediately when robberies are taking place.

"If things continue like this, it will put the government’s existence in question,” Abie adds. “The banks should also strengthen their internal structures and ways of working to minimise the risk of being robbed.”

Deribe from Cooperative Bank of Oromia recommends that the government more aggressively enforce the law to stop armed robberies.

"The banks should also have stronger structures," he adds. "We pay our taxes, but the government does not provide proper security."

Armed robbery is categorised as a serious crime. It is punishable with rigorous imprisonment of up to 15 years, according to Alemu Dagnew, a criminal law lecturer at Bahir Dar University's School of Law.

“Armed robbery is becoming one of the major problems in the country, and the main cause for this problem is the degradation of social bonds,” Alemu said.

“The government lags in enforcing the law, failing to take serious measures,” he adds. "Besides this, the economic factor and unemployment contribute significantly to the problem."

Simeneh Kiros, a criminal law lecturer at Addis Abeba University's School of Law & Governance Studies, agrees that unemployment has a significant impact.

Simeneh argues that since it is a time of transition, such organized crime is expected. He recommends police assess the risks on the areas that are vulnerable to bank robberies and deploy their forces.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 01,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1031]

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