Entebbe, formerly known as Port Alice, is a major historical town in Central Uganda, and a former command post for British colonialists.
Located on a Lake Victoria peninsula, the area is known to be a silent place and safe haven for residing in. Having been a seat of government for the Protectorate of Uganda, prior to Independence in 1962, it got its glory for being the host of Uganda’s only international airport, having the army airbase and marine headquarters and also being the location of State House, the official office and residence of the President of Uganda. The place is internationally known for the dramatic rescue of 100 hostages kidnapped by the resistance group of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Revolutionary Cells (RZ) organisations in 1970s - now termed as Entebbe Raid.
Having been a seat of the protectorate government, Entebbe had up to 1990s hosted most government ministries and was planned in a way that it had all government ministry staff quarters for the top managers and junior staff that partly explains it being a residential area.
Save for a few shops in the middle of the town and emerging towns like Kitooro, Katabi, Lunyo and Nakiwogo among others, the quiet peninsular is surrounded by army forts with State House barracks overlooking it at Nsamizi hill, the marine base at most strategic waterways and the air base near the airport that partly provides security to the place.
The area started becoming a recreation and tourism centre with the establishment of the Uganda Wildlife Educational Centre (former Entebbe Zoo) and later, private individuals started setting up beaches, attracting people from Kampala making it a beehive of activity over the weekends.
The trend had gone on for some time until recently, when the United Nations changed its base for Democratic Republic of Congo missions in Entebbe to a United Nation Service Mission for Africa. The mission that permits UN workers to come with their families then started changing Entebbe both socially and economically.
People started upgrading their homes to make them decent to tap into the new UN family market while schools like Entebbe Junior, German Secondary School and Entebbe International School started venturing into internationally accepted syllabuses. More bars started opening up and several Kampala night spots opened branches in Entebbe like Faze 3, Steak out and Protea Hotel among others. New shopping malls, forex bureaus and banks have since emerged. Those offering basic services such as motorcyclists and barbers were not left out as they started hiking their prices. For instance, the price of a hair cut in Kitooro town has increased from Shs1,500 to Shs20,000 per head depending on your negotiation power or the way the barber looks at you. Boda bodas too charge between Shs3,000 to Shs20,000 for distances within Entebbe.
Ever since the UN started operating the United Nation Service Mission for Africa, rent in Entebbe has risen by almost 200 per cent with the rent of a decent two bedroomed house increasing from Shs400,000 initially, to about $600 (about 1.4m) per month while a decent four-bedroomed house went up from $300 (about Shs744, 000) to about $3,000 (about Shs7.4m) per month.
Mr John Barenzi, 72, a retired civil servant, senior resident of Entebbe, businessman and a landlord who has lived in Entebbe from 1980s, recalls Entebbe being a very quiet place that had even never been affected by war in the past turbulent years. It was a town, he says, that kept growing gradually. He, however, has seen drastic development since the establishment of the UN missions.
“Since the emergence of the base, the population created demand for all commodities and people with decent, accessible homes offered them for rent and looked for other places to live,” he says.
Mr Barenzi says more supermarkets and bars have increased and Entebbe is a busy place now, especially in the evening hours after work and on the weekends. Barenzi however notes that Entebbe hasn’t got serious investors to make use of the fresh waters that surround the peninsular.
Derrick Caggon, was a former chief procurement officer for East African region in the UN. After his 33 years of service, he applied for permanent residence in Uganda and started residing in Entebbe. The 57-year-old Briton then set up two bars in Entebbe, the Four Turkeys bar and Nicky’s Pizzeria.
He says from the time the UN changed its mandate to operate a peacekeeping mission in Africa, he started preparing pizza and other food stuffs loved by Whites.
Apollinaris Kizito, an architect in Entebbe, is also smiling at the returns he is making. He is the proprietor of Entebbe Flight Motel about 500 metres from the United Nations base in Entebbe.
Kizito says the place was formerly his home before he changed it into a restaurant, conference and accommodation centre.
“I left my accommodation fees cheap but I get overwhelming numbers and I refer others to nearby decent hotels,” Mr Kizito says.
“They come for three days to a week and visitors eat the food, use my conference centre for trainings and workshops and I don’t regret,” he says.
Entebbe Mayor Vincent De-Paul Kayanja says the presence of the UN in Entebbe has greatly impacted Entebbe’s economy stating that people with rentals have got money because majority of the UN workers sleep in Entebbe.
“They have missions in Sudan, Somalia, Congo and get the workers from Entebbe that has greatly helped to lower the youth unemployment in Entebbe,” he remarks.
He says some UN people rent guest houses and hotels permanently as their homes and that has boosted the livelihoods of the people who own them and the ones they employ.
The mayor says this development is a blessing because it has supported a sizeable number of youths in the area and led to a growing number of new buildings, tourism and increased taxable base as Entebbe Municipality.
Entebbe Sub district Deputy Resident District Commissioner Ms Sarah Bananuka says there is economic competition in Entebbe with many supermarkets coming up and more decent homes are being built.
“Land in Entebbe has increased (its premium) by 1,000 per cent and Entebbe is becoming a first class citizenry town,” she notes.
Ms Bananuka says if Entebbe is properly planned, slums in the area could disappear in the next 10 years and Entebbe could become the number one city of Uganda.
She adds, an acre in Entebbe town was about Shs40m five years ago but has since risen to between Shs500m and Shs1b.
Enjoy good security
Other than social and economic factors, the UN base has also boosted security in Entebbe with the area being put on high security alert. Recently, the police anti-terrorism squad made an emergency visit to all bars and hotels in Entebbe at night to assess their vigilance. A bar, The Trap was told to relocate as the police cited terror threats.
Although the UN has helped transform Entebbe, their emergence has not been welcomed by everyone.
Mr Moses Lubulwa, a resident says their emergence has increased the number of sex workers in Entebbe (and) they charge their customers in dollars.
“The bars have sex workers, some of whom come from Kampala to tap the foreigners’ market in Entebbe,” he says. Recently, Court in Entebbe on July 30 sent a commercial sex worker to jail for stealing $1,400 (about Shs3.5m) from a top United Nations envoy while in a cottage in Entebbe.
Shamim Namakula a.ka. Sandra, 30, was sent to Kigo prison for stealing from Tadesse Tesfci, an air operations assistant at the United Nations African Mission base.
According to Namakula who openly told Court that she earns a living from commercial sex and operates in various bars of Entebbe and Kampala, Tadesse approached her while in a bar at Entebbe seeking her services.
“I told him people pay for my love and we agreed he would pay me $100 (about Shs240,000),” she said, adding that Tadesse after the act only paid her $20 (about Shs48,000) saying he would pay the rest after she offered more services.
“I felt I had been used and waited for him to sleep and picked his money from his pocket because I have a family and parents to look after,” she said.
Tadesse, however, denied Namakula’s claims saying she stole the money after using some chemicals to put him to sleep.
Ronald Ssevume, a resident of Kiwafu says it is absurd that youth operating in Entebbe cannot afford to buy land or rent decent houses with the presence of the UN missions.
“Although the UN have employed a sizeable youth population, youths cannot buy land in Entebbe,” he noted.
He, along with others, fear prices of usual commodities will also go up when more staff come in.
He adds that social amenities in Entebbe are becoming more expensive with beer prices shooting up to Shs4,000 from Shs2,500 because of the UN market.
Whatever the impact of the UN force is, it is clear that the face of Entebbe is changing.