A week earlier, the capital and its suburbs were in their element. They were thriving. Bustling. Sleeping in the wee hours or at sunrise. Kampala had been teeming with many revellers dancing and drinking the nights away.
Not until coronavirus knocked at the doors.
With President Museveni’s pronouncement on Wednesday last week suspending all bars and nightclubs for the next one month, everything changed.
What began as an ignorable virus thousands of kilometres away in Wuhan, China, in December last year had quickly mutated into a pandemic and had come home; hitting where it matters most for Kampala’s weekend social life – the bars and nightclubs.
From Nansana, Bwaise, Kawempe, Kireka, Kabalagala, Kansanga, Wandegeya, Kamwokya, to Lugogo, Kololo, Muyenga, Ntinda, and Kira, among others, the bars and nightclubs came to a standstill by Saturday night.
The music went mute; gates were closed, and lights put out, although it had to take security operatives to arrest some – to save them from themselves – as they drank from dark corners, especially on Friday evening.
A team of Daily Monitor reporters visited several nightspots without and within the city to take stock of what had become of Kampala on Friday and Saturday.
A waitress draped in an orange apron at Nanfuka Pork Joint, Kireka, leaned forward and muttered a word to a customer on Saturday evening. She had served him a cold beverage, which he quickly put below the table from where he would retrieve to sip from it at intervals.
When we inquired, the waitress had stressed that security operatives were moving around to arrest anyone operating a bar. But theirs was just a pork joint!
All other bars around remained closed on Saturday after several arrests on Friday night when many opened the gates ‘for the last time’.
Social media uproar
Many residents in Kireka and Namugongo had taken to social media on Friday night to complain about the bars that were going about their business despite the President’s directive. But it was only until security operatives swung into action.
A woman who runs a small bar, locally referred to as kafunda, said they would continue hosting patrons because they usually have few clients.
At Nansana, Kawempe and Bwaise, the places with usually busy nightlife, out of eight clubs visited, only one was on full lockdown by Friday.
At Los Angeles, a nightclub in Kawempe, the usually “noisy” place was quiet with the main entrance closed.
However, few people could be seen accessing the club through the rear gate. We gave it a try only to be stopped by a guard. “What do you want, don’t you know this place is closed?” he charged.
In the distance, inside the poorly lit club; we could see a few people – roughly 20 – enjoying their evening with crowded tables.
Eden and Jenina nightclubs in Nansana remained closed.
However, the bufundas were up and running. Urban Village Bar in Nansana was a full house. The same happened at Ronnex Bar and M & G Sports Bar.
At Kansanga and Kabalagala, bars and nightclub owners had to battle with the security who were on high alert to effect President Museveni’s directive.
The Local Defence Unit (LDU) officers, police and army were heavily deployed at the bars and nightclub access points to enforce the directive. Kabalagala’s Capital Pub, Club Sembelino, and Family Bar had padlocks and chains at their entrances.
Revellers, however, decried of the high-handed approach the enforcers applied in process of shutting down the bars.
“I do not know why the army came into this because they are harsh and handling people in an extremely inhumane manner. They [army and police] are just beating us up with no reason,” Mr Joel Mpata, a patron, said. “It is like the order is for them [security officials] to beat and rough up people just like that! Police found me negotiating with a boda boda cyclist and just beat me up without even saying a word,” he added, revealing a swelling on his left arm.
The shutdown took with it a section of business people – the street vendors - who depend on partygoers for snacks.
In Kansanga, police’s Field Force Unit and LDU officers combed through Q&M Bar and Restaurant, Makutano Bar, and Degogo Bar to smoke out all people who had defied the government orders.
At Crown Casino at Kololo Courts, there was a battle on Friday night as Ugandan ladies clashed with their Chinese friends after the latter reportedly failed to pay them for the services offered.
In Ntinda, Najjera and Kira, most of the popular entertainment places were deserted with a handful of workers, especially security guards and administrators taking care of the premises. At Old Timers in Ministers’ Village, a few customers could be seen at the premises by 7pm.
When we stopped by Super Wines and Spirits in Ntinda to find out if people had opted to take drinks home, Ms Lillian Peace, the manager, said the sales had not changed.
“The sales are as usual, people are coming to pick their drinks as they have always done. There is no big difference,” she said.
At Gomba Pub and Pork Joint Kiwatule, much as the main entrance was closed, the proprietors left a small entrance open and partiers could be seen drinking from their vehicles.
Bar managers speak out
According to Mr Ivan Kakooza, the managing director of Nexus Lounge, Najjera, he had never experienced such a Friday [March 20] for the last five years they have been operating. He said they stopped more than 30 staff from working and were trying to sell food but the turn up was very poor. He expressed fear that the 32-day ban announced by the President would breed thugs.
At Isablella Restaurant and Bar, Mr Gordon Nxiwamanya, the manager, said the few people who were there were taking tea and some food.
Other bars such as Log In Café, the Venti hotel and spa, Tropix, and Max Lounge in Kyaliwajjala had dim lights without music and revellers.
At Ntinda on the road leading to Kyambogo, bars remained open up to beyond midnight, with revellers taking beer as if no directive had been issued.
At Kamwokya, on the road leading to Kyebando, revellers were whipped to maintain silence, as this would attract security officials.
A team of youths made sure those who drank conversed in low tones and those who became noisy were sent away.
Compiled by Franklin Draku, Tony Abet, Arthur Wadero, Stephen Otage & Allan Chekwech