Different makes, brands and models are piled on top of one another in different stages of their death. Hovering around are scrap dealers waiting to grab the skeleton leftovers. Welcome to Mambule car graveyard in Bwaise, Kawempe Division, Kampala.
Car wreckages are collected from all over the country and deposited here for their last days as they are ripped apart one piece after the other until the final remains are taken to a steel milling factory for their epitaph.
It is from here that a car is dismantles and its parts are scattered in the East African region and beyond.
Traders come from as far as DRC, Kenya, Tanzania, and Southern Sudan looking for spare parts.
How it started
What started more than 40 years ago as a sole proprietorship has given birth to a whole industry, creating hundreds of direct jobs and thousands more indirectly. Having started from a small piece of land less than a 10x10ft on the defunct Mambule Road, the graveyard now covers several acres.
It has now grown into an association of traders; Mambule Road Spare Parts Trader’s Association. According to the association’s defence secretary, Salongo Kadali, as the number of traders and cars increased, there was need to form an association to unite them in the business.
“This business was started by the late Mohammed Mugalu more than 40 years ago. He started by buying accident car wreckages and other government cars sold under auction once they were written off the road.”
With Mugalu’s death, the business suffered for some time before Fred Luboyera, also deceased, revived it.
“When Luboyera came in, he was buying cars, some of them in working condition and resold them as spare parts,” Kadali says.
It was during Luboyera’s time that the trade attracted more people and it grew into what it is today.
There is a silver lining in every dark cloud. When Kiseka Market in downtown Kampala closed for redevelopment, it was a windfall for spare parts traders and landlords on Mambule Road.
“A sizeable number of Kiseka Market traders moved here and as a result, rent prices increased,” Kadali says.
Even before the ongoing developments, Mambule Road was a supplier of spare parts to Kiseka Market. “Old car parts were collected from here by Kiseka Market traders, who would clean them up and present them as either new or reconditioned from Japan or Dubai, United Arab Emirates,” Kadali reveals.
Sources of the cars
It is difficult to know the exact number of vehicles received at Mambule car graveyard per month because the leaders do not document it. But one thing the management of the graveyard is sure about is that the bulk of them have real value for money.
“About 70 per cent of the cars we receive here are accident wreckages. As police statistics indicate, most of the accidents are due to reckless driving. Old cars are hardly driven recklessly as compared to cars in sound condition, which are driven recklessly and thus the accidents. As a result, their spares parts are always in good working condition, save for the damaged parts, which are mostly external,” Kadali says.
Since majority of the cars are accident wreckages, police comes into the picture. But the police don’t come to them looking for market, although it is the main source of such cars. There are brokers who monitor such cars at different police stations and even follow them through the court processes.
“We get most of these cars from police stations all over the country. We pay for them through the courts, and present the receipts at the concerned police station before we tow the car here,” Isma Makumbi, the chairman of the association, says.
However, not all cars are accident wreckages. Some cars are got directly from the owners’ homes.
“There are some cars we get from people’s homes after they had been grounded for some time, while others are got from government parking yards after they are auctioned to us,” Kadali says.
Unlike other car buyers, the spare parts dealers at Mambule car graveyard value the cars they buy based on the resalable parts left of them. As a result, it is not possible to fix a particular price.
“When buying these cars, we value them from the smallest part of the car that we can sell off it. It is possible to buy a Toyota Harrier at Shs4m and buy a Toyota Probox at Shs7m. This is in such cases where the Harrier may be more damaged than the Probox.”
There are also incidences where owners approach them with offers to sell to them their car wreckages. In such cases, Makumbi says they have ground rules to follow before a purchase is made.
“In such cases, the seller must produce the original logbook in their name and the number plate. Where the logbook is not in the seller’s name, he or she must present an original sale agreement with the person whose name appear in the logbook, without which we don’t buy the car,” Kadali explains.
A walk through the yard reveals that some car wreckages still have number plates, while others don’t.
“When buying an accident car wreckage, police retain the number plates, while the ones bought from individuals are brought with their number plates and after the car has been ripped and sold, the number plates are returned to police,” Makumbi explains.
Some car models brought to the graveyard are too old and considered outdated. However, Kadali says some car models considered outdated in Uganda have their spare parts much sought after by trades from Kenya and Tanzania.
For instance, Kadali explains: “Once upon a time, the Toyota 1200 pick-up truck was the in thing, especially for town errands. However, with the introduction of K-trucks which are more fuel efficient and carry more goods, the pick-up 1200 was pushed off the road. The same happened to the Sahara pick-ups. They were pushed off the market by the Town Ace for the same reason as the pickups 1200.”
Chaos of car ownership. Just like any other business dealing in old and wrecked vehicles, Mambule car graveyard has also got its own challenges. According to Kadali, despite the strict ground rules to be followed before they buy a car from somebody, they still get incidences such as buying stolen cars.
He cites an incident where a woman allegedly sold a car to them, only for the husband to turn up with police looking for the same car, now reported as stolen. It turned out that the woman sold the car without the man’s consent.
“In most cases, such incidences go to court and the case drags on for long. As businessmen, sometimes we fail to appear in court all the time and we end up losing our money just like that,” Kadali says.
Besides cases like the aforementioned, the managers have also had to deal with cases where two people claim ownership of the same car and each has a “genuine” logbook. In some cases, they have had stolen cars with changed number plates.
Makumbi says in such cases, they strike a win-win deal with the authorities. “Once a car is proved to have been stolen, we work with the authorities to ensure that neither of the parties loses. The car is returned to the owner and police helps us recover our money,” he says.