The air is clear. The inviting aroma from the grills lining the road curls up no more. Time check; 2:45pm.
At Maria’s stove, she turns over about 15 pieces of steak. Behind her is another young woman preparing spices - tomatoes to go with the meat.
“Why have you cut up all those tomatoes? Maria asks. “Who will eat them?”
Maria, with three customers waiting, is the envy of a few of her colleagues at this time whose stalls stand without hope.
“I would be having very many customers waiting in queue, but now there are only three,” Maria says.
“By now, I would have made Shs100,000, but I have so far made only Shs10,000. However, I am grateful for even the little money I can make, even Shs1,000 is valuable now. There are some who get nothing,” she consoles herself.
Maria says she now works to survive. Saving, as is common to her, has been on hold for the last nearly 30 days.
Just like Maria, Pius Magezi, a resident of Kiteetikka in Gayaza, Wakiso District, has for the last four years led a comfortable life from selling roasted goat meat at the famous Kiteetikka Mbuzi Market, commonly known as Kumbuzi, on Gayaza Road, in Kasangati Town Council, Wakiso District.
The spot is always bustling with activity; sellers donned in white, cars parked on both side of the road, and fulfilled customers ordering at their preferred stalls.
However, the measures put in place to fight the spread of coronavirus have changed all that.
Magezi’s stall now stands lonely, with a few pieces of meat, three whole chicken and five breasts of gonja (plantain). Two stoves to his left and two to his right are still wet from the previous night’s downpour.
“Before the lockdown, business was booming. You would find many cars parked along the road, on both sides. And we had plenty of them. On a very good day, I would sell about 50kgs of meat,” he recollects.
“As you can see, many stoves are vacant. Many of our colleagues had to retreat to the village because they couldn’t survive here during the lockdown,” Magezi says.
The professional builder from Kamwengye District, resorted to goat roasting after realising the viability of the business when a friend introduced him to it.
“I used to roast about 40kgs a day before the lockdown but now, I buy between three and 5kgs, which I sometimes fail to sell all,” Magezi says.
“I would buy a 12kg-goat at about Shs150,000 and get about 70 pieces of meat out of it, which would fetch me about Shs280,000. After paying for other inputs, I would remain with some reasonable amount of money,” Magezi explains the business’ profitability.
He adds: “But now, we buy some few kilogrammes from the nearby Kalerwe market because our abattoir was closed. A kilogramme costs Shs15,000. I get about eight pieces of meat from a kilogramme, each going for Shs4,000. This translates into Shs32,000. When you deduct the cost of other inputs such as spices and charcoal, I hardly make any profits.”
The major customers here are travellers, especially private car owners. The ban on private cars put in place on March 31, exponentially cut down the numbers.
“The few customers we have left are those that order through boda bodas. This has helped but the demand has significantly fallen because someone who used to buy meat of Shs200,000 now orders for only Shs30,000. Everyone has been hit hard!”
Luckily for Magezi, he had saved some substantial amount before the lockdown, which he is now using to sustain his family of six.
Haruna Sebbagala, the head of the market abattoir, says they stopped slaughtering goats after private transport was banned.
He says they would slaughter about 50 goats a day.
As a supplier, he is staring at loses since the lockdown was announced and it found when many of his customers had not yet paid him for the meat he had supplied.
Sebbagala says an average goat weighing about 12kgs would be sold for between Shs150,000 and Shs160,000. However, the same goat now goes for between Shs160,000 and 170,000.
He says he would supply meat from at least five goats a day, but now, not even one goat gets sold off.
“I used to buy goats and supply meat but also sell roasted meat. I mostly used to sell to travelers in buses going to Kenya but following the ban on public transport, I lost most of my clients,” he says.
He says most of his customers he supplied meat used to pay him in the evening after they have roasted and sold the meat.
“I have about Shs800,000 with such customers,” he reveals.
At another stall, 23-year-old Moses and five others, have bought 10kgs of meat and are using one stove to minimise the costs on charcoal and the spices.
“Before the lockdown, each one of us would sell at least 10kgs but now, one can even end the day without selling anything. When the meat is not consumed, I take it to my family. I would rather they eat it,” he says.
Previously, Moses employed two other people, one who roasts the meat and the other, who prepares the spices. Each of the two employees would earn Shs10,000 a day. But as the management sought to reduce the number of people in the market in adherence to the social distancing directive, he had to temporarily relieve them of their duties.
“I would bring about 20kgs at the weekend and quite often it would all be consumed. I would make a net profit of Shs40,000. We were okay, until private transport was banned.
Nevertheless, another vendor who identifies himself only as Mukiibi, says the difficult Covid-19 period has come with plenty of lessons for them.
“It has taught us the value of saving. We no longer spend like there is no tomorrow,” he says.