Everything you need to know about lifts in Uganda

Escalators have the capacity to move large numbers of people because they have no waiting interval as they are perpetually moving.  PHOTOs/Tony Mushoborozi.

What you need to know:

Lifts are as necessary to urban business as are cars. They are an important form of transportation without which so much time and energy would needlessly be lost in the day-to-day running of most modern businesses.

Lifts are as necessary to urban housing as cars. They are an important form of transportation without which so much time and energy would needlessly be lost in the day-to-day running of most modern businesses.

Lifts or elevators are used to transport people and things up and down tall buildings that are home to some of the largest companies in any economy.

Without the lift, most modern skyscrapers would not be feasible because no one would want to climb 50 flights of stairs every day, twice, to get in and out of their work place.  The elevator is a convenience that has improved the quality of life for millions of people around the world on top of transforming the skyline of every city in the world. Some of the most iconic buildings in modern times would not be existent without the lift.

It is therefore, doubtless that the lift is one of the most important inventions in modern architecture. This is one of the reasons why governments instruct developers to install them in buildings beyond a certain number of floors.

The standard 145 of the National Building Code 2019, (The Standards for Mechanical Installations in Buildings) mandates that any building that is higher than four floors must have a lift.

So how about all these buildings we all know, that are higher than four floors that do not have lifts?

According to experts, these buildings have broken the rules. Doreen Kyosimire, an architect and lecturer at Makerere University, any building that is higher than four floors that has no lift in it is technically illegal and would be demolished in countries where such rules are taken seriously.

Interestingly, many such buildings are fully operational not just across Kampala City but around the country too. Which begs the questions: If they are breaking the law, who is to blame? And why are they allowed to keep operating?

A lift in a busy building such as a condominium or mall must be checked for any issues every month.

“Architects always follow the laws when designing these storeyed buildings but owners change the plans after approval. While organs such as Kampala Capital  City Authority should not approve the construction of such buildings, the fact is these are still built and allowed to operate,” says Kyosimire.

Kyosimire says many property owners cut corners in a bid to save funds. She notes however, that lifts are omitted not so much because of lack of funds but because there is a lack of sensitisation about the matter.

“Some people think lifts are needlessly expensive and so they choose to overlook them. Owners of commercial buildings especially tend to think that a lift takes too much space that would otherwise be used as a business space. This is the attitude of many people,” she says.

“But they forget that elevators add a lot of value to properties. For instance, if you are building a condominium, business or residential and you include a lift, the market value goes up,” she says.

The cost factor

Kyosimire adds that while there is a culture of not adhering to building rules in this country, there is also a possibility that some developers are cash strapped during the construction phase so they choose to do away with the expense of installing the lift all together.

“The average cost of an elevator is $50,000,  (about Shs188m) and that is a cost that is not easy to meet for many developers, especially for a lift. But there is a smart way to get around it. In cases where you lack the funds to install a lift in the building, one of the options is to include the elevator well (shaft) in the building but defer the installation for later when the funds become available,” she says.

This option is better than incorporating the lift option as an afterthought, after the authorities come after you, in a bid to save the building from demolition or fines.

Procuring a lift

According Yoyota Elevators Ltd, a company that deals in lifts, the most affordable lift for a six storey building goes for not less than $40,000 (Shs141m). All lifts are bespoke (manufactured specifically for each customer’s needs) because every building provides different dimensions for the lift.

When a developer wants a lift, the chosen lift company comes to the building site and takes the dimensions; the number of floors, the floor to floor height, the length and width of the elevator shaft, etc. At this point, local firm contacts the manufacturers with the details.

This process takes about a month of production after which there is inspection before shipping. It takes about a month for the lift to get to Mombasa and about two weeks to Kampala.

Experts say installation takes about two weeks to one month to complete, after which the government lift inspector, inspects it before a licence is issued. Most companies offer a one-year warranty and one year of free servicing as well.


Fred Mulabajji is a professional elevator technician. He has more than a decade of experience having worked for Otis Lifts, Yoyota and is currently at Dwells Lifts. He says lifts need more regular check-ups and maintenance than a vehicle. 

“A lift in a busy building such as a condominium or mall must be checked for any issues every month.  During these routine checks, the average cost of maintenance services is about Shs600,000,” he says.

During routine checks, the technicians check the bearing and replace those that need replacing, they check the electrics and replace switches that are worn out, they apply grease on the moving parts and add oil on the parts that need constant lubrication. Without these routine maintenance services, the lift may start misbehaving or might even cause accidents, according to experts.

Common lift brands in Uganda

Fuji (Japan)

Kone (China)

Winone (China)

Otis (France)

Of these, the most expensive is Otis, which can take you back by about $100,000 (Shs3777m) where others will cost about $60,000  (Shs226m) .

Fuji, according to Mulabajji is currently the most popular among developers in Uganda, because they find it not only reliable, but also somewhat affordable. Mulabajji says Fuji has a very modern touch which many clients like.

Buildings in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. Any building that is higher than four floors must have a lift. 

Types of elevators

There are many different types of lifts, each with different applications. Here are some of the common types:

Passenger lifts

These are the commonest in Uganda. They are designed to carry people and they are licensed to carry a specific number of people and tonnage. A six-passenger lift is usually only allowed to carry about 450 kilogrammes maximum, an eight-passenger lift can only carry up to 650 kilogrammes, while a 13-passenger lift is licensed to carry a little more than 900 kilogrammes.

Passenger lifts come in different designs, both inside and outside of the cabin, so they can fit in with the design and style of the space around it.

 They tend to come with mirror walls and are always brightly lit to make sure that passengers do not get claustrophobic. They travel faster than other lift types as they are often used in very busy high-rise buildings.

Goods lifts

These are more robust lifts designed to carry heavy loads. These can also be permitted to carry passengers and they are fitted with appropriate safety gear for times when passengers are on board.

Platform lifts

Platform lifts are designed for very low-rise buildings where they will only travel a few floors at most. They also tend to move more slowly and are often used for disabled access into buildings where most people will take the stairs.

Glass lifts

Glass lifts are a type of passenger lift that have glass walls and doors. They cannot always be used in any situation that a regular passenger lift would be used in, but in the right situation, they can offer a stylish alternative. They are often chosen for their aesthetics and can provide a way of maintaining the style of a building whilst providing a means of transportation.

Stair lifts

Stair lifts are most commonly used in the home and provide an easy way for individuals to move up and down stairs. This usually involves them sitting in a motorised seat which takes them from one level to another. This, however, is not suitable for individuals who are confined to a wheelchair.