Mzeei Karecera: Man behind the shumbushas of Kabale

Mzeei Paul Karecera is the man who has been making shumbusha (read samosa) for more than 40 years in Kabale, South west Uganda.

What you need to know:

  • The uphill task.  Say Shumbusha in Kabale Town, Paul Karecera will be the answer. It is not your ordinary samosa that they refer to, it is humongous and matches its price tag as well as satisfies your expectations.  Shumbusha is a game-changer in Kigezi to the extent that people place orders from Kampala and get their deliveries, writes Edgar R. Batte.

Before I met the man, I had heard stories about Mzeei Paul Karecera. The man has been making shumbusha (read samosa) for more than 40 years in Kabale, South west Uganda. 

He is no conventional businessman who seeks to make a killing out of this snack. He treasures the strong communal aspect more. As such, you don’t have the right to have as much as you want. 

He will ask you, “how about the others? They need to also buy and eat and enjoy the shumbusha.” Generations who are in their 40s and those younger, will tell you that they needed to go with a note from their parents for proof that they got the money from elders, and the youngsters had stolen it to buy the tasty giant shumbushas made of minced beef or chicken, some with an infusion of pepper. 

Otherwise, Karecera would turn them away. A few played monkey tricks by sending children with forged chits to buy for them some extra samosas on top of the two or three they would be allowed to buy.

Soon or later, they would be smoked out because Kabale is a closely knit community where almost everyone knows the other, at least for the elders. More so, Karecera was an avid churchgoer who loved interacting with children and parents during Sunday school sessions.  

On the day we met, I won the favour of the old man referred to many as a hard nut to crack.

A few friends told me to wear red or not show up at his doorstep. He is from the crop of die-hard Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) supporters that he grudgingly had conversations with those who came dressed in any other colours. 

At his home, he later opens his bedroom door revealing red pillow cases. 

Several clothes pegged on the wall are red too. That was our second meeting. The initial one was somewhat impromptu as we drove in the town, and someone noticed his parked car opposite Kabale Best Bakers and part of his hand visibly leaning on one of the doors.

He greeted us with a sly smile before he said my face was familiar. He agreed to a request for an interview but it would happen the next day. 

“I have to attend a burial,” he said before calling on one of his employees to get him some money. When he drove off, the employee told us to come early in the morning because he is an early riser except on days the cold is stinging.

Meeting

On a Saturday morning, Karecera sat on his veranda but, he refused to meet anyone unless they waited three hours after preparing his shumbushas.

Something seemed lost in the Rukiga translation. I went to meet the man, again hoping he would recognise me and fulfill the promise he had made.

He recognised me but stood by his word. We left and returned three hours later but I requested to stay and be allowed an opportunity to observe the process of making the snacks that has been enjoyed through generations in Kabale Town.

“You want to steal my formula,” he said while pointing a finger at me. I shook my head to reassure him but added that he takes after Coca-Cola in protecting his recipe.

He chuckled to break the ice. Paul Turyagumanawe was my interpreter and through him, I requested Karecera to allow me to observe, ask questions and take some photographs as I witnessed the process.

“Feel free,” he smiled. At that point, one of the employees arrived, carrying a carton of wheat which he rested on the verandah floor, tore it open and began picking wheat flour packs as he emptied them into a huge saucepan.

I counted about three cartons. For a few minutes, we conversed and the employee got the process started. Another youthful employee came to work drunk got Mzeei Karacera frenzied and delayed the whole process because he was supposed to make an order for minced meat at an earlier hour, and it is delayed.

That part is not translated as Turyagumanawe gets tickled by the exchanges but Bantu languages bearing some similarities, I vaguely followed the conversation, in bits.

Soon the meat arrived as well as onions and groceries. The dough is mingled with oil- a laborious assignment that takes minutes as the young man at it makes sure mzeei doesn’t give him an instruction twice as the third one comes with an imperious tone.

The dough is layered out, ready to be cut into pieces that are folded triangularly and filled with minced meat which has been prepared in a formula that makes the samosas distinctively tasty.

Karecera enjoyed his youthful employees’ banter, occasionally taking a jibe to which they will break out in loud chatters or attempt to disagree with him but well knowing he won’t go down defeated or else the argument will go on and on and on.

When asked what he has achieved out his decades’ long business, he firmly holds onto the armrests of his plastic chair to support himself to his feet. He moves to the door and gestures us to go in. 

“You’re welcome,” he says as his right hand gently pushes Turyagumanawe in.

His living room is neatly organized, coffee brown leather seats partly covered in decorative multi-coloured flowery clothes then a glass centrepiece table.

He briefly opens his bedroom for us to peek. Back in the living room, he partly holds the certain to reveal another achievement- a black, sleep Mercedes Benz packed in the front compound.

Another car, a Pajero packs on one side of the house isle. The house structure is an achievement too. The shumbushas are prepared in the home kitchen at the back end of the homestead.

During the formative years of Kabale Best Bakers, the old man talked of competition with one of Uganda’s oldest bakeries which he says could have stolen his formulae of bread that it continues to profiteer on.

He chose to capitalise on building a samosa business which he did right and earned a good following. They are big, tasty, and filling. A beef or chicken shumbusha goes for Shs3, 500 and Shs5, 000 respectively. 

If you like them crunchy, there is musibataayi (wheat crunchies). 

Later, when I reached out to one of his sons, Peter Karecera, he confirms that he has known his father as a hardworking and persistent man.

“I grew up seeing a civil servant hustling with a side business of second hand clothes from mwanjari and later starting a bakery. Dad and mum teamed up well in establishing the shumbusha business,” explains the son , an accountant.

He has taken up the same mantle of distributing the shumbushas in Kampala under Karecera’s shumbusha. The son has been doing it for eight years now. The fans of the snack collect along Kimathi Avenue and at Christ the King every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. 

If you connect with him, he can deliver to you, by boda boda. He says that consistency of recipe and quality has withstood the test of more than 40 years his father has made the samosas.

“His customer care skills are unique and endeared by many,” Peter says of his father. 

Client says

Singer Joseph Kahirimbanyi describes Paul and his Kabale Best Bakers as a hallmark. 

“His shumbusha are not only a delicious snack to most of us who hail from Kabale. They taste of all the memories that they have accompanied over the years and decades. Teatime, visitors, school break, mini celebrations. Some of even our romantic attempts had Karecera shumbusha encoded in there somewhere, Kahirimbanyi recollects.

He observes that the success and consistency of the old man’s samosa business speaks of the character of Kabale dwellers as loyal, supportive of a healthy portion of spicy mince wrapped up in fried pitta bread. 

Somehow, they always seemed to be served hot and fresh. For the longest time, Karecera has been the face of his own bakery, enthusiastic in true Kikiga fashion, always smiling chatty and friendly.

“He knew all our parents by name, and it was common that on a ride with my father, he would stop by the shop for a chat,” the singer further recalls. It would have been to speak to one of the employees about working along with a celebrated old man whose story is intertwined with that of Kabale Town, but none would dare speak about him or the business because, as they say, he would ask them when they earned the shares to have the audacity to speak about ‘his business’. Taste a shumbusha or two the next time you are in the town because that’s all he is willing to sell to you. 

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