Sandwiched between two concrete walls of Church House and Crane Chambers is Plot 36 Kampala Road, in an empty plot of land.
Fifty seven years ago it was home to four ambitious Ugandans who in their wisdom argued that political independence without economic independence was not important.
Earlier on during the 1959 Augustine Kamya-led boycott of Asian shops, Ugandans were allocated shops around Nakivubo and the lower parts of Nakasero Market. That was how close Ugandans were to doing business in the city centre.
By Independence, Geresomu Tabula Matovu, Eriyabu Kasumba, Leo Kayondo and Daudi Mukubira were the only indigenous Ugandans who owned businesses on Kampala Road.
But to occupy the building, the four men had to involve prime minister-elect Apolo Milton Obote. According to Joseph Kaziro, a son of Tabula Matovu, his father was Obote’s tailor.
“My father was a professional tailor who learnt his trade in Katwe in the early 1950s. At that time Katwe was the hub of indigenous Ugandan businesses. As a renowned tailor, my father made suits for all the A-class Ugandans in Kampala. That’s how he got to know Milton Obote for he was making his suits,” says Kaziro.
Buying the building
Matovu, Kasumba, Kayondo and Mukubira were tenants on the building, at the time called Bestex and owned by an Asian.
At the time of approaching Obote in 1962 they had already had talks with their landlord with a proposal of buying the building. But they did not have the asking price of Shs500,000.
They then approached the prime minister, saying Ugandans needed to be empowered to own property on Kampala Road. Obote asked them to first identify the property, but when they assured him that they had already got the property, he referred them to minister Kalule Setaala.
Setaala was then minister of Culture and Community Development. It was Setaala who worked through the government corridors and got money for buying the building.
During the boycott of Asian shops, the colonial government through the Legislative Council (LEGCO) passed an ordinance in 1958 for the creation of the African Trade and Development Fund (ATDF) which was aimed at funding Africans who wanted to get into business.
Commercial banks were not extending loans to Africans at the time, making it hard for them to do business. It was through this fund that minister Setaala got the Shs500,000 to buy the building.
With the building secured, the four friends were to pay the loan in form of rent but with interest. They opened separate businesses; they included Ani Yali Amanyi Stores owned by Tabula Matovu, Kayondo Shoemakers owned by Leo Kayondo, Kabale-Busega owned by Eriyabu Kasumba and Mukubira and Sons owned by Daudi Mukubira.
Save for Kayondo Shoemakers, the other three businesses dealt in apparel of different quality and use.
“We had industrial sewing machinery capable of doing anything, from suits to uniforms for different institutions such as banks, ministries and other government agencies,” says Kaziro of Ani Yali Amanyi.
“At one time during the Amin era government asked us to make ceremonial officers’ uniforms, including the pips and caps. But they provided the material; we were not importing army material.”
Ani Yali Amanyi also imported all sorts of cloth from as far as Japan and Europe and at their peak they had to outsource labour.
Of the four friends, only Geresomu Tabula Matovu is still living.
Born in 1930 in Kaboja Busiro, Matovu went to Katwe after completing his junior education at Mengo Junior School.
Katwe was at the time known as the Black man’s capital and Matovu learnt the tools of the trade from a tailor called Wood (Hood).
Matovu then left to go and work with the Uganda Company, where he made and mended company uniforms. His stay there was short-lived. He went back to Katwe to start out on his own as a tailor.
Back in Katwe in the mid-1950s, Matovu established himself as the go-to tailor for the politicians and elite in Kampala.
“Almost all politicians of the time came to him for their suits, including Obote before he became the prime minister. Even the Independence suits most MPs put on for the celebrations were made by my father,” says Kaziro.
As business grew, Matovu left Katwe and moved to the city centre, first renting a shop on Burton Street before moving to Kampala Road.
As business premises in Kampala were looted as the liberating forces of Tanzania People’s Defence Forces and their Ugandan allies marched onto Kampala to topple Amin in 1979, Ani Yali Amanyi did not survive.
“The glass display was shattered and everything was taken, from materials to machinery,” says Kaziro.
“We had to pick up the pieces after the war and as we were getting back to our feet another looting happened in 1985 at the fall of Obote’s second regime.”
Efforts were made to revive the businesses to their former glory, but things were never the same again. That was the beginning of the end for the first indigenous Ugandans to operate businesses on Kampala’s main street.
They kept making monthly payments to ATDF, but it kept on moving from one ministry to another, from the Ministry of Culture and Community Development in 1962 to Trade and Industry in 1997 when the property was listed for sale under divesture of the former African Trade Development Fund properties.
In a newspaper advert published on December 2, 1997, Plot 36 Kampala Road was one of the five properties that were listed for sale.
Despite the four friends being sitting tenants and having paid rent for more 35 years, they were not given first priority to buy the property.
The building was bought from the Asian owner under ATDF in trust of the four men who would only get hold of its possession upon the completion of the payment of Shs500,000. Unfortunately, due to the continued transfer of ATDF from one ministry to another, much of the paperwork was lost. Even what they had was lost during the 1979 looting.
Despite their efforts to be given first priority, as they were the reason government bought the property in the first place and they had been paying money to government through the years, their pleas fell on deaf ears.
On May 17, 2000, Meera Enterprises acquired the plot of land and the building was razed following a court order evicting the sitting tenants.