Tricks city traders use to survive lockdown

Monday June 29 2020

Customers wait to be served from outside an arcade on Nasser Road in Kampala last Thursday. PHOTO BY STEPHEN OTAGE

It is more than 100 days since busy shopping centres such as arcades were closed over Covid-19 but traders there say they can no longer bear the situation.

The towering Mapeera building on Kampala Road had less activity on Friday as most shops remained closed. Across the road is Pioneer Mall that used to be one of the liveliest places in Kampala before coronavirus restrictions sent people home.

Some traders who owned clothing lines and other accessories have closed and left notices that they had relocated. Others have left contacts plastered on their shop doors for online deliveries. Most shops that used to sparkle with different designs and eateries are now empty and locked.

The security guards have tied a rope to block pedestrians from passing through the mall from the western side.

A few touts call out passengers, asking even those who are walking in the opposite direction to board their taxis that line the street making the walkway congested for pedestrians. The touts were banned from operation by the President but have continued to operate. Most hop in and out at various police check points to evade arrest.

“Namugongo, Naalya, Kyaliwajjala, madam get in. Only Shs4,000 to Bukoto,” The tout shouts as our reporter passes by Burton Street to join Wilson Road.


But down towards Gazaland Arcade, the tricks of calling a client to buy one’s item or service is quite unique. Moving towards Wilson Street, one would think Uganda has not registered any coronavirus cases.

First, they spot a potential client and approach with a greeting. Masks are worn on the chin and car boots are full of sellable items, especially weaves and second-hand clothes. A few bold traders display their merchandise on the pavement. But others are more diplomatic in defying the ban on social gatherings.

“Good morning madam, can I take you to my salon and plait your hair. It is not costly. Come and we negotiate. Our services are good,” says a woman in her thirties to our reporter who has short hair.

Moving through the arcade, the front shops are almost all open. More traders dealing in weaves and other hair products call out to women who they target need their service and disappear with them into rooms within the arcade.

Others selling shoes near the entrance as one slopes down to William Street to join Ben Kiwanuka Street call those from afar to take a look at their products. The walkways through the arcades are packed with all kinds of goods and traders from second-hand clothes to those dealing in beauty products.

Joining Namirembe Road in Downtown Kampala onto the newly constructed non-motorised road, one has to be careful because the pick pockets are back on the streets too.

But there are those targeting other things among these crowds, potential customers.
“Madam, I sell good clothes for children of all ages. Come and I take you to my shop and you buy,” says a lady who looks to be in her twenties.

When our reporter asks her where the shop is, she leads the way through Namirembe Road towards St Balikuddembe market to a shop where three ladies sit waiting for customers. This is not her shop. Her work is to look for potential clients among the crowd, bring them to the shop owner and she is to be paid commission.

Outside the shop, there are other ladies and men who look idle but their work is to spot potential clients.
Another lady who has observed our reporter enter a shop and return without items in her hands grabs her hands and asks to take her to another shop. She is polite enough to ask for the type of clothes and at how much her client wants to buy them so that she can know who has what would be appropriate.

That too takes about 10 minutes’ walk away from St Balikuddembe, back to Namirembe road. The security guard at the gate refuses to open the arcade for the clothes dealer to open her shop and select the clothes. Another vendor volunteers information that if there were few people around the security guard, he would have accepted money from the shop owner and allowed her to enter her shop to pick goods for her clients.

Across the road, Kikuubo market, arguably the busiest place in Kampala where one can find any grocery, household items and appliances, either on retail or wholesale, is bustling with life. Business seems to be back to normal for these traders despite the lockdown and restrictions on social gatherings.

Entering Kikuubo
At the entrance, two men armed with sanitisers struggle to sanitise people entering the market but it is close to impossible to have everyone sanitise or wash their hands. The two are overwhelmed.

Another man appears from the crowd at the entrance and shouts on a mega phone, asking people to maintain social distance. But the traders and customers pay no attention to his message. Others are seen brushing besides him and continuing into the market.

Two big trucks cause another commotion as they enter the market. The traders and their clients have to push and squeeze within the smallest of spaces to give way for the delivery trucks. The situation is like a wave, the trucks clear the way and as they pass, vendors immediately take their positions. And the crowds continue to build up.

But one buyer tells Daily Monitor that it is the only place she can find affordable household items and appliances that she needs for her family.

It is more than 100 days since the lockdown and curfew were imposed in Uganda due to the coronavirus pandemic. To avoid the spread of the highly contagious disease, busy shopping centres such as arcades are still closed, among others. But traders in these businesses say they can no longer bear the situation.