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With arcades closed, desperate traders turn to open-air shops

A guard keeping security at closed arcades in Kampala

A guard keeping security at closed arcades in Kampala

Faced with the grim prospect of their shops in downtown Kampala arcades not re-opening soon, desperate out-of-work traders have found novel ways of earning an extra penny to survive the long coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

Personal or rented cars parked on roadsides have turned into makeshift shops. Traders remove merchandise from their locked shops and stuff them in cars, which have become open-air shops.

People are busy buying and selling all manner of non-essential goods; clothes, bags, shoes and, jewellery. The lockdown has hit businesses and livelihoods hard but people still have some money to spend on a few luxuries. When you go downtown, you can barely walk through the huge crowds and narrow pathways. Traders have taken over every inch of the ground.

A case in point is the new non-motorized walkway from Namirembe Road all the way to Luwum street connecting to Entebbe road. The new addition to the city’s road network with beautiful green grass and palm trees has for the last few weeks been encroached on by traders, since the 3.5kms lane is a no-go area for no vehicles.

Such open ground trade negates any attempt at implementing the Covid-19 prevention measures like social distancing and sanitizing. Arcades like Gaza Land, which opened after KCCA inspectors and Ministry of Trade officials gave their nod of approval are yet to be fully operational.

Tenants now prefer to vend their goods on the streets. Asked why? One jewellery trader told The Observer that customers now prefer to buy goods off the streets.

“You cannot sit inside the arcade when there are no customers coming in. All the other traders are on the streets. Much as we are open, we still sell from the streets because majority of our fellow traders are there and so are the customers,” the trader said.

Inside the arcade, I found very few customers and traders literally doing nothing. They were largely mobbed by snacks and beverage vendors beseeching them to buy drinks and eats.

At Gaza Land no one bothers to wash hands yet water tanks and soap are available. In Kikuubo, two men stand at every entry point, seeing to it that people get a sprinkle of water mixed with soap before they make their way into the busy, congested lane.

The streets are also invaded by non-food sellers banned in markets such as St. Balikuddembe (Owino) and USAFI. They have also taken up slots on Namirembe road, Ben Kiwanuka street, Allen road and Nakivubo road.

Interviewed, they said they could not stay home with nothing to feed their families.

“I have a stall in Owino market but I have waited for President Museveni to allow us to go back in vain so I had to bring out my goods and sell from this street because the kids at home need milk,” said one shoe trader on Channel street.

Traders who cannot sell their merchandise on streets and play hide and seek with KCCA law enforcement, have instead turned their cars into shops. They park outside the arcades, get their goods from the shops, into their cars and sell them.

This is commonplace in front of arcades like Jumbo plaza, Nakasero Complex, Capital Centre, Qualicell Bus Terminal, Apple Tower and Katonga Business centre where cars like Harriers, Noahs, Ipsum and Wishes are loaded with goods; men and women clothes, beddings and bags.

The Observer learnt that the cars either belong to the arcade traders or are hired. The increased number of traders on the streets has not only disorganized the movement of people in Kampala but also made it difficult for proper traffic flow of vehicles especially in the afternoon as people rush to beat the curfew hours. Very many boda boda stages have also cropped up especially near the very busy streets.

Traders are still operating on the streets freely with little interruption from KCCA law enforcement. However, acting KCCA spokesperson Daniel Nuwabine says soon they will intensify their enforcement activities downtown to clean up the streets and get traders off.

So far, four arcades, Ham, Mutaasa Kafeero, Park View and Mukwano have been inspected by KCCA together with officials from ministry of Health and ministry of Trade to see if they meet the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). They await approval to open.

According to the State Minister of Kampala, Bennie Namugwanya, each arcade must have hand-washing facilities at the entrance, temperature monitors, proper lighting and ventilation, a special room for sick people, masks for traders and should not allow vendors in the corridors. 

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