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Are traditional highway stopovers losing their flare?

Vendors at Mbizinnya enticing tipper occupants to buy from them. This is mode of selling used at the traditional stopovers

Mpigi, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT |  At Mbizinnya in Buwama Town Council, the race is on., armed with roasted chicken, gonja, soft drinks, and other types of meat, the roadside vendors are peering at an oncoming commuter taxi.   

The moment the taxi slows to the parking side; the vendors begin to race to its windows imploring passengers to buy.  

“Gonja, nnyama, ssebo gonja,” they seem to plead. It is sort of a per-minute exercise that goes on every day. It is a similar exercise in Lukaya, Mitala Maria, Kyengera and Buwama.  Buses, private car owners, commuter taxis, and other vehicles occasionally pull over for a break or quick eats before they proceed.   

However, this is changing fast, with new developments of fancy joints along the highway coming up to offer a more organized break and meals for the travellers. They have an option for one to take a shower or changing rooms.   

Between Kampala and Masaka, at least four of these joints have developed – with individuals investing millions of Shillings. They include Jalia city at Buyaya, Nkozi, 82 kilometres along Kampala, Masaka highway.  Jalia city is owned by city lawyer Yusuf Nsibambi and is named after his mother Hajjat Jalia Kalega. Another stopover is Mirembe, a few kilometres from Jalia city.  

Conrad Budde, the General Manager of Gators Café at Jalia city says this is a new venture that Ugandans are starting to embrace, many budgeting for longer stopover time.   

The new places have advantages over traditional places making it a little more conducive for travellers. Jalia city, for instance, features a restaurant, a fuel station, gardens, places of convenience and a children’s park. There is plenty of parking space, which may be a pull factor for some people – which is not the case with traditional places.   

But can these replace the traditional eateries along the highways?   

The jury is still out there. There is, however, some level of fear on the side of people running traditional stalls although some insist that each party will have their own customers.   

Rose Nakanjako, who runs a stall at Mitala Maria says they think the new joints will in a way cost them – and this may simply be through the increase in the number of stopovers, dividing the customers they have been serving.  

Hussein Matovu, the chairman of Mbizinnya stopover observes their advantage over the new places in terms of affordability. He adds that the new establishments are for the rich and travellers will still find their level.      

Matovu argues that even the services given in traditional places differ from those offered at new establishments. He says for long, travellers have had a culture of stopping over at their places for quick eats and this will not change soon.      

Moses Kamanda, a driver found at Mbizinnya said he would never go to the new places simply because, from the outside, they already look expensive. He said he did not expect to get anything of his pocket. Indeed, the prices at the new places are higher.     

With just Shillings 10,000, at the traditional places, one can buy chicken thumb drum, gonja, water, and soda. Three gonja pieces go for 1,000 Shillings. However, at Jalia city, a cupcake costs 2,000 Shillings each, a soda costs not less than 5,000 Shillings while goat ribs cost 30,000 Shillings.   

Eunice Ayebare, a traveller, said they still like the allure that comes with the Lukaya feel. She said even those in private cars need to leave the cars and stand at the stalls in Lukaya to pick for themselves from the roasting place.        

Joseph Ssekitto Wasswa, the owner of Lukaya road toll says the new businesses present challenges as well as opportunities to the work they do. He said opportunity comes with a wake-up call to improve what they offer to retain their customers.           

Sarah Ntambi, a vendor at Mbizinnya says these days at their place, buses and people in private cars hardly stop there for lack of parking and/or for fear that their vehicles could be damaged given that the place is a famous black spot.   

Another advantage comes in the places of convenience. At new joints URN visited, the toilets are free and clean while some travellers can also have a chance to take a shower or change into new clothes – an impossibility at places like Mbizinnya.  

Also, the new places are healthier, according to Budde. He said they would not expect their clients to face risks like those from food picked on the street where the vendor has been running around for a whole day, exposing it to dust.   

Why Stop at a Highway Stopover?  

For some of the new eateries, there is an understanding between bus companies and owners to ensure that they stop at those particular places. Budde said as Jalia City, they have already signed an understanding with Gateway Buses to stop there. He said they were in talks with other bus companies to get them to stop at their joint.           

Joseph Bogere of Mirembe stopover says the understanding includes a fee paid to bus companies but also individual drivers and turn boys and given a free meal, small fee or a drink when they stop there with their passengers.          

Wasswa boosts the fact that Lukaya road toll has established a name and at times passengers demand that drivers stop there.

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