By Patrick Kagenda
The first thing I encounter when I enter Kalita Bus Services Park, located next to Nakivibo stadium, is a security check. The officer runs a metal detector across each passenger’s body and luggage, searching for explosive materials. Less than a week after the Kyadondo and Ethiopian Village Restaurant bombings that left 74 dead and over 50 injured, the city is still clearly engulfed in fear.
“Fort Portal over there. Kasese to the right,” the bus tout calls out in the background. But there are noticeably fewer passengers than usual heeding his calls.
The manager of the Kalita Bus Services, Spear Mugambwa, is a man in his late 40`s with a small build and a receptive demeanor. Talking from a former lorry container that he has turned into his booking office, Mugambwa says the bomb blasts have heavily impacted the transportation business.
“Yes, people are travelling out of the town, but those coming in are very few. In a day we used to dispatch nine buses out and into Kampala, but the number has reduced to five buses coming from upcountry,” he says.
The company, according to Mugambwa, used to net Shs600,000 per bus, which translates to Shs5. 4 million daily, but because of the bombs and the fear they have created, Kalita is now netting only Shs2-3 million per day. “People are not travelling from upcountry to the city; it is only the traders who are travelling” says Mugambwa. And it is feared that as suspected bombs continue to be reported in the news, the situation will only get worse.
Ben Kiwanuka Street is a stone throw away from the Kalita Bus Park. I enter a local clothing shop and speak to the woman manager. “Things are bad. Customers are scared and their numbers have reduced ever since bombs killed people. If things continue in this way our businesses will collapse,” she says gloomily. “We have to pay rent, transport, buy lunch and yet we are not earning as we used to before the bombs killed people,” she says.
The same answer is echoed by a trader on Nakivubo mews and a business man of Asian descent on William Street. “Things are not good. People are not buying as they used to buy before the bombs killed people. We hope things will soon improve,” he says.
There are few people on the street and for once it looks clean; no boxes or plastic bags litter the ground. It appears that people are following the police`s call of staying vigilant and not allowing anyone to drop anything suspicious on the street.
Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA) is a loose grouping of different traders operating in Kampala. Started in 2002, as an umbrella traders organization, today Kacita boast 140,000 members involved in both retail and wholesale business. However, when the bombs went off, business took a nose dive in spite of being located far away.
At the helm of Kacita is the soft-spoken chairman, Kayondo Everest. Talking from his small but tidy office on the second floor of JBK plaza””a huge modern shopping mall reminiscent of a market place in the city’s central business district””Kayondo says he is relieved that none of Kacita’s members died in the blast but laments that the impact of the bombings has since caught up with his business community.
“The impact is both immediate and long term,” he says. “In the immediate, the blasts have scared off the would be customers especially those coming from upcountry and those coming from neighbouring countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC), South Sudan, Rwanda and parts of Northern Tanzania who to some extent depend on Uganda as a source of their business merchandise.”
The bombings have also shaken local relationships in the marketplace. Before the blasts, customers would buy merchandise and pile it around certain businesses as a collection centre. From there they would pick it when they were done with their shopping. But now it has become difficult for business owners to continue this practice. They don’t know what is being brought in and are not willing to take chances. Everyone is now suspecting the other and this has eroded the social confidence that has existed in the business fraternity.
Analysts in the business sector say the loss of business in central Kampala has been worth millions of shillings. Cumulatively the impact has trickled down to the rural areas, where traders have taken advantage of the situation by overcharging people.
However, the biggest economic impact is being felt in the very places where the bombs went off. These businesses are now no go areas. The collateral damage that occurred is difficult to quantify in monetary terms. It is only the owners of these places who know exactly how much they have lost in property and in daily income. Even the businesses surrounding these areas are feeling the impact. People are traumatised and don’t want to associate with the former targets.