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Sorry; no Christmas in Kampala

New regulations hamper businesses in nation’s capital

In the past, downtown Kampala has always been the busiest place in the nation. Usually crowded streets like Nabugabo Road, Kikuubo, Ben Kiwanuka Street and Luwum Street become impassable as pedestrians jostle to find a way through the Christmas-themed goods on display.

This year, however, appears to be different. Kampalans are yet to embrace the festive season’s excitement in any form.

Part of the reason could be that Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) which outlawed street vending has deployed a big army of enforcers. Many of them can be seen either patrolling the streets in their distinct sun-flower yellow tops and dark pants and skirts. Many more simply lounge in shady parts of the city. The vendors also know that more enforcers are not wearing uniform in a bid to catch unsuspecting offenders.

Only one vendor, Paul Mukiibi, appears to be operating unhindered. He sells Bibles and other Christian literature along Luwum Street. The majority of Uganda’s 34.6 million people are Christians and Christmas is a big deal for many. Up to 11.1 percent are Pentecostals (3.8 million), Catholics standing at 39.3 per cent (over 13.5million) and 32.0 per cent (over 11 million) Anglicans. Even the KCCA enforcers appear restrained by their faith. Mukiibi has staged his stall on the pavement right next to the resting post of several KCCA enforcement officers.

“Many people need Bibles especially during this time,” says one of the officers when asked why Mukiibi is the only vendor along the streets who appears to be selling merchandise without being harassed.

The rest must wait until past 5pm to freely display their merchandise. It is still illegal but too risky for the enforcement officers to venture out. Occasionally in the most unruly parts of the city; including the Arua Park, Mini Price areas and along Ben Kiwanuka Street, one can see vendors of fruits and vegetables playing hide and seek with the KCCA enforcement officers.

Early in October, KCCA banned street vending along Kampala streets except for selling beyond 5pm along Nabugabo and Luwum streets.

So instead of displaying their wares on the pavements during the days as in the past Christmas seasons, some vendors have resorted to pitching their stalls at the main entrances of arcades and shopping malls targeting passersby. This privilege is not free as the vendors have to rent the space.

The main goods on sell are, however, the usual. Cheap mainly Chinese-made imported clothes and shoes, Christmas music recorded on CDs, Christmas greeting cards, trees and decorations, and imported food items.

Kikuubo Lane, which also doubles as Kampala’s business hub for all merchandise, is now only flowered by Christmas decorations of ribbons, clipart, colourful baubles and artificial Christmas trees.

It is still early days but the colourful displays of merchandise appear not to be attracting many customers. Many appear taken up by window shopping but few are actually buying. Possibly the rest are looking out for bargains. This Christmas has come at a time when stories of the “economy is doing badly” are the order of the day. But the vendors remain undeterred. Many say they have hope in the usual last minute rush of Kampalans.

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