By Gladys Nanyombi
Many city traders have left Kampala streets and arcades for suburbs where a number of commercial building are mushrooming despite some attempts to reduce rent at some arcades and the rent waiver granted to some tenants in Kampala, leaving city for suburbs is still a matter to tackle with.
The Homeland Newspaper explores what changed and why traders are running away from the city into the suburbs.
When government announced a lockdown in March 2020, a number of traders in the Kampala capital down town shopping centers began slowly feeling the pinch of the lockdown.
Ms. Ajjwanga Delis says until May 2020 she had been operating a shop at Energy Center in town, dealing in electronics for close to five years. However, due to the covid-19 pandemic they were told to lock their shops and go home.
She says days turned into months and her landlord started giving eviction notices because she could not afford to pay rent anymore and Kampala City Traders Association turned a deaf ear on the grievances faced by traders.
“I pleaded with my landlord, but he could not listen. Firstly, he threatened to confiscate my merchandise, but later on he ordered me out with all my merchandise. In June, I left the place after failing to pay rent because the shop was closed,” Ms. Ajjwanga said.
After a while, she found a place in Kireka just near her home and has since relocated her phone business there.
“Now here rent is cheaper compared to the shs 2million I used to pay for a small space in Kampala because here I pay only shs350000for this shop,” she said.
For Mr. Kitanda Ivan who was dealing in phone accessories at Ham Shopping Mall in Kampala, says, although moving away from the city center to his village in Bweyogerere was a tough decision, it has saved him the problem of paying high bills in town like rent, electricity, KCCA taxes and transport money.
“I was dealing in phone accessories and I was paying rent of shs1.2million for just a small space but when the lockdown happened, I lost business and even after lifting the lockdown, the situation did not improve so I therefore decided to open up my shop in Bweyogerere where I now pay rent of shs20000,” Kitanda said.
In many suburbs around Kampala, mushrooming building are not remaining empty for long once built as businesses are quickly filling in. But for a long time, serious businesses were mainly found in Kampala city center. So what has changed?
The Homeland newspaper reporter tried to look for Mr. Isa Ssekitto, the spokesperson Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA)to see if he can highlight on the issues concerning traders but he turned a deaf ear and said that he was busy yet traders are saying that KACCITA has not helped in solving their problems.
Frank Karumuna says he decided to start up his boutique business outside Kampala because the capital he had was not enough to start up a business in Kampala.
He adds that he had only shs1.5million as startup capital for the business and if he had stationed it in Kampala, the shs1.5million could only work for rent.
Halima Nakanwagi also a trader in Kampala says renting in the city gets even more complicated because landlords are even trading in electricity bills. A unit which is supposed to be around 700 or 800 is costing in some instances up to shs3000
Nakanwagi says many traders have abandoned their businesses and gone back to villages because of the difficulties they faced during the lockdown and for others she doesn’t know where they are because they left the buildings and their merchandises in the shops.
When asked if their efforts to seek for help from government this is what she had to say.
“we have raised our plight to the government through our leaders several times but they only keep on promising but have never implemented those promises,” she said.
If you think about it, it’s not about stationing your business in town to make money, money can also be made even in the suburbs.
For now, rent, taxes, transport and customers drive the businesses out of the city but it is not clear if this will stay this way as demand and supply gain certain or might this be a sign that the economy is expanding even at this micro level.