By Kalungi Kabuye
The Wandegeya that hundreds of thousands of people remember with fond memory is just that, a memory. It has gone, disappeared, kaput, finished! It is no longer there.
Over the years Makerere University has produced hundreds of thousands of graduates, and for a good number of them, real life started in Wandegeya. They probably had their first date there, or their first beer; or, in those dark days when beer was not easily available, their first sip of an illicit drink. And while many will not admit it, they probably had their first sexual encounter in Wandegeya or its environs. And some of them might have died as a result, especially those chaps from University Hall.
A few days ago I happened to be around Wandegeya for the first time in many years so I decided to have a walk and reminisce over old times. In the past, if you are coming from town and approach Wandegeya, the first thing you see would be the old market, and then the numerous small shops next to the gate, just in front of the car park.
For the longest of time, this area was what made Wandegeya tick, its life, so to speak. Those small shops were the original kafundas, and lasted for generations. There were basically lock ups, selling groceries during the day, and alcohol during the evenings and nights when they rolled out hard benches for people to sit on.
During the eighties, when insecurity ruled, somehow Wandegeya was considered safer than most areas of Kampala. It might have to do with the proximity of Makerere University. Whatever the reason people came from near and far to those small shops, and that was where the action was.
There were two very famous shops just next to the gate, one run by ‘Stevo’, and next to it one run by ‘Sandy’s wife’. Before Stevo took it over, it was run by his mother, who had run it for as long as anyone remembers. Stevo was very popular guy, and many were the Ugandans in the diaspora who would make his shop their first stop as soon as they landed back from a kyeyo stint.
‘Sandy’s wife’ actually was not originally the wife of the guy who owned the shop next to Stevo’s, but she used to work for him, and was an occasional girlfriend. Then one day someone threw a grenade which killed Sandy and his real wife. In the confusion of the aftermath, that working girl took over the shop, and she became known as ‘Sandy’s wife’.
That area saw more than its share of violence, and Sandy’s death was just the beginning. After the NRM took Kampala in 1986, many people carried guns wherever they went, and they were quite a few shoots outs around those shops.
Sometime in the late eighties or early nineties, a re-development occurred, and dozens of lock-up shops were added the side of the market. In no time at all they all became bars, and the triangle was born. Because it was largely dark in there, and people, especially women, were said to disappear in there when their husbands or boyfriends were looking for them, some wag nicknamed it the Bermuda triangle, and the name stuck.
There were those who saw those shops and Bermuda Triangle as too open, and opted for other small shops tucked away in the darker parts of Wandegeya. Biashara Street was a particular favourite for mainly people from eastern Uganda. They would sit on hard benchers next to open drainages and have the time of their lives. These too, are gone, although Kyankazi’s Restaurant still remains, but the owner, now old and in bad health, says she does not know for how long.
The food market was another very popular stop, and top civil servants would park their very expensive cars and go sit on benches near very hot fires and eat local food while sweating profusely.
Behind the market used to be what university students referred to as the ‘alleyways’, where famously Maama Kakyala and Akiiki used to have their small joints. Right now you can’t tell where they used to be.
It has all changed now, especially with the building of the new market. If you go now looking for Stevo’s shop or the Bermuda Triangle, you will just see the imposing concrete wall of the new market.
It is also difficult to find the small gate near University Hall, where many students going back campus late had very many confrontations with Makerere guards, often settled with the offer of a cigarette.
Wandegeya along Bombo Road now looks like downtown Kampala, with wares overflowing from shop onto the pavements.
About the only place that looks like it will be there forever is Bamuhalu’s Florists, just off College Inn, which was a very popular joint for mainly Baganda of royal lineage. And it looks like they still do the once very popular ‘video chicken’, last of the people to do. In that famous parking lot, the ‘video’ is now filled with charcoal. The bar in College Inn is now a bank
Is there anybody left from about ten years ago Wandegeya? Apart from Kyankazi, there is a tailor on Biashara who has apparently been there since the early 60s, and is still making his suits for loyal customers.
The only others I could find is Kayaga’s shop, just opposite where Stevo’s used to be. It is now run by her daughter, selling cosmetics and other small commodities. But she also says it is just a matter of time before developers take over and her small shop is destroyed.
About half of Wandegeya is still owned by the Kasule family, which have for a long time resisted developing their small buildings put up in the early 20th century. But word on the ground is that they have finally succumbed to pressure, and plan to redevelop their properties. When that happens, the last of the old Wandegeya would have disappeared forever.