As soon as they spot a potential customer, Kiseka Market dealers mob him and try to out-do each other, convincing the customer they have what he needs.
By Titus Kakembo
As soon as they spot a potential customer, dealers mob him and try to out-do each other, convincing the customer they have what he needs.
With greasy palms and oily overall suits, a smile often replaces the customary handshake to break the ice. Welcome to Kiseka Market.
“Nkuweyo simenti, tailo oba mounting (Do you need cement, tiles or motor vehicle engine mounting?), asks a smiling attendant.
Before responding, another dealer pops out of nowhere. She is all ears to the rev of the customer’s engine, while her eyes scan the state of the windscreen, tyres, grill and dash board to guess what the customer might be looking to buy.
“Customer, do not deal with commission agents – come this way,” she whispers. “Pocket friendly prices.”
Visibly confused, the customer’s arm is held firm and ushered into one of the stalls stuffed with metals, nuts and rims.
“Karibu Ssebo!” whispers another swift tongued dealer, welcoming a passerby.
“Jangu eno nyabo!” (Come over here madam), Hadija Nalubwama entices a potential buyer. It is a typical Kiseka Market shopping style.
The experience leaves many a visitor shocked, mostly because of the huge unsolicited discounts offered.
Like many others in their stalls, Nalubwama, who is the market vice-chairperson, is dwarfed by metal bars, car parts and all sorts of spare parts you can think of that could seem as junk to an unknowing eye.
The market in Old Kampala is changing face and has been infected by the mall epidemic. What used to be Kyagwe Primary School is now Mukwano Shopping Mall. Hotel Equatoria, was also recently transformed into a shopper’s paradise.
Guitars, carpets, used saucepans, electronics and car spare parts are some of the merchandise that are easy to recognise.
Catching up with the times
To keep abreast of the changing times, Kiseka Market has not sat back.
“Since the Old Kampala Market Vendors got ownership of the 3.7 acres from KCCA, resources are being pooled to construct a modern market to suit the modern shoppers,” says Nalubwama.
“Members first paid a membership fee of sh50,000. They later paid sh1m and then sh3m each to process the land title. ”
Customers come from all over Uganda and some from neighbouring countries such as Tanzania, Sudan and Rwanda to buy stuff from here.
“This market has a population of more than 10,000 people exchanging millions of shillings per day,” Nalubwama adds.
“We have asked an engineer to draw for us a plan of the new market that can handle a huge population and vehicles.”
A tour of the market reveals buyers and dealers swapping cash for all sorts of items.
There are electronics that could pass for trash, motor vehicle bodies that look like scrap and rusty fridges that look beyond repair.
“Nothing is useless here,” says Tadeo Mugerwa, the Zone A Kiseka Market chairman.
“Creativity is at its best here. President Yoweri Museveni urged all to “kulembeka” (trap) wealth, which dealers here are doing to survive the hard times,” he said.
True to his word, used tyre tubes are partitioned and scribbled with words like ‘King of the Road’, ‘Ndege Ya Chini’ or ‘We Lead, They Follow’. They are then put on lorries or mini buses for sh8,000.
The outer parts of the worn-out tyres are used for making slippers that are popular with the Masaai in Kenya and Karimojong in Uganda. A pair goes for sh5,000.
Since Ugandans have made mobile phones a must-have item, Kiseka Market dealers have created their niche by repairing the faulty ones.
Is it a den of thieves?
Many people think Kiseka Market is a den of car robbers, muggers, political activists and other violent criminals. However, Mugerwa argues that even rose flowers have thorns.
“We have dealers here ranging from the guy who fixes your newly-bought rear view mirror to importers and exporters of car parts,” he says.
“But our proximity to the road and lack of control of who comes in or goes out of the market makes it a fertile ground for thieves and politicians looking for crowds.”
Kiseka Market dates back to Obote II when the foreign exchange was controlled and accessed through Bank of Uganda (BOU).
“For someone to go abroad, they had to have connections in BOU to get foreign exchange for import business,” recounts an elderly trader, John Kibugyo.
“Then, Kibanda Boys took advantage of the foreign exchange scarcity by dealing in dollars on the black market.
Talking about the past, Mugerwa’s face breaks into a smile.
“We have come a long way. The market used to be next to Bus Za Baganda on Nabugabo Road. It was muddy when it rained and dusty on sunny days.” Kampala City Council later relocated it to the present-day site.
“What we got here was a scrap yard, which doubled as a washing bay,” Mugerwa said.
Kampala would be incomplete without Kiseka Market