Cars made by Uganda’s colonial power, Great Britain, were dominating the roads by independence time.
UGANDA MARKS 57TH INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY
Uganda already had a vibrant car market with many agencies selling brand new cars in different towns of the country.
Cars made by Uganda’s colonial power, Great Britain, were dominating the roads by Independence time, rivalled closely by French brands. Italian and German cars also had a respectable share of Uganda’s market. By the close of the sixties, Japanese had started penetrating the market and thanks to the East African Rally, Japanese cars gained popularity rapidly. Second-hand cars which dominate the market today entered the market in the 1980s.
By independence, Ford was the market leader with its different varieties which included Zephyr, then the favorite of Uganda police. Ford Cortina, Ford Corsair and Ford Anglia were some of the commonest brands bought by ordinary people like teachers and junior civil servants. From Britain also came Morris Minor which was mostly bought by modest people including Anglican clergymen. The British Mini was also popular.
The French Peugeot with its distinct lion logo was always popular especially for collective transport. They dominated the busy Masaka Road, starting with Peugeot 403 by 1962. But this was easily overtaken by the roomier Peugeot 404 whose station wagon easily carried eight passengers as it ‘flew’ on Masaka Road. Its engine had a distinct whining sound and you did not need to turn to see which cars was coming when you heard it. Many middle class Catholics of the sixties also liked the Peugeot 404 saloon as the family car. In the seventies, the Peugeot 504 overtook them especially as a family car. Olympics legend John Akii Bua was the first Ugandan to drive a Peugeot 604. President Idi Amin with his swagger at some stage had some Peugeot 305s in his convoy.
The Italian Fiat was also always there, competing very well for space on the Ugandan roads. In the late seventies, Fiat unleashed the classy Super Miafiori on Uganda’s market, followed closely by the tiny Fiat 125. During the heady 1980 election campaigns, Paulo Ssemogerere’s DP lietenants favoured the Mirafiori while Yoweri Museveni’s teams of UPM favoured the 125.
4. MERCEDES BENZ
Benz was always the ultimate status symbol, even by independence time. Senior public officials and successful farmers from Buddu (Masaka) and other areas liked the Benz which set them apart from middle income earners. In the seventies, Mercedes 250 became the car to have if you had really made it.
This was a popular brand though by independence it was mostly known as Roho, a small box body version that seemed to be the uniform of Catholic priests. More fancy models of Renault came in later years. Citreon, with its inverted double V logo was another popular car from France, with a great myth around it that could never overturn. However its simplest student version the ‘Deux Cheveaux’ did not come to Uganda.
From Germany was also extremely popular – especially the ‘Beetle’ that was locally called ‘kikere’ meaning frog. The ‘VW Kombi’ was an early favourite for the passenger transport services. The more modern ‘Golf’ became notorious in the early 1980s, being driven mostly then by brutal officers of the intelligence service called NASA.
7. LAND ROVER
This car from Britain was always a very strong brand in Uganda, preferred by the government forces and other officials working upcountry.
These cars were not that many but were classy and enjoyed a special place of recognition. There was Saab that was popularized by the first black African to complete the East African Safari Rally, Sospeter Munyegera. Then Volvo was also an early entrant into the Uganda market, though remained rather limited to people of particular taste.
Entered the market Uganda after Toyota, but Datsun became a roaring sensation in the late sixties when it would dominate several top positions in the East African Safari Rally. First was Datsun 1600 SSS followed by other popular brands like Datsun 160J.
Toyota started taking over the Uganda market in the mid-eighties as the used car market took root. By the time the NRA took power in 1986, thousands of unregistered Toyotas were on the lawless roads, bearing only Japanese town names where the number plate should be. The commonest was Nagoya and the word Nagoya for a while simply meant an unregistered car in local parlance. After a few months’ honeymoon, the NRM government banned the driving of unregistered cars.