An Open Letter to the Executive Director Kampala Capital City Authority

The average Ugandan still buys his chapatti or rolex from the road side vendor and not Tuskys

Dear Madam,
I, like the rest of the country last week watched with horror the story of the lady (a single mother of three) who drowned in Nakivubo channel as she ran away from the KCCA enforcement officers who wanted to arrest her for streets vending. The boda boda riders and her compatriots carried the body to City Hall to send a message to KCCA and in true police fashion, bullets and tear gas were fired to disperse the crowd. As if that was not enough, the statement from your team is evidently dishonest. 

Your tenure has been characterized by vigorous and I believe honest efforts to put order in the city and ensure its cleanliness. Whereas I must commend the cleaning part, I wonder at what cost the order in Kampala will come. 

You see, all of us want an orderly and beautiful city but shall we have a beautiful city free of street vendors and watch while thousands of its inhabitants slide into poverty each day?

Each of us is attracted to the city because of the jobs, the large market, competitive prices, better schools and health services plus millions of other opportunities compared to the rest of the country. We are all looking for that kikumi to survive. This was what Olivia Basemera was doing when she woke up on the 4th of August to sell handkerchiefs.

I in particular like the Sunday market initiative that has been on for about two years now where vendors lay out their merchandise on allocated roads in the city centre (at a cost) and sell their products. I have also observed that hundreds of street vendors line the streets and pavements without any hindrances from your authority especially around Nakasero market and at the City Square in the early mornings and at dusk either before the big businesses and offices open or after they have closed. 

The beauty with this arrangement is that people conveniently purchase these foodstuffs as they wait for their taxis home in the evening and the street vendors earn their daily bread without inconveniencing the property owners or the shops that rent the commercial buildings on those streets. Most times these vendors deal in cheap perishable food stuffs and other small goods with a working capital of less than fifty thousand shillings. In Basemera’s case, it was handkerchiefs.  That small profit is enough for them to survive and live to fight another day. 

I cite these examples to show you that we can think innovatively on how to bring orderliness to the city and come to a compromise that allows each person to eke a living and enjoy living in Kampala. I am alive to the fact that a clean and orderly city attracts more tourists and generally feels and looks better for the upper class and bourgeoisie but we must understand the demographics that are peculiar to our country and specifically our city. 

Why are supermarket chains like Uchumi and more recently Nakumatt and Tuskys closing? Could it be that the size of our population that makes up the market for their products is not large enough? For instance, how many Ugandans buy their foodstuff in kilos as sold in supermarkets? More and more city dwellers do their day to day shopping from these street vendors and open air markets and not supermarkets. The average Ugandan still buys his chapatti or rolex from the road side vendor and not Tuskys. 

Your office is a technical office and not an electoral one and you might not feel obligated to keep in touch with the average Kampalan or in the very least feel accountable to them, but you must remember that a city is made of people and not high rise buildings or spotless clean roads. When the people are better off, so shall the city. 

Until each person is assured of employment or a source of living, the kifeesi gangs will grow in size, crime rates shall rise, the gap between the rich and the poor will widen and the feelings of disparity will increase. Of course the next general election is still far ahead and the president will not interfere with your work. However I still believe you can make changes to the city without all these clashes and confrontations.

Plus, I’m not the only one who feels this way; Bobi Wine sang the song Jennifer many years ago. You might want to listen to it again.

Yours faithfully,                                                                                                                                                                Concerned Kampalan