Not so Easy Catching Meals in Kampala
Lunch on Kafumbe Mukasa Road and a scene on Entebbe Road.

Not so Easy Catching Meals in Kampala

Enoch examines why many Ugandans in the country’s capital can hardly raise enough money for a meal.

By Enoch Mutabaazi
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First published: December 21, 2005

For many young people growing up in rural Uganda, working and living in the country’s capital, Kampala remains their ultimate goal to achieve. Given the souring poverty levels in the countryside, the city becomes an automatic embodiment of opportunities, which have eluded their families for decades.

That is why many youths will do whatever it takes including selling whatever they own in villages (and some times their families’ possessions) and run to the city with the hope of making ‘quick bucks’. In fact, to many of them, Kampala is what London is to many hopeful and youthful African immigrants. A place of unlimited opportunities!

The difference between Kampala and London however, is at least in London one gets the opportunity of doing Kyeyo (odd jobs) to earn some money; that is if they are not caught and sent back without packing. In Kampala, there are no odd jobs. It is very competitive to even get work as a shamba boy or house helper as the majority of Kampalans who would offer such jobs actually earn the same or below what a house helper in developed countries normally earns.

So that is why many youth who come from villages soon discover (only a little bit late) that the pastures they came pursuing in the city are as dry or probably even drier than what they left behind. Soon they realize that even life’s basics like food and water are bought at a handsome price, not just going down the well or garden to uproot a few cassava stems as normally happens in villages.

Stranded and short of any cash, many such youths join a growing number of city dwellers who hardly afford a meal even when Kampala has never been declared a food insecurity zone or even coming close to any thing like that. The hassle to raise a meal let alone a decent one is so glaring to many residents of this city.

This is not because food is in short supply in Kampala city. In fact, Kampala city remains one of the well-supplied cities in Africa as far as food is concerned. But why is it that many Ugandans in the country’s capital can hardly raise enough money for a meal you may ask?

Kampala, like many cities in Africa, suffers from two chronicle types of unemployment. There is the lack of paying work to do for many young people both educated and none. But the equally worse and growing scenario is that of disguised unemployment, which the majority of people are facing. There is a habit of people trying to make themselves busy by doing some part-time work as they wait for the elusive formal jobs.

“This ranges from hanging around the corridors of shopping arcades with the hope of landing on a naïve passer by who cannot find whatever they want to buy. You run to the nearest shop to get it and sell it to them at an improved price or you guide them to the shop and you are paid Njawulo (difference) by the shop owner,” says 25-year-old Salim Bukenya, who does the same for a living.

Bukenya, and many like him, confess that what they are doing is hardly sustainable and many days they go without a coin, failing to afford even a meal. Even as Kampala is considered one of the cities with the lowest cost of living, at least in terms of food prices, compared to regional cities like Nairobi, Kigali and Dar-el-es salaam, many people can hardly afford it.

A reasonable meal in Kampala costs between 1,000 to 500 Uganda shillings, that is about ½ to ¼ of a dollar, in down town markets, but this remains high for many people. As a result, many inventive ways have been thought out by enterprising Ugandans (mainly uneducated) to find cheaper alternatives.

The most popular meal at any time of the day for many people in Kampala is a chapatti, either served alone at 200 shillings or with beans or with fried eggs depending on the depth of ones pocket. A combination of each of the above costs 500 or less depending on whether you are buying it from Shawuli yako (popular joint for less affluent- translates to “at your own risk”).

Along Kafumbe Mukasa Road, was Steven Katerega, a boda boda cyclist (motor cycle transporter). At 2pm, I found him chewing on a chapatti. He looked privileged among his fellow boda boda cyclists, at least gauging from their conversation. “He is the only one who had not eaten chapatti for credit in a week.” reported Kizza Kissa, his colleague at the stage.

Katerega took a third bite as he crossed the busy Entebbe Road to draw water from a near by tap for accompaniment. Other popular alternatives for meals include round bread rolls commonly known as “buns” served alone or with a cup of black tea at 150 shillings, ripe bananas at 100 each among others.

Affording a meal is not the only challenge for residents of Kampala. Affording transport fares to one’s residence also remains a challenge, leaving behind a legacy of Kampala’s great trekkers.

With all these hardship in getting meals and transport one wonders the effects on the health of the average Kampala dweller.

By Enoch Mutabaazi
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First published: December 21, 2005
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Enoch Mutabaazi is a media practitioner at Ultimate Media Consult with more than six years experience in the print and electronic media. Since he majored in Broadcast Journalism at his graduate studies Mutabaazi first worked as a reporter at Uganda Television (now Uganda Broadcasting Corporation TV) before he discovered his multidimensional skills in writing and public relations at Ultimate Media Consult. He is currently the Production Executive at Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and writes occasionally.