Luzira: University of Understanding
Luzira's main street.

Luzira: University of Understanding

Mambo Bado parish, where most of present Luzira town lies, derived its name from the uncertain days of the 1970s - Mambo Bado is Kiswahili for 'You haven't seen anything yet'.

By Olive Eyotaru
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First published: March 27, 2008

The mere mention of the word 'Luzira' used to send shivers down many Ugandan's spines. This is because Luzira is home to Uganda's main remand and maximum prison aka the 'University of Understanding'. Luzira prison houses more than half the country's convicted criminals. Luzira is also famous for the only mental and psychiatry hospital in Uganda - Butabika Hospital. However, is that all there is about Luzira? There is always another side to every legend, so I set out to find out more about Luzira.

Luzira is a suburb located about seven kilometres south of Kampala city centre, next to Lake Victoria. Luzira is home to Port Bell, an important business lifeline to Uganda's economy. The construction bug currently eating up much of Kampala has not spared this quiet suburb. It is dotted with shops, residential houses and several factories. Wares are displayed on almost every shop veranda and the local market buzzes with activity - traders often call out to passers-by to try to make sales. Charles Kashanguha, who has been a leader in the area since 1986, is the councilor for Mambo Bado parish and says that today, Luzira is very different from what it was several decades ago.

Charles Kashanguha
Charles Kashanguha.

Kashanguha says that in 1960, Luzira was a bushy area with few residential houses. The locals would cultivate sweet potatoes and cassava on the land where most of the new buildings sit today. There were few roads then, the main one leading to Butabika Hospital. Also existing then was the Luzira Government Market at Port Bell, where prison staff would buy food for both their families and the inmates. There was little business activity in the area, save that from the Port Bell pier, which was a tourist site of sorts. White colonial staff would flock it on weekends for leisure, taking pictures and engaging in all sorts of merrymaking. The pier was also a docking site for Kabaka Muteesa II's boats and ships. Many residents would stroll down and watch ferries from Tanzania bring in goods.

"The social life then was dull and boring," recalls Kashanguha. "There was not a single bar or discotheque in Luzira. I had to go to travel to the city center or places like White Nile in Katwe and Kamuru in Mengo when I felt like dancing."

Selling Vegetable at Luzira's market
Selling Vegetable at Luzira's market.

Even residents who wanted to watch movies had to go to Neeta Cinema in the centre of Kampala. But getting to the city centre was tricky. There were few taxis, so people had to either squeeze themselves into old Peugeot saloons or walk the seven kilometres. When the Ugandan government provided a bus to Butabika Hospital from the city centre in the mid 1960s, it made travel easier for people living around Luzira.

After Idi Amin became Uganda's President in the 1970's, Luzira started seeing misery. Because it was located next to a port, a large army contingent was stationed in there. Kashanguha says that soldiers would harass the residents at will and make their lives difficult. Mambo Bado parish, where most of present Luzira town lies, derived its name from the uncertain times then. Mambo Bado is Kiswahili for 'You haven't seen anything yet'.

Kashanguha beams when asked to evaluate the state of Luzira today. Luzira is made up of two parishes - Mambo Bado and Luzira Prison. The two parishes have twenty-two villages between them. Mambo Bado is the bigger parish, housing most of the schools, churches, mosques, residential areas, industries and markets. The councilor says that this area has drastically changed, compared to what it looked like in its earlier days. Storied, commercial buildings now overshadow the small lock-up shops that once stood proudly in the trading centre. It is evident that business is flourishing in Luzira. John Sserwadda, a resident of Kasasiro village in Mambo Bado parish, says that he does not need to go to the city centre to buy anything because Luzira has everything he needs.

A pub in Luzira
A pub in Luzira.

Even the party animals are well catered for. After Six bar is a favourite spot for Luzira's middle class. Here, they sit and talk politics over beer and 'nyama choma' (barbeque). Five hundred meters away is Emitex Pub, famous for its well-roasted pork. Even on a Monday morning, you will find patrons devouring huge pieces of pork, washed down with different tribes of alcohol. Roston Theatre caters for the movie lovers. One does not have to go all the way to the city centre to watch movies anymore. Rwamukaaga Jeff, a university student agrees that it is safe to walk back home in Luzira even at three in the morning; "Luzira is a place where you get to hang out with friends the whole day and night without worrying about security."

Lovers of locally brewed alcohol usually converge at the Acholi Quarters, a few meters from the town's market. These quarters derive their name from the large population of Acholis that settled here. Most of the residents in Acholi Quarters are from Northern Uganda. Here, malwa, made out of fermented sorghum, is sold. Men of stature will be found comfortably drinking from the same pot as a shoe shiner. Once in here, everyone is equal, regardless of his or her social status elsewhere.

It is not only locally brewed alcohol that is consumed here. Luzira is home to Uganda Breweries Limited, makers of Bell and Pilsner lagers. Established in 1960, the company has awakened the sleeping suburb and slowly brought it into the limelight. It is no wonder then, that the area has many bars on many of its streets. Luzira also hosts a fish-processing factory.

Made in Luzira: Bell lager
Made in Luzira: Bell lager.

The Ugandan government recently established an industrial park in Luzira, just below the women's prison. The industrial park is meant to help investors set up industries and cargo holding centers in Uganda. The park is home to a pharmaceutical company that launched its anti-retroviral drug manufacturing operations recently. This, Kashanguha says, is a boost to trade in the area and has offered more employment opportunities to the locals. Some residents reckon that Luzira is the safest residential area in Kampala. Kashanguha says that cases of robbery are rare, probably due to the fact that the gates to biggest prison in Uganda are in full view of the town's residents. The prison officials are friendly and freely interact with the locals, something that was rare in the seventies and eighties. These officials liaise with the local leaders to ensure peace and security in the area. This explains why Luzira is home to some of Uganda's most affluent people, including cabinet ministers, Members of Parliament, business gurus, etc.

Driwaru Maureen, a marketing representative, says that Luzira is a safe neighborhood and the environment is conducive for family life. Freda Apio, who has lived in the area for 12 years now, concurs, adding that civil servants normally buy land here to build permanent houses for their families. Once a place feared by many Ugandans, Luzira is slowly but surely becoming a place of residence for many people. The suburb's population today stands at about 45,000. Due to increasing interest shown in Luzira by property buyers, property owners have erected more self-contained flats for rent. Many flats go for as high as 400,000 Uganda shillings per month to rent.

Upper income housing in Luzira is multiplying steadily
Upper income housing in Luzira is multiplying steadily.

Although Luzira's face has changed in recent years, Kashanguha only hopes that it develops some more. The suburb is fiercely competing with neighbouring Kitintale and while some people still to come to Luzira to be hosted as prisoners or mental patients, many more people now come willingly to enjoy the best of this town.

By Olive Eyotaru
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First published: March 27, 2008
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Olive Eyotaru Yemima is a graduate of Mass Communication. She first worked with Ultimate Media in 2005 as an intern and returned in 2007 as a features writer.

A Ugandan talented creative writer, Eyotaru now writes for both the local and international media and continues to shine in the media every day that passes.