Nakitoma Cattle Market
Herdsmen buy car tire sandals after selling cattle in Nakitoma market.
Apologies: We got the location wrong on the caption of a previous Photo of the day.

Nakitoma Cattle Market

A journey into a cattle market day in Uganda.

By Enoch Mutabaazi
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First published: May 20, 2006

Nakitoma community market is found in Nakasongola district along Kampala-Gulu high way, approximately 150km north of Kampala city. Nakitoma market is popular among the locals, especially among the area's predominantly cattle keeping communities.

It is the leading cattle outlet serving a radius of close or above 50 km. It takes place on Fridays of every fortnight and attracts between 200-300 heads of cattle per occurrence. Besides cattle as the major business, the market also attracts textile, herbal and food vendors, but all thrive on the more lucrative cattle sales.

It costs ten thousand shillings in a taxi and less in a bus to reach Nakitoma market from Kampala. On 12th May, I set on a journey to Nakitoma market. I had to leave Kampala as early as possible to catch the market's early moods. By 8:30 am, I was part of the market revelers.

The cattle section is famous for its well-erected perimeter fence made from eucalyptus poles in a circular form lying on approximately five acres of land. My earlier anticipation was to find a busy market with traders chasing cows around and about. Well... I wasn't disappointed!

The market was not just busy but very busy and congested, with deafening noise coming from every corner of the market. Along with the noise, were people running and scattering in various directions. In the middle of the scuffle was an irritated bull with forward-curved needle sharp horns.

Buying and selling cattle in Nakitoma market
Buying and selling cattle in Nakitoma market.

"Ayaaa... that one weighs about 600kg," yelled one man as he scampered sending cold chills down my stomach. For a moment, I thought it was a buffalo! Its body had bruises after what appeared to be severe beatings. The bull was resisting being ferried onto a waiting lorry and was furiously fighting back sending every one scampering.

According to Musa Kabodde, one of the experienced cattle handlers, the noise was meant to help them confuse the bull not to single out one person as a target of attack, while they are trapping it into many ropes from the hind and fore legs to the horns to disable its movements. Musa said that the noise also helps to alert everyone in the market to take care in case the bull or any rampant cow went on full attack.

Very soon, the 'mad' bull is cornered and dragged into a lorry with several body injuries.

Stubborn animals and congestion aside, business in the market is very brisk and both cattle sellers and buyers are crisscrossing, yelling and heckling each other like stock agents in booming stock exchange centers.

The cattle are brought in the market in herds of between five to fifteen heads, chased by either the owners (herdsmen) or hired men locally known as Bacuba, who are ruthless and reckless with the cows. They hit them to the extent of pealing off their skin and cause multiple injuries. When asked why they torture the cows, the answer is that the cattle are going to die anyway.

On arrival all the cows are taken in the market fence through one in-let, which also doubles as the outlet for both the cattle and lorries which ferry them to Kampala and other destinations like Gulu town.

Unlike stock agents, there is no code of conducting business here. The big money guys from Kampala are bullies and will walk around with their cash in hands. They will ask for the price of a cow and swiftly move away even before they get the response.

The idea here according to one of the experienced cattle sellers and buyers, James Mugabe, is to appear disinterested and land a psychological blow to the seller so that they lower their price. Mugabe says this habit is common among experienced Kampala buyers who are mostly in groups and will ask for the price without buying to create a psychological impression to the seller that he/she is selling the cow expensively.

Sellers and buyers display and inspect cattle in Nakitoma market
Sellers and buyers display and inspect cattle in Nakitoma market.

Many times, the seller cuts the price. But even if the seller appears not moved, the buyers always come back shortly and re-negotiate the price. Like business in other circles, the buyers have to be smart because any slackness is easily punished by other buyers who simply cash the seller's demand price upon eavesdropping the negotiations.

This, according to Alphonse Mujasi happens so often and as an unwritten rule, the previous would be buyer gives in. According to Mujasi, this is a herdsman's ultimate moment to see buyers rushing to pay for his cow without much struggle.

While some buyers wait in the market, others waylay the cattle sellers and buy off the best before they reach the market. This is done to avoid market dues of five thousand shillings per head of cattle but also select the better ones before they are subjected to the torturous market conditions.

By midday, those who have not sold their cattle start panicking as lorries from various destinations start rolling out. By 2 pm, sellers start cutting prices and others literally surreptitiously beg to take their animals- even on credit.

In the morning hours from 8-12 noon, the prices range from 200,000 to 600,000 shillings depending on the weight of the cow or bull, while the price for the young ones range from 120,000 to 180,000 respectively. Now about 4pm, the cows that are not sold are left to go home on their own or escorted by the owners and Bacuba.

After all this buying and selling of cattle, the market turns into a social center as many herdsmen after selling their cows gather to eat, drink and shop for household items such as salt, sandals among others.

Sellers and buyers in Nakitoma market
Sellers and buyers in Nakitoma market.

Slowly in groups of five to ten with thunderous laughter for those who have made a kill, the cattle sellers leave the cattle market section to the textiles and home appliances. To say that they cause inflation in this section is an understatement. No wonder, their crop growing counter parts do not like to buy goods around this time of the market as the vendors will have most likely increased their prices.

Apart from causing this inflation on household items, the cattle sellers themselves soon invade the food stuff section. It is like whoever attends the market has one compulsory duty to perform before leaving the market- eating an 'anthill' of a plastic plate of food.

According to Mujasi, besides milk, many herdsmen feed on maize flour for the whole fortnight to sharpen their appetite for the market day. In fact, Mujasi says that not all those who come to the market have cows to sell or want to purchase some items. "One rides a bicycle for close to 20 km to come to the market with the purpose of just eating a meal fried with cooking oil," he concludes.

Herdsmen eat in a kafunda after selling cattle in Nakitoma market
Herdsmen eat in a kafunda after selling cattle in Nakitoma market.

Ironically, while eating the 'unique' market food is a prestige to many, to other cattle keepers, the entire exercise of eating food is referred to as ekihagaro- an abomination. Sam Lugazora says that eating food among herdsmen has a negative impact on their cows like causing stillbirth. It is therefore common to find many of them eating while covering their heads not to be seen. Others almost lynched a photographer on the sight of a camera flashing in their direction. Lugazora says that while eating food is normal, one should make sure that they are not seen by people who know them.

The market day is also another lucky day for the barbers, as they have to attend to hundreds of heads of steel looking hair.

As the time approached 5 pm, the group of men I was following descended on a stall that was selling sandals made out of car tires. These sandals are very common among the herdsmen because they not only last long, but they are also affordable. One by one, they fit in the sandals and pay to the delight of the vendor.

And that is Nakitoma Market- an enjoyable market that has made many people in the area eagerly wait for another market day when cattle sellers will once again sell and get on a buying mission.

By Enoch Mutabaazi
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First published: May 20, 2006
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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.