Nakulabye: A Town Living Up to its Name

Nakulabye: A Town Living Up to its Name

I saw you. I saw you doing it!

By Jude Bukenya
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First published: April 7, 2007

There is a Luganda 19th century folk story that is told about how Nakulabye, a suburb located in the northwest of present day Kampala and about 1km north of Buganda's administrative headquarters at Bulange, Mengo came to get its name. This area used to be covered by a huge banana plantation. According to the folk story, Baganda subjects used to tend this plantation on behalf of their Kabaka (King). One day, something they considered horrible happened. A couple was found committing adultery in this plantation. Loud alarms followed; "Nakulabyenakulabye uuuu...uuuunakulabye". This translates from Luganda as: "I saw you. I saw you doing it!"

From that time, it is claimed, this place came to be called Nakulabye. Today, there is little left of the big plantation. The remaining plantation is on a piece of land that is equivalent in size to a basketball court and is located on the lower side of Nakulabye called Kiwuunya Zone (at Nakulabye's border with Makerere University). The buildings in Nakulabye come in all sizes and architectural designs, ranging from mud and wattle shacks, duuka-shaped (lock-up shop) structures housing bars to storied structures, all competing for any available space. One thing that has not changed since the 19th century incident however, are the scenes of men and women using the Kabaka's land to share earthly joys (although they sometimes end up in fights and more shouts of "Nakulabye").

What is left of the Kabaka's plantation in Nakulabye
What is left of the Kabaka's plantation in Nakulabye.

One reveler at Nicodemus Pork Joint (a popular dungeon for pork destroyers in the area) describes Nakulabye as: "A place where people do not sleep, a place where the beer smell overpowers any perfume ever made on earth and a place where you can meet friends and at the same time destroy a P.1 G (slang for pork) and where it is common to see people kissing either a bottle of beer or soda if not their lovers."

Despite being surrounded by slums and being remembered by the bombs that were not so long ago thrown at revelers enjoying their weekends, Nakulabye remains one of the hottest spots on Kampala's social scene because of the various activities that take place twenty four hours a day, seven days a week in this congested town, located about 3 km along the Kampala-Hoima highway road.

It shares borders with the Anglican 'holy hill' of Namirembe, the shanty town of Kasubi, Makerere University, Makerere Kikoni, Mengo and Kagugube Zone along Sir Apollo Kaggwa road. It is only a few minutes drive from the center of Kampala City on a traffic jam free day. Nalulabye, which has been described by some in the past as a home to cheap lodges (guest houses) and fast disintegrating houses, is today one of the areas in Kampala that are seeing a steady growth in infrastructure. The transformation has seen storied buildings swallow up mud and wattle structures and supermarkets are fast replacing roadside kiosks.

Structures, big and small, jostle for space in Nakulabye
Structures, big and small, jostle for space in Nakulabye.

Because of its proximity to Makerere University, Nakulabye's growth has been attributed by some to the boom in student hostel businesses resulting from the ever increasing number of university students in the area.

The population of Nakulabye:

Visiting Nakulabye for the first time can be misleading. You might get the impression it is an area that mostly hosts the poor but this is can't be further from the truth. Although the majority of the people residing in the surrounding slums live in structures that are separated by two meters or less are low income earners, higher classes of people live right beside them.

Whereas the Kiyindi (Luganda word for an area full of Indians) Zone in Nakulabye is home to mostly affluent Asians and young employed professionals earning between $150 and $300 a month, Kiwuunya zone, is unofficially the biggest waragi (local liquor) distillery in Kampala and Kiyaaye Zone is notorious for high rates of theft and hosts mostly lower income earners (including petty traders, taxi conductors/touts, food vendors, waragi barmen and other casual laborers).

The pork link.

During the period when the offices of the Federation of Uganda Football Associations (FUFA) were located in Nakulabye, the media attributed the failure of soccer in Uganda and the misappropriation of the federation's funds to Nakulabye's pork. The then FUFA President, Dennis Obua was accused of spending much of his time at Nicodemus Pork Joint, about 20 meters from the FUFA offices, instead of promoting the world's most popular game in Uganda. In fact, if you were asked to go and eat Obua (this is not meant to offend Mr. Obua), it meant you were to go to Nakulabye to eat pork.


A typical pork joint in Nakulabye where P 1Gs meet their end
A typical pork joint in Nakulabye where P 1Gs meet their end.

Today, Nakulabye boasts of about 30 pork joints (eating places). Most notable among them are Nicodemus, Rhino Pub, Pork Talk, Hakuna Matata and Sim Kat all located along Makerere Hill road. As you drive past or ride your Footsubishi (walk) along this road, a sweet aroma of roasted pork (in case pork does not offend you) sweeps through your nostrils and if your faith or stomach does not abhor pork, you may have enough reason to stop at one of the rocking pubs to place your order. As you munch your pork and sip a drink, blaring music gives you company. A plate of pork is likely to set you back 2500 Uganda shillings or more while a beer will relieve you of 1500 shillings around here.


Nightlife in Nakulabye

On a daily basis, as early as 5:30 pm, local women start ferrying baskets of steamed food like cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, fried fish, rice and fruits like avocado to the roadsides. Some residents in and around Nakulabye buy this food for their supper. These foodstuffs are sold in the open and packaged in polythene bags. This kind of arrangement is appreciated very much by local bachelors, especially Makerere University students who can't afford to cook their own food and small families that find it convenient to consume this kind of food. A good piece of cassava goes for 100 Uganda shillings while those of sweet potatoes and yams range from 200 to 1000 shillings depending on their size.

For rice pilao, a plate sets you back by 500 shillings (as compared to 1000 and 2000 in a 'proper' restaurant) while avocado and chapattis (local version of naan bread) cost only 200 shillings each. The famous Rolex (chapatti rolled with an omellete), chips, egg rolls and fried pieces of chicken are also on sale here in the evenings.


Raw food stalls in Nakulabye Market
Raw food stalls in Nakulabye Market.

Burning sigiris (local version of charcoal barbeque stoves) and pans used to fry chips and other delicacies are lined up along the road as neatly as a group of United Nations tanks on a peace keeping mission. Simon Njagala, a university student whom this writer found relaxing at Chez Johnson Hotel, speaks with pride as he explains how he convenient he has found life in Nakulabye. While St. Balikuddembe market downtown closes in the evening, Nakulabye market is thronged by more customers. Items on sale include mivumba (second hand clothes) hanged under beach umbrellas and other merchandise like flip-flops, perfumes, photo frames, etc, all sold on temporary stalls.


Nakulabye in daytime:

Like one reveler explains, Nakulabye is lively all the time. However, unlike most other places in Uganda which are only busy during the day, Nakulabye is not as busy when the sun is still in the sky as it is when the sun is not. In the mornings, before the cleanup exercise starts, drinking straws litter the floors of the pubs (many Ugandans drink beer through straws). As the sun rises further into the sky, there is little to tell that it is the same bustling place you saw during the night (in case it was your first time there). The bars are deserted but the shops, salons, music shops, butcheries and restaurants are pretty much open. By 11:00am, trucks begin arriving with meat at the butcheries while pork joints also begin to arm themselves for the new day by stocking enough P.1G.


Kiwunya Zone, Nakulabye
Kiwunya Zone, Nakulabye.

In the Nakulabye market, traders are exchanging money for fresh supplies including fruits and vegetables of different types, fish (both fresh and smoked), heaps of cassava, Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes among others.


In the guest houses, it is business as usual. A host of guest houses (also sometimes called lodges) are visible here especially as one leaves the main roads in the town and turns into the deeper areas of Nakulabye. Drinks are available in some guest houses but in most, only beds are provided at any time of the day. You want to know why? Visit Nakulabye!

By Jude Bukenya
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First published: April 7, 2007
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Jude Bukenya is a senior political and business reporter with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd.