Another great city story ends with Stanbic leaving Cham Towers

Stanbic inherited the assets of the former Uganda Commercial Bank. UCB was set up by the colonial government at the end of the 1950s to provide credit for African businessmen who were not catered for by foreign banks in operation then. UCB was the anchor for Africanisation of the economy – a brave move in the 1950s. This was the time the Kampala Taxi Park became operational. It was also the time the shops bordering the taxi park were exclusively allocated to Africans alongside the Asian businessmen who controlled the huge blocks of shops on the former South Street between the bus terminal, Owino and Nakivubo Settlement Primary School. St Balikuddembe Market (then Owino)ame into existence much later in the 1970s – a reaction to the breakdown of the formal economy that followed Idi Amin’s economic war.
On December 31, 2014, the flagship branch at a building that once served as UCB headquarters will close. It is a bitter sweet moment for history buffs, marking the end of an era. Barclays is renovating a colonial building at the KampalaEntebbe road junction but has mostly shrunk its banking halls. Stanbic still has a 10 per cent government share and an informal “golden” share that commits them to maintaining a large up-country network. It has 55 branches or 11.5 per cent of the total commercial bank network of 480 bank branches.
The diversity of their network, for example, is the reason why Stanbic is the only major bank between Mbarara and Kasese, a region that covers the tea growing areas of Igara County and the southern reaches of the Rwenzori sub-region.
Kampala’s changing skyline has reduced the dominance of three buildings at the heart of the city: the Diamond Trust Building, the former UCB and Uganda House. For many years, one of the three functioning traffic lights in Kampala controlled traffic in this stretch of Kampala Road. UCB and Uganda House were completed during Idi Amin’s time, as was the International Conference Centre Complex and Entebbe International Airport. The CEO of UCB was more prominent than the Governor of the Central Bank and the illustration of Sir Richard Kaijuka who served between 1981 and 1985 and Dr Frank Mwine who served between 1987 and 1991 capture the larger-than-life personalities who managed the bank.
As a five-year-old, I recall walking into the former UCB building with my mother and great uncle, the late Msgr. Steven Mukasa, to open a bank account in 1981. For a child, the concrete edifice was simply overwhelming it was built to be sound proof (and probably bomb proof). It remains a mystery if Kampala’s bomb shelters are underneath this building. Its structural strength seems so robust that it has survived at least one great fire under the tenure of the current owners.
The caretaker of this building, Mr Karim Hirji (matters of ownership in this city remain murky), has re-livened its faade with scores of little shops with diverse merchandise in the place where upscale shops of yesterday dominated. Even Kampala’s first music shop has found a prominent place at the front of the building, providing a break for parents who want a little bit more for their children than inflated bouncing castles.
Closing this branch is testimony to planning challenges in the city. In spite of its prominence, accessing the building is no child’s play. Foot traffic remains a challenge on Kampala Road and it is doubtful the branch’s new address will do any better. The former Udyam House is a notorious choking point, not of the sort that will attract new customers to the former UCB.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Aocate.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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