Behind the changing face of downtown Kampala

Five years ago, each time you would think of going downtown Kampala, key cautions would run in your mind never to talk on phone while walking, never to carry a laptop or even an expensive bag. Crime was at the top.

It is different now, and such cases significantly reduced. Places which used to act as thugs’ hubs have been turned into first class shopping centres while others have been made open spaces for people to pass.

You will be shocked when you visit there magnificent shopping malls like those uptown, some with fancy restaurants at their balconies on which you can gaze at the rest of the town. When you are tired of shopping, you can find a place where to sit and grab a drink, just outside shopping malls.

This was never a description for down town Kampala, not even close.

Downtown was often taken to be unsafe and felt unsafe. In fact it was known as a muddled place characterised by pick pockets, shoplifters, drug addicts and stinking trenches. Some of the things that made downtown a menace to most Ugandans.

Better shopping option
Forget the chaotic hustle and bustle. But over time, it has slowly changed. Downtown is picking up to the level of attracting uptown dwellers, who have now changed their attitude that downtown is a good shopping place.

“I disliked shopping from downtown because of the congestion and parking inconvenience it came with. I can now brag to my friends about driving to downtown, my car unscratched and go shopping without a worry about pickpockets. The magnificent shopping malls are irresistible,” says Jeninah Karungi, a frequent shopper.

Going there is no longer as risky as it used to be and investing there could be a lucrative deal, not just a mere bet. Perhaps, this is why there are an increasing number of big businesses which were initially only perceived to be uptown ventures, from big supermarkets to banks and fancy restaurants.

Are these the services downtown was known for? Or could it be the reason why elites despised downtown places?

Not at all, it was rather because of poor sanitation, chaos and thieves associated with downtown. On any given day, downtown was heavily occupied by thugs. It was a place pedestrians would be robbed of their valuables during broad daylight.

Ellen Nanfuka who runs a boutique on Swaminarayan Road opposite St Balikuddembe Market, Owino, says over four years ago, there were very many thieves, from morning to evening.

“You would see people crying everyday because their bags and phones were snatched,” Nanfuka adds, pointing a finger to Nakivubo lane which she said was the criminals’ hideout. “Things have improved and thieves reduced”.

But what are these new changes of the new look of downtown Kampala.

From criminals’ hub to haven
Godfrey Ntambi, a boda boda operator who has been at Katuba Stage at Swaminarayan Road for seven years, says the major change in downtown Kampala is improved security as a result of expelling hawkers and vendors.

Thieves used to masquerade as hawkers to steal passersby. “The main problem was the high number of thieves. It would be difficult for some people to come downtown. Nowadays, many people to do their shopping because the former park yard at Nakivubo, where thugs used to hide, was rehabilitated into a shopping mall. And thieves are no more,” Ntambi says, smiling with a sigh of relief.

Venansio Mushuluba, another boda boda operator who works at Burton Street near Old Taxi Park says there are now nice buildings and ‘big people’ can shop from downtown. Security has improved and the number of thieves that used to hide in trenches significantly reduced.

“Despite the fact that some areas are still congested, there is quite enough space for parking cars and pedestrians are not as scared as before,” adds Mushuluba, who has been operating boda boda downtown Kampala for three years.

Rachael Birungi once lost her phone to downtown thieves along Luwum Street.

“I was talking on the phone as I moved to the old Taxi Park a thug grabbed my phone midway my call and disappeared between taxis,” Birungi says. “I screamed but no one could help”.

Security magnitude
Security downtown Kampala is boosted by three police posts, all located within a radius of 200 metres, Kikuubo Police Post located in Kikuubo shopping centre, Old Park Police Post located on Burton Street and Nakivubo Police Post located on Swaminarayan Road. These police posts were established about five years ago.
They are a brainchild of the community around, Kikuubo Old Park and St Balikuddembe Market because of increased number of thieves. While some stay in offices, others keep moving around monitoring what is taking place. The policemen clad in uniform armed with batons and guns momentarily traverse the busy streets to ensure safety.

In a telephone interview, the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesman, Patrick Onyango says the security downtown Kampala has improved over the past three years. He attributed this to cooperation between the community downtown Kampala and police.
“We have involved the public in security matters,” Onyango says. “We sit and find solution together.”

Although Onyango could not furnish statistical information on reduced crime rate downtown Kampala, he noted that the establishment of several police posts in the area, and constant patrol done by police has helped to reduce crime rate. He added that police also installed CCTV camera in downtown Kampala to help in detecting thugs.

Shanty structures to magnificent malls
When KCCA cleared illegal structures constructed along Nakivubo, it led to the springing up of magnificent shopping malls with some parking space. People who come for shopping can be sure of a parking space.

“It is convenient for me to buy from New City Supermarket on Nakivubo road and cross to New Taxi Park to board to my home,” Alex Ssemanda who routinely shops after work, says of the new downtown.

But Mary Nasuuna who lives in Busabala says while there are good shopping centres downtown, she doesn’t shop in one place.
“I used to do my shopping at Savers Supermarket on Bombo Road,” says Nasuuna, “But nowadays, I shop at Mega Standard Shopping Centre before I head home. All this depends upon timing as I occasionally shop uptown.”

Shoppers can also be sure their vehicles’ side mirrors will still be on the time they finish shopping rounds. This however is limited to a few shopping malls like Ham Shopping Mall that occupies the former park yard. Outside these shopping malls, there are parking spaces and with security officers watching over what goes around.

Improved sanitary conditions

What has attracted the first class services to down town is not only improved security, but also improved hygiene. Stinking trenches which used to scare way people have been turned into centres of attraction. With well-cemented trenches and flowers planted on either side .

Food traders and unhygienic food joints that used to occupy loggias of shopping malls were chased away.

Shopping malls like Magoba Shopping Centre and New City Supermarket overlooking Old Taxi Park from Nakivubo are just a few of the striking features. They sit on about 120metres of land, stretching longitudinally, from one corner of Nakivubo War Memorial Stadium to another.

Traffic flow
Movement is quite easier since the expulsion of vendors and establishment of gazetted parking points. However, there are still some drivers who park at undesignated places.

Sidewalks on Nakivubo Channel Road, Luwum Street and Burton Street which were initially occupied by hawkers and vendors are now pedestrian paths. Previously, people in hordes would tread carefully not to step on the vendors’ merchandise on one side while dodging chaotic vehicles on the other. You could mistake bodabodas to be on a rally, with no space between them.
Although it hasn’t hugely reduced, pedestrians can easily negotiate their way through.

One thing about the current downtown Kampala is that you will go shopping and come back without losing any of your properties.o
But the unanswered question is will the new downtown Kampala be for every Ugandan?

New Taxi Park

At the sound of New Taxi Park, it supposedly had to be a neat, well-painted and organised expansive space packed with commuter taxis to different destinations.

But, it turned out very different. The space quite big but everything else therein looked shabby and dilapidated. All punctuated by the litter from the hawkers and on a rainy day, shoes caked with mud were a common sight.

With the new face-lift courtesy of KCCA, the New Taxi Park stands out as one of the most organised parks downtown Kampala. In this new space , drainage has been improved and tarmack put all over. Potholes are part of its history. With shops like Musa and Brothers Shopping Centre and Swinta bakery depot, passengers can grab a drink and a bite before boarding taxis. This park is known mainly for taxis which go to distant places, like Mbale, Fort Portal, Mbarara and Masindi.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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