Kampala street view
Image: © Camilla Kuckartz

Kampala: The city as a marketplace

The capital of Uganda bustles with economies in all its corners. Camilla Kuckartz shares her observations of the daily exchanges in the city that is Kampala

The economy is omnipresent in Kampala. Everyone is a trader somehow, somewhere, and you can’t spend a single day without negotiating the price of something, because yes, everything is negotiable. There is no such thing as a normal day in Kampala, but one without any major surprises might go something like this...

You wake up in the morning, late for work, so you decide not to drive with your car to avoid the traffic jam that congests the streets from 7.30 am onwards. Outside your house you stop a boda-boda driver. Boda-boda are motorbike drivers, who get their name from transporting goods from ‘border to border’ (I told you everyone was a trader). You negotiate the price for the ride to town. Reaching your office you realize that you need to buy credit (called airtime) for your phone. You buy a small scratch paper for as little as 30 cents from one of the countless airtime sellers, and type the code in your phone to charge credit. The office, no matter where you work, is a marketplace in itself. There are canteens where you can buy tea, coffee and a selection of delicious snacks. Nothing out of the ordinary there – but there’s people passing through our offices too, selling all sorts of things. I’ve bought some interesting stuff from them – I would never have gone out in search of a solar torch, but now it's part of my possessions.

Kampala is so hustling, busy, and never exhausted that sometimes I forget to reflect on what I see.
A view from the roadside in Kampala
A view from the roadside in Kampala

After work you might visit the 'real' market. Here you can really see the economy in reality. When you are shocked about how high the price of passion fruits is this week, the lady tells you that last week’s rains affected the harvest. Demand and supply, you remember.

Over a cold beer and some fresh grilled goat meat you reflect on your day.

Kampala is so hustling, busy, and never exhausted that sometimes I forget to reflect on what I see. It’s not all positive. I see huge inequalities every day, like a golden shiny Mercedes passing a street child begging at the traffic junction. Kampala is diverse, adventurous and so full of people with ambitions that sometimes you feel everyone is a market participant to some extent.

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