Rush to urbanise leaves food vendors out in the rain

The drive to organise and improve towns and cities in Uganda is leaving food vendors out in the rain, warns Chris Busiinge from the Kabarole Research and Resource Centre.

Christopher Busiinge's picture
Guest blog by
7 July 2015

Christopher Busiinge is head of the Kabarole Research and Resource Centre's Information Unit, and one of IIED's international fellows

Muganda at his stall at Karango town with Medius Bihunirwa, a researcher with the Kabarole Research and Resource Centre (Photo: Kabarole Research and Resource Centre)

It's 1.15pm on Saturday, 18 April 2015 and we are meeting Basaija Godfrey (aka Muganda), a food vendor in Karago Trading Centre.

Karago is an important trading centre near Fort Portal in Uganda, and has just been elevated to the status of being a town with its own town council. This is part of the Fort Portal Municipality hinterland. Fort Portal is growing rapidly and has been identified to become Uganda's tourist city by 2040.

Both Fort Portal and Karago are classic examples of small towns in Africa that are being pushed to urbanise. The government of Uganda wants to transform villages into towns, municipalities and cities.

It has been argued that these urbanisation trends create pressure to increase food supplies for town dwellers, most especially for the poor. Street food is one of the main sources of food for the urban poor — but is very much an informal affair.

When it was announced that Karago was becoming a town, roughly two years ago, Muganda was a food vendor in the Karago trading centre, selling food from a mud and wattle house. Changes introduced by the new town council leadership pushed him to operate in the open. He, together with his colleagues, were forcefully evicted to pave the way for new developments.

Muganda has been a food vendor for 10 years. The business has paid for two boda-boda bikes (a motorcycle taxi, used to transport passengers and goods) and a piece of land, and he has also opened a cinema hall.

The range of food offered by street vendors in Fort Portal such as Muganda (Photo: Kabarole Research and Resource Centre)

Muganda claims that on a good day, he is able to serve more than 200 clients. Some of his clients are pupils and students from neighbouring schools or travellers on the Fort Portal to Bundibugyo highway.

He sells a range of foods including chapatti, pilao and french fries (aka chips). He spices up his meals with vegetables, liver, eggs, beans and beef.

In the middle of our conversation, Muganda is interrupted by a heavy cloud hovering over the skies above the Rwenzori mountains.

"If it starts raining now, I will have to take shelter on the veranda – sometimes there's no space for me and my utensils," he said.

Muganda's stall gets shuttered by a heavy downpour (Photo: Kabarole Research and Resource Centre)

As he was speaking, it started raining heavily. We dashed to take shelter in the car, leaving Muganda struggling in the heavy downpour.

Uganda's drive to urbanise seems to be overlooking the needs of the poor. Street vendors such as Muganda will most likely continue to suffer the wrath of this urbanisation trend.

The authorities' preference for formal arrangements (e.g. organised markets and buildings) appears to be throwing away the efforts of those with low incomes.  

The leadership involved in this urbanisation process need to urgently think through future repercussions, lest the trend could likely cause urban insecurity.

Christopher Busiinge ( is head of the Kabarole Research and Resource Centre's Information Unit, and also one of IIED's international fellows. This blog was written with the help of Medius Bihunirwa, head of the Farmer Enterprise Development Unit at Kabarole.

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