Nearly two weeks into the 42-day COVID-19 lockdown and around 600 vendors at Kampala’s largest market Nakasero are forced to stay overnight in makeshift cold cramped quarters.
The traders try to get some sleep surrounded by their fresh produce — as they navigate the strict dusk-to-dawn curfew in the hopes of making a living through the coming weeks.
A cold night’s sleep between the fruit and vegetable stalls is their chosen setting as they are forbidden from returning home — as per an agreement with the government in order to keep working during the lockdown without violating the imposed curfew.
Abu Kikomeko, a local market vendor, feels the stark difference from his usual living conditions.
“I’m sleeping on a mat and some pieces of boxes, together with my net.”
The resilient business-minded people lay on beds laid on the concrete floor — covered with mosquito nets provided by the government, which has also distributed drinking water and soap.
The air may be stale and muggy, but at least a tin roof covers their heads.
The less fortunate are forced to sleep in the open, curled up on sheets of cardboard or hessian sacks in a vain attempt to keep warm from the biting cold.
Comfort is in short supply. Personal space is scarce, and amenities ill-equipped to handle so many people.
Gladys Kyabangi Sebuyira, a female market vendor, described the intersectionality of the experience.
“Life has changed that because we are not at home everything is just difficult. Bathing, as you know ladies, it’s quite difficult. Washing our things, the way we sleep. Things are not so easy.”
In light of the record number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni froze all public and private transport on June 18.
As such not only are market vendors down by three quarters but buyers — fearful of contagion, even more so.
Sentoongo Mansoor, vice chairman of Nakasero market, said the lockdown was having an economic impact, hitting traders particularly hard.
“The time when is not lockdown we are more than 2500 here, vendors in this market. But for now, if it is a lockdown, we have like 600 vendors who spend here a night.”
Linet Okoth, a local trader, laments the current state of affairs.
“We don’t have customers. They are not coming to buy, because they fear to come here.”
Throughout the night, truckloads of fresh produce are delivered to Nakasero from across Uganda, but it is not clear it can all be sold with trade in a slump.
Hospitals in the East African country of 45 million people are struggling to cope with daily new COVID-19 infections which soared from the low 100s in late May to over 1,700 by mid-June.