Fake money. Fake shoes. Fake motor spare parts. Fake phone batteries.
Name it, almost everything on Uganda's local market appears to be fake. But nothing comes as close to fatal as fake cement. More adulterated cement is finding its way at building sites, and hardly any crackdown on the culprits appears to be working.
In the end, some investigations cite adulterated cement as the reason numerous buildings are collapsing around Kampala. Almost everyone and everything - the laws, the weak enforcement measures, greed, the construction boom - is to blame, depending on who you listen to.
The costs go far and wide. Hima Cement, one of the two largest cement manufacturing companies, continues to cry foul. The company says adulterated cement not only hurts the industry's image, but squeezes out substantial amount of tax revenue, and hampers business growth that would have otherwise created more employment opportunities.
Hima Cement was forced to change its packaging to beat the dubious traders. To understand how the problem comes about is to delve into the spiraling moral degeneration within the country's business circles.
Uganda's construction boom, growing at an average of 10% annually, places further pressure on the price of construction materials. Coupled with the high inflation rates and a strong dollar, the price of materials such as steel, cement, has shot up.
At the other end is the issue of loans. Many of those involved in some sort of construction have taken up loans, and their greatest fear is surrendering the building to the banks because of defaulting on the credit.
The idea then becomes a rush to complete the building at whatever cost, and possibly rent it out to recover the money to pay back the loan. Traders selling fake cement know this too well and take advantage of the situation.
According to industry players, the trick is simple. The trader buys genuine cement, and then repackages it in fake bags after mixing it with sand. The new package is a fake bag that almost looks like either Hima Cement's or Tororo Cements.
Unsuspecting consumers can hardly tell the difference. In the end, the building is not as strong as it should be thanks to the fake cement. Ben Manyindo, UNBS acting executive director, acknowledges that there is a problem in the country, more specifically in the cement sector.
"There is a big problem; adulteration of cement is going on every day in town - go to Nakasero market and you will be surprised. All these buildings collapsing might be a result of cement tempered with."
Richard Ebongo, the bureau's surveillance officer, said: "Averagely, we receive about three complaints per week in Kampala alone about the substandard cement on the market." He added: "This kind of cement reduces the strength of building structures".
Adulterated cement continues to find market because of its price; in some instances it goes for half the genuine price of a bag of cement. A genuine bag of cement goes for Shs 30,000.
Brice Howeto, a member of the East African Cement Producers Association, says there is need for better monitoring and it should start from "the time cement is loaded for transportation, in the warehouse up to the time it's used for constructing. Even the constructors need to be monitored."
UNBS, the body expected to carry out this task, says it is underfunded and cannot employ the staff it would need to fight the vice. However, a whistleblower, who knows the workings of UNBS, said there is a lot of connivance among the bureau's agents and the traders behind fake goods on the market.
The same whistleblower, also told The Observer that there is a lot of state interference in their work, which limits the crackdown on fake products on the market.