The Observer (Kampala)

8 January 2013

Uganda: It's a Dog-Eat-Dog World

At his job, the reporting time is between 5am and 8am. This is not your usual office job; it's the wholesale section of St Balikuddembe market (previously known as Owino), known to many as Kasodde - a place where traders buy most of their commodities.

Before the day opens to the typical hustle and bustle of downtown Kampala, business in the Kasodde area is always on the high as early as 5am. Though some traders report here by 5am, the gates do not open until 6am.

The day starts with the wholesalers categorising their products in classes of first class, second class and fudge. Every class has a different price. When all is set, the market gates open to an avalanche of traders who have been anxiously waiting at the gate. It thus turns into a rush hour between 6am and 7am. Here, the wholesale traders unleash their new products, most of them cheap Chinese stuff, locally known as okusala endiboota.

Every retail trader will fight their nails off to get to the best product, referred to as first class. It is survival for the fittest. Different wholesalers dealing in different commodities, from shoes, clothes to beddings, sandals, handbags and suits, among others. Some of these are Italian-branded shoes and designer shoes - or at least they look like they are.

Traders unleash their merchandise on the nearest space, shouting out their prices, which can be as low as Shs 500 for kids' clothes to as much as Shs 100,000 for shoes or beddings. In this arrangement, power, speed and experience are vital for retail traders if they are to get the best products. In the meantime, it pays to have good shouting skills.

For ease and organization, which is rare here, each business is always handled by two people - as one shouts out the prices, the other handles the overwhelming customers. This is no place for the meek at heart. It's all gung-ho! Here, you have to shove, pull, and elbow your way over people or else others will do the same to you. The human traffic is overwhelming. Some traders can be seen crowding over ladies' shoes, while others box each other for the men's shirts.

Get it cheap or get cheated

Traders love this because now they can hike their prices. A shirt that would have been sold for Shs 3,000 is instantly hiked up to Shs 8,000. It is a highest bidder's world. The going gets tough for those that have accumulated huge luggage. Moving a big sack full of merchandise in that brick wall of human traffic is nothing but a clear example of man's perseverance and brutal efficiency.

Newcomers are usually the easy targets for cheats. The opening price is always inflated, and if a trader realizes a newcomer among the customers, they will always pounce on this easy prey. A wholesaler will thus ask for Shs 80,000 for a shoe that he can easily give away for Shs 10,000. The unsuspecting buyer will most likely offer to pay half that price, which the wholesaler will happily agree to.

But a customer who is experienced in the business will blatantly offer Shs 6,000 for the same shoe, and will end up buying it at Shs 10,000. The first and second-class categories usually attract strong bargains. The fudge category is always at a constant price.

"We make most of the sales here, some of the fudge is really good and someone can come and make a sweep at a cheap price and end up making big profits out there," noted Peter Mukasa, who deals in men's shoes.

Kasodde is where traders from upcountry markets, suburb markets, street vendors and mobile vendors as well as the uptown traders do their shopping. Some of the shirts and shoes you find in the uptown malls are usually from Kasodde.

Buying for the uptown market

A mere mention of the word Owino means confusion and commotion for many people - especially the corporate. These, therefore, opt for uptown shopping malls like Garden City, Wina Classic and Select Garment, among others. In order to satisfy the uptown market, traders endure the craze at Kasodde, acquire the dirty and out-of-shape commodities, do a makeover on them, and sell them at outrageous prices in the uptown shops.

"For shoes, you just wash and polish them, and put them in a clean place and the price will multiply significantly. For clothes, a simple ironing does the trick," says a trader.

And for many people in Kampala, many would rather buy something expensively from an elegant place than experience the troubles in Owino. "You realize that some people cannot manage to come to Owino. Every Sunday morning, I come and buy in wholesale and then sell them at higher prices," says Charles Mubiru, who has a men's shoe shop in Masaka.

At Mubiru's shop, the cheapest pair of shoes goes for Shs 40,000. "I come very early in the morning and I get first-class shoes which I can even sell at Shs 250,000 after buying them at just Shs 30,000. Kasodde has even attracted traders from as far as DR Congo, according to traders there.

So for those who want to try out Kasodde, it's free entry and exit. But remember to leave your morals behind and come along with a vicious character for this is a dog-eat-dog world.

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