Only two years ago used books could be found on most streets of Kampala. You could find a book you had been saving for at a fraction of the cover price. Now – following a ban and crack-down by city authorities – these second hand books are much harder to find and the lives of avid readers in the city has changed.
Second-hand books haven’t disappeared though and booksellers, like Fatuma Ddamulira, who sells her used books outside a shop on the back street off Dustur Street behind the Cairo Bank building, continue the trade from side streets. Her resilience is telling and she believes that there is always going to be demand for books.
“The customers determine what kind of books we bring,” Ddamulira says. “Mostly, we try to get as many books as possible because there are people always asking for all kinds of books. I do not look down on any book because Kampala readers seem to have an eclectic taste.”
She sits under a huge yellow umbrella, strategically next to her shelf. Apparently, sitting next to this shop does not fool anyone to think she is part of the establishment. The shelf is rudimentary made of cardboard and wooden planks. What happens if the KCCA comes around? “That is a risk I have to take,” Ddamulira says with a shrug.
Her books include titles like Ben Carson’s, Think Big, which like with many other stalls, seems to come together with Robert Kiyosaki’s, Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Ddamulira also has Treasure Island, Song of Ocol and Gulliver’s Travels. The books range in price from 1,000 UGX to 20,000 UGX.
Hussein Kyambadde, who sells his books near the Old Park says he cannot guarantee that he will be found later in the same place. “We are always on the move. The authorities do not want us here. We have to find proper shops or else we leave the streets,” he says. The holiday season is a big time for Kyambadde because this is when students buy most of the books they have been asked to bring in the new school term.
“I stock books I know are on the school syllabus,” Kyambadde says. “Instead of going to the expensive bookshops, students come looking for us so they can save some money.”
Established bookshops scattered across the city tell the story that people are aware of good titles on the international scene even if they cannot frequently afford them. Most of these shops carry a wide variety of local, or African, authors which are published locally and a few of the more expensive titles which arrive in hardback and are then followed by the paperback version a few weeks later.
Richard Wandyaka, a sales executive at Aristoc Booklex, one of Uganda’s biggest bookshops, says there is no competition from roadside dealers. “Our clients come to us mainly because they know us for quality,” he explains, showing the binding of a book that he says differs greatly with what one would find on the street. “Those books out there usually have bad binding jobs and they come apart in one day. They may have a few pages missing and you will find glaring mistakes. We do not deal in such.”
Wandyaka who has worked at Aristoc for seven years says the Kampala book scene is steadily growing but it has not picked up a critical mass. “Right now, there are a few people starting book reading runs. There are a few reading clubs but they still have a long way to go. We tried to initiate a book club but we realized there were not enough people to sustain such a venture.”
According to Wandyaka, the books most in demand in Kampala are usually those about Uganda which indicated to him that most book buyers are tourists wanting to know about hotels and lodges in the country.
Aristoc being a high end bookshop, has prices ranging from 15,000 UGX for smaller books (including children’s literature) to as high as 200,000 UGX for classics.
At present, some of the big sellers in Kampala’s book scene include: Janet Museveni’s My Life’s Journey, Gordon Wavamunno’s, The Story of an African Entrepreneur, President Museveni’s Sowing the Mustard Seed, Gilbert Bukenya’s Through Intricate Corridors to Power and Peter Mayega’s King on the Throne.
One of the hottest titles today is Peeling Back the Mask by Miguna Miguna, a political expose about Kenya. Wandyaka says its price tag (165,000 UGX) is high and by contrast, Maj. John Kazoora’s Betrayed by My Leader costs only 30,000 UGX in paperback is also doing well.
Another place to find cheap read is Fareed’s Book Store in the Ntinda shopping mall in northern Kampala. For as little as 5,000 UGX, you can walk away with a great title.
Even if books have retreated off the streets, Kampala can still find them in the many nooks and crannies around the city. Need to know where a few bookshops are located? Look no further…
23, Kampala Roa
Book and Media Centre
57 Kampala Rd.
Tel: (+256) 0414-256346
Family Book Centre
Pan World Centre, Nkrumah Rd
Tel: (+256) 0414-344839
6 Jinja Rd.
Tel: (+256) 0414-259163
Bakuli Market Rd.
Tel: (+256) 0414-270370, 342121
Crown House, Kampala Rd
Tel: (+256) 0414-348888
Pilkington Rd, Colline House
Tel: (+256) 0414-347555
Pauline’s Book Media Centre
Tel: (+256) 0414-256346
Pilkington Rd, Colline House
Tel: (+256) 0772-518882
St. Paul’s Book Centre
Tel: (+256) 0414-267988
Tel: (+256) 0414-343756
Lincoln Close, Makerere
Tel: (+256) 0414-543442/3