Inside story: How Indian traders’ ‘revenge’ via business closure is biting Lango natives

Hardware shops - like supermarkets and others have since Saturday been closed. Courtesy photo.

On Monday and Tuesday morning in Lira town, as usual – the town was lively with people wandering up and down, men and women heading for their businesses whilst kids taking their ways to schools.

But if you are a curious species of human being, something unusual attracts your eyes; shops, supermarkets and pharmacies belonging to Indian nationals remain under locks.

It’s nearly three days and still counting that Indian and Paskistani nationals trading in Lira town, out of fear of attack by the local community stemming from the alleged killing of a boy in Kole by one of their own has been forced to close up their business.

No doubt. There are over hundred shops owned by Indians and Pakistani nationals that are top notch preferences by the locals when it comes to buying mobile phones; its accessories, television sets, bread [hot loaf] and the list is endless.

In this piece, TND News Uganda’s Frank Oyugi took to the streets of Lira town with an analytical eye on the economic cost [loss] the recent tensions, notably protest against foreign traders by some locals, leading to shops’ closure by these foreign nationals.

Quick to note is that what one would describe as indigenous supermarkets, pharmacies, hardware shops, etc owned by local businessmen and women in Lira town and outside town are quickly counted.

In Lira town alone, majority of these daily used shops [businesses] – supermarkets, hardware shops, pharmacies, and others are not more than ten; including electronic shops.

Lira town [district] hosts about forty [40] mini and life-size factories majorly dealing in oil seeds production and of these, about 98 percent are owned by Indian, Pakistani nationals.

This ideally means that huge number of workforce in the sub-region gain their source of livelihood from these revenging foreign employers.

“I have come to realize that there are some specific items that are only sold in Indian shops and supermarkets. For instance, there is a particular sanitary pad that I use; I could not find it in any local shop,” a lady who preferred anonymity told TND News Uganda.

Dr. Leslie Nek, a former manager at Uganda Aids Information center in interview with our investigative reporter said: “We actually need these Indian shops to open.”

Mr. Nek explains that after busy hours at work, he prefers to shop general merchandize and groceries from supermarkets owned by Indian nationals late in the night which is not currently possible.

“Last evening my wife called me to buy a few groceries. I actually thought I would shop on my way home as usual, but I was disappointed on Monday night, I couldn’t find any shop open,” Dr Nek further says in an interview.

That aside, the numerous supermarkets in Lira town, does not employ less than three attendants to man their shops. They [local workers] receive daily allowances and salaries.

Since Saturday that shops have remained closed, indigenous laborers have been rendered jobless and hardly able to fend for themselves, let alone women who clean grains at Asian owned factories and those who work in pharmacies.

A 19 year old Jane Akello (not real name) tells TND News Uganda that the tension in Lira town that has forced their employers to close business is having a disastrous impact on their source of livelihood.

“I am not the type of person who is used to sitting at home the whole day. I love to work. But most importantly I will run out of food in a few days because I have missed my daily allowance of shillings 5000 for the last three days,” she narrates.

Another male employee at Zhee Pharmacy on Obote Avenue says he is not sure of how he will manage to sort out his rent because the month is just about to end.

This native supposes that he may never receive his November payment if Asian nationals are not allowed to resume businesses.

This critical situation is leaving no person without something to reveal as local economy of Lira town and Lango sub-region at large may dwindle further if an option to this crisis is not discovered soon.

And just like consumers and employees in Indian or Pakistani owned businesses, the suppliers are not spared at all.

Bonny Otim, the Regional sales manager of Pearl Diaries – known for supplying Lato milk to mainly Indian supermarkets and bought by local consumers, mainly, confessed that they are also counting loses.

“We have been affected in a way that we have been forced to look for other markets as far as West Nile which comes with a cost,” Otim exclusively told us.

Apart from reduction in their supplies, Otim says they will also loose on customer satisfaction since those used to their products are not able to access those products.

It may however come as good news for some businesses like local pharmacies, hardware shops, and others.

Along Obote Avenue, TND News Uganda witnessed a huge turn up at Feliesta Pharmacy on Monday. There was a long queue of clients buying different drugs for ailment. This is however, playing a positive alternative to the current crisis.

But should the status quo remain, may be for longer, Lira municipal council will also count loses in revenue. For a pharmacy or a supermarket to operate, it pays a trading license from between shillings 150,000 – 300,000.This means if just 100 units of such businesses remain closed, Lira municipal could lose up to about shillings 30m in revenue.

How locals treat local businesses in Uganda

Entirely, in Uganda but with specific interest in Lango sub-region’s districts – natives prefer to buy from shops or businesses owned by foreigners than from those owned by their sons or daughters.

In Lira town, supermarkets owned by natives are not many but at least packed with everything someone would need to take home.

Interestingly and very sadly, just a few of people [locals] enter into these shops to support their own and or to encourage them.

“Local businesses owned by local people have become second option today. Lango have no good heart to support their own,” a businessman in Junior Quarters, Adyel division in Lira town says.

He adds: “With this crisis, we are somehow picking up. I pray my people can learn from this.”

Reporting by Frank Oyugi and Milton Akwam

On Tuesday they met with district leaders at Lira district council hall to find better option. Courtesy photo.
On Saturday, some locals protested against Indian traders by blocking roads and burning woods. Courtesy photo.

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