Kampala, Uganda | URN | Bars and clubs in Uganda are continuing to operate behind closed doors during day and night despite the ban by the government to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The government shut down bars and clubs in Uganda in March last year on orders of President Museveni to limit the spread of the contagion. Whereas the government has reopened other businesses that were initially closed, the ban on operation of bars and nightclubs has never been lifted.
Within Kitgum municipality, the majority of the bars have however been in full operation since the ban and occasionally hosted dances and parties till morning.
This publication has established that some of the bars that have been openly operating are owned by security personnel attached to the President’s Office and Uganda People’s Defense Force [UPDF].
Most notable are Icon Bar and Gates Bar all in Central division, less than a kilometer from Kitgum Central Police Station.
During the cause of our investigation in the evening and night hours, the two bars have been filled with revelers who disregarded the Standard Operating Procedures [SOPs].
At some points, the management at Icon Bar also collected gate fees for dances that went on in the evening till wee hours of the morning uninterrupted despite patrols conducted by the police and army.
Security personnel who spoke to our reporter on condition of anonymity revealed that they have had challenges closing down the pubs for fear of sparking off fights among the security personnel who intend to keep their businesses open.
He notes that the pub owners, some of whom have been sensitizing the public on radio stations about the SOPs but maintained their businesses to operate frustrated their efforts to implement the government directives.
According to the source, all the neighbouring bars and roadside shops selling alcohol that had initially respected the ban started operating openly accusing them of being bias.
Kitgum Resident District Commissioner [RDC] William Komakech acknowledged that there was laxity especially during the election time to enforce the directives.
“Election brought a lot of laxity, the election is over now and the implementation must continue.”
He notes that there was a manpower shortage to conduct the implementation of the directives since most personnel were deployed in all the 198 polling stations in the district during the election.
Komakech however says they have now begun fully implementing the directives adding that curfew time has also been restored to limit night movements. He notes that all the implicated bars and clubs have since complied.
But bar owners like James Onen in Central division believes they have been locked out of businesses for so long since last year and notes that it’s time for the government to consider setting their ventures free.
“It’s coming to a year now that I haven’t been able to sell fully like I used to do in the past, with schools being reopened, how will I be able to pay for my children’s school fees?,” he asked.
How other bars and clubs in Uganda are openly operating
In other parts of the country, the situation is not any different. Many pubs are operating openly while others disguised as restaurants.
For instance in Mukono municipality, some bars are instead advertising their businesses with banners indicating it’s a restaurant serving food. However inside, there are varieties of alcohol.
The bars include Casablanca, De Hive, Fish Pond, Labamba, Summer Gardens, Terrace, and Resort bars which are flocked by locals.
Samson Nguubi, a resident in Mukono central division says big bars were guided by law enforcers to change their face brand into restaurants to smoothly operate.
“We have only seen security operations targeting small bars and the big ones left to work, but also those that manage to arrange simple bribes are saved. In Seeta, police officers made it a routine to levy bars,” Nguubi notes.
In Kayunga and Buikwe districts, several small bars operate without being bothered by security personnel during day time until 10pm to midnight.
In Fort Portal Tourism City especially places like Kisenyi central division, customers who turn up to drink alcohol are locked inside bars to hide them away from security personnel as they drink and party.
Festus Bandeeba, the Fort Portal Deputy Resident District Commissioner says the crackdown on defiant bar owners have been on, adding that they will not relent.
For instance he says that in December last year, they arrested 72 revelers at Giraffe View Bar in Fort Portal and they were cautioned against flouting COVID-19 guidelines.
“We also arrested the workers of the bar for some time so that they do not repeat the same,” Bandeeba said.
In Soroti city, bars and clubs such as City Bar, Pentagon, Washington D.C in Pamba Ward, and Skype Club in Otucopi, Soroti East Division, and Rhino Camp in Moru Apesur ward are operating daily.
A boda-boda taxi operator who didn’t want to be named revealed that at Bisina Inn, the management has been charging entry fees to its clients over the weekend.
“…Fridays and Saturdays, the club charges 5,000 for entry. But other days, they sell beer as they play music to the guests. You can drink and dance any time…”
Recently, President Museveni while addressing the nation hinted at the possibility of reopening bar businesses but notes that the technical committee on health was still studying it.