Popularly known as “kafunda“, Kampala’s informal restaurants are a refuge to the capital’s unemployed and low income earners. Known by some as “ toninyilila these eat outs are a myriad of encounters and gaping insights. The term “kafunda” is derived from the small spacing that characterizes this environment, simply translated to mean “narrow” or “do not step on my toes” by some. To the creators of such structures, makeshift is the modus operandi.
Social demographics states that communities are defined by the people that inhabit them and not their structures. However, Kampala’s informal restaurants define its people through their structures. Take for instance the Egyptians who are well known historically mostly for the structures they built, the Pyramids. In spite of their rich cultural heritage, scientific intellect and governing systems, their structures have remained as a resonating image of who they were. This begs of the question, what do Kampala’s structures tell of its people?
To begin, when it comes to constructing these restaurants consideration to permanent structures is secondary and held as sort of a luxury. Instead attention is mostly directed to the availability of equipment in which case are the cooking saucepans, plates and other paraphernalia. Even serving customers in the open air is a compromise that can be reached. Such disregard for standards is not ignorance to the comfort of their customers, but rather a choice of affordability.
The prices at which these meals are bought allow for mere sustenance of operations. After deducting the amount of money needed for shopping tomorrow’s menu all that is left is distributed in daily wages to the struggling waitresses and cooks which leaves a meager profit.
Building standards for these restaurants are characterized by one room styled building with the entrances serving as the cooking area. Seats are provided for through benches leaving no room for back rest, which also means the number the number of customers that can be seated, operates within the approach of “filled to the maximum.” According to my first hand experience, the meals provided fit the definition of a balanced diet. However, the negligence to hygiene outweighs the attraction to supposed “healthy meals”.
The temporary nature of these structures should in no way dispel the permanent state of existence they tend to build. Keen observation shows that most communities in Kampala, mostly urban tend to show initial growth characteristics that are informal. Simply put, they are not planned. It is not a surprising sight to see a once lush swampy groove on the outskirts of a town being taken over by these informal communities. In this same way of planning and settlement of most homes in Kampala, we see a borrowed mentality in the establishment of these eat outs.
These informal eat outs normal crop up in areas that cater in employing a largely unskilled labour category such as construction sites, boda boda stages, taxi parks and pretty much any location that brings the food service closer to its clients. This reveals considerable information to how communities are built in Kampala. First comes the activity which is followed by services that sustain it.
We can take the analogy of a construction site. It begins with the work crew that sets itself up in an area. Food is an obvious need and so those who provide it come in. As the construction operations move on, the need for certain amenities arises such as basic consumer goods provided by small retail kiosks. We can now see how a small community has been forged so far. As the small community thrives, the need for transportation arises as the shopkeepers need these services to transport their goods and so do the construction workmen as they commute to their temporary homes. This introduces the boda boda stages. From then on, the potential to build an even larger community sets in. This is because the need for more services will arise, more shops, more rental houses, a school maybe and of course more restaurants to cater for the growing population.
Some may dispel this conceptualization as being non-impactful in the sense that these informal eat outs already find communities built and so simply set themselves in place. Yes, this is agreeable. As in the analogy of a construction site, it was the work crew who initiated the “soon to be” community and not the restaurants. What one may need to understand is that communities are normally built around meeting points which means a construction site is not inclusive of everyone in an area. However, a restaurant is a meeting point that brings together the foreman and the porter. It is through such collective gathering that highlights how these eat outs build communities.
A simplified mind can look at this in this line of thought; these eat outs largely employ women meaning the likelihood of growing small families is unavoidable. These new young families will not move to another location to start a new life, but will instead begin to forge a new life closer to the source of sustenance which is the economic activity that employs the mother and father.
Besides being a service or need provision point, the eat out will serve as a meeting point for the given members of the community. Sort of the same way one can look at a religious site such as a church or mosque being the focal meeting point of the community.
Elementary social studies define a community as a group of people that live in the same place and have a common characteristic. The common characteristic in this case is the kafunda that serves the need for every one which is food.
To define them as restaurants is somewhat misleading since the structure of operations and setup does not meet the levels of what can be called standard. Informal is the term that best describes them for they provide a service that is quick and basic. No attention is paid to detail, guidelines, quality, service or impression. Sort of the same way Kampala’s communities are built with a lacking of organization and standard.