KAMPALA (Reuters) – Throngs of revellers filled The Levels bar in Uganda’s capital Kampala, dancing to live music and ordering bottle service to their tables, on Monday night.
Nearly two years after the government shut down bars and nightclubs and banned outdoor musical performances and other entertainment activities to combat COVID-19, the country’s nightlife is roaring back.
“Of course Uganda is the life of a party, if you do not party you are not a Ugandan,” said Vera Muryengye, a consultant, as she sipped a drink. “It’s the end of the month, you get your money, get your salary, put the money into circulation. That’s it, that’s Uganda.”
The East African country has one of the world’s youngest populations and Kampala had a reputation regionally – pre-pandemic – for a good night out.
President Yoweri Museveni cited rising vaccination rates when he announced in December that bars and nightclubs would be allowed to reopen in late January.
Parts of Uganda’s economy were gradually reopened over the past several months, but Museveni, a teetotaller, had kept bars closed despite pressure from the industry.
The government argued the tough rules stemmed the spread of the virus and helped keep the number of COVID-19 deaths low. The country has so far recorded around 162,000 cases of COVID-19 and about 3,500 deaths.
Raymond Karemera, head of marketing at Nomad Bar and Grill in a neighbourhood of Kampala that is often likened to Las Vegas, said many bars struggled to avoid bankruptcy as they continued to pay security and electricity expenses while closed.
“It was a very horrible time for us,” he said.
On a recent night at Nomad, as people raised glasses of wine and whiskey for toasts, one patron shouted “Kampala is back! We love you, wee!”
(Reporting by Francis Mukasa, writing by Elias Biryabarema; editing by Maggie Fick and Jane Wardell)