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Uganda: Street vendors, customers lament rising cost of 'Rolex' sandwich

Street vendor   -  
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In the suburbs of Kampala, street vendors are busy preparing food for the morning rush hour. The food stalls here specialise in a Ugandan favourite called a Rolex. The Rolex isn't inspired by the Swiss watch, but is a word coined from the rolling of eggs in chapattis.

It is the most available street food anywhere in Uganda - you can hardly walk 50 metres without spotting a Rolex stall in any major town across the country.

Rogers Musoke is a fitness trainer and eats Rolex daily. He grabs one each morning before hitting the gym, and often buys another as a mid-morning snack. For Musoke, it's the convenience of the Rolex that makes it appealing.

“It is easy to access everywhere you go, you can find someone who is making chapatis on the way," he says.

The simplicity of the Rolex making process and the many food stalls dedicated to it is why its so popular. However, the rising costs of its main ingredients - flour, oil and eggs - means the street vendors have had to make some adaptations.

“I do love Rolex because it is very easy and it is even cheap. Though they reduced the size," says Rolex customer Blair Akankwasa. Hamza Mpaata, a local street vendor who has been selling Rolex for over 5 years, recognises Akankwasa’s concern.

Hamza says costs started rising in 2022 with the invasion of Ukraine and supplies of basic commodities like wheat and oil were reduced. “The truth is wheat flour prices have gone up, even eggs and other things. The prices started going up when the war in Ukraine started and prices have remained high since,” he explains.

Across Uganda, prices of most commodities have nearly tripled in the past two years. A packet of wheat costs buyers about 7,500 UGX ($2.3 USD) compared to 5,500 UGX ($1.72 USD) before the invasion.

A litre of cooking oil is also retailing for double the 4,000 UGX ($1.1 USD) it went for in 2021. The effect of this price increase has seen drastic reduction in sales in many retail shops across the country. 

“The price of wheat, previously it was 5,500 but after, it increased to 7,500 shillings and this one has affected the business its own and the businessmen outside, that is the chapati maker,” says shopkeeper Gift Angumya.

As the vendors struggle with their costs, the consumers of the Rolexes are shouldering the price increase. Rogers Musoke says the size of the chapattis has greatly reduced and that two are now needed to feel full.

“The size of the chapatti they are too tiny. If it is the economy, I don’t know. But they are too small. That is why I have to add more eggs like 10 eggs in two chapatis, so that I can feel what I am eating, to satisfy my stomach.”

Despite the rises, Rolex vendors like Isaac Mugere vow to keep going, hoping that the government will do something to help.

“The customers have reduced because even the quality has reduced and if it increases then maybe they will come again, but some of them stopped buying them because of that. Because now there are no chapattis for 500, there are one for 1,000 only and some of them want for 500 - that is why others don’t buy at this time,” Mugere says.

The Ugandan government recently pledged to plant some 100,000 hectares of palm, which it says would cushion Ugandans from their reliance on foreign imports of oil products.

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