By Shakira Ibrahim
As life steadily returns to normal, one business that still sees no light at the end of the tunnel in Uganda is cinema.
The easing of the lockdown recently freed boda boda and all merchandise traders are now operating freely.
And although bars and clubs are not free, beverage sales especially beer have been rising even beyond pre-lockdown levels, according to statistics at the Uganda Revenue Authority.
Places of worship also remain closed but these are not businesses and in any case, preachers continue to preach to people via TV and radio.
Cinema operators are now fighting a lonely battle to also be re-opened but they aren’t receiving much attention.
“We have been pleading with the Speaker of Parliament in writing but have never got any reply,” say Akram Juuko, spokesperson of Century Cinema at Acacia Mall in Kampala.
The cinema operators do not have any association bringing them together, but Century represents about half of the cinema seat capacity in Uganda. There are only five real cinema houses surviving in Uganda: 3 in Kampala, 1 in Entebbe and 1 in Mbarara.
Juuko says cinema halls have suffered unfathomable losses since the Covid-19 lockdown was instituted, starting with the sponsors who had paid upfront for one year.
The big ones included Airtel and Lato milk. The cinema had to refund their money even though they had already sunk it into operations.
Besides paying the huge refunds to sponsors, the cinema operators had to refund bulk bookings that some groups had made in advance. But as misfortunes come in threes, the cinema operators had paid for movie supplies which they could not and still cannot screen.
“Yet we had to retain all the working staff and keep paying them fully because we keep living in this hope that cinema will also be remembered by the government and be allowed to re-open under strict operating procedures,” laments Juuko.
The movie operators have already worked out the anti-Covid-19 SOPs and made a short video of them, which they have sent to concerned authorities and stakeholders.