With my guide Nerico, we ride through Nabajuzi Swamp on boda boda. We are looking for Mwaalo Village in Lwengo District. At 5.35pm, we make an initial stopover, in a trading centre where a group of five men sit on a bench sipping on their brown bottles. We randomly ask one who is smoking a cigarette.
“Hello, we are looking for Kasajja, a Muslim who vends pancakes in Masaka Town,” I say.
“Go straight ahead, and take a right turn where you will find an old mud house. That is musilamu’s home.”
We arrive at 5.45pm. Coffee beans are spread on an orange tarpaulin in the courtyard. A child emerges from the back of the house smiling, and hugs before we chat. Meanwhile, we hear simmers of cooking oil and see clouds of smoke and a male voice coughing inside an old structure. We hasten towards that direction and the aroma of pancakes hits us instantly.
Musa Kasajja, 67, clad in a white-striped shirt with black trousers, is busy.
“Banange, nakatandika kusiika kabalagala (Comrades, I have just started frying pancakes). He offers us a wooden bench to sit and excuses himself to put more of the circular-shaped dough into the boiling cooking oil. We learn that it is the last batch of pancakes. “Making pancakes has been my trade since childhood. As a young man, I used to work for Mr Bitubirayi, an Asian, who had a coffee factory. I always fried pancakes for the factory workers who used to pay me Shs15 a month in 1966,” he recalls.
Kasajja hardly speaks any English. “My mother Zaninha Mufumbira, had no money to pay for my education but I think my father Federico Wihoreye, who died in 1958, was just careless,” he says with a frown. They were residents of Kanyogoga Village, Kako, Masaka.
Kasajja is a common sight at Shell, Buddu. He works as late as past midnight, depending on the customer turn up. In his white lab coat and Muslim cap plus a pair of gumboots, he does his work. Each pancake goes for Shs100.
“I mainly carry out business at Shell Buddu. When I pack pancakes for Shs50,000, they could sell out by around 10pm, meaning, I have to go back home and bring more. If I pack for Shs100,000, they will last until 2-3am,” he shares, adding: “I rarely sleep at night as I am busy. So, when I return home I rest for a while before setting off to buy ingredients.”
With starting capital of Shs15, Kasajja decided to dedicate his life to making and vending pancakes. He says he would use a wooden box to pack pancakes and later place it on a bicycle which he bought in 1978 at Shs7,000 and ride to deliver them to projected clients.
“Then, I used to buy a bottle of cooking oil at Shs1.5. I would cook pancakes and vend them to a number of shops in Masaka. One pancake would go for Shs5,” he recollects.
With time, he also got a deal to distribute pancakes to Kako Secondary School, where during break time, students would flock the canteen to buy them.
“I used to deliver the pancakes early in the morning but in a few hours; they would call and ask me to prepare more,” he recalls.
With many considering a mixture of flour, milk, and eggs, fried on both sides to make what they call American pancakes; Kasajja’s pancakes differ.
“I only use sweet bananas (Ndiizi), Cassava flour and Chili (Kamulali) as ingredients,” he says. He adds that the cost of cassava flour ranges from between Shs700 and Shs1,000 per kilogramme and the bananas cost him between Shs700 and Shs1,000 a cluster.
For good prices, however, he has to travel 35kms to Lwengo District to buy the ingredients.
Kasajja says one night in 1981, as he was returning home from work, he bumped into thugs at Mwaalo Swamp, who pounced on him causing wounds to his head and face; and ran away with his bicycle and money.
However, he says the police were prompt in response and in the process, his bicycle was recovered and one of the thieves was killed by an angry mob.
He says he did not want to sit back and feel sorry for himself and two months after the incident and treatment, he resumed selling pancakes.
Between 1982 and 1986, Kasajja had two wives; Aidah Naziwa and Nubuwati Nakaliri, with whom he fathered 16 children. What is amazing is that the two wives lived peacefully with their husband and children in one house.
“They each had their own bedroom but when it came to doing housework, they would work together. They were very peaceful together and did their best to help me improve and develop this business,” Kasajja says.
Although he divorced both, Kasajja says he keeps in touch with them and they are his friends. He is currently married to Maidina Namugema with whom he has a son.
Kasajja wakes up at 5am to make his way to Lwengo to buy the supplies needed using a motorcycle he bought in 2007 at Shs750,000. When he returns home, he rests between 10-11am.
At noon, he starts mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough and finally makes the pancakes. By 6:30pm, he sets out on his motorcycle to start selling the delicacies.
“Selling my pancakes here at Shell Buddu has been the best decision I ever made for my business. It is a busy place and because it is a meeting spot for many travellers, I have all the market I need. I do not regret my decision,” he concludes.
“My business has helped me grow financially and materially. I have many children but I have also been able to educate them,” Musa Kasajja says, adding that Jamiat Nakibugwe, one of his daughters, currently works with the Uganda Revenue Authority as an accountant.
He has also been able to buy two plots of land; in 1990 and 2000 respectively. Though the buying price back then was a bit low at Shs270,000 and Shs350,000 for each plot respectively, today, these plots of land are valued at millions of shillings.
In addition, he has been able to build a house for his wife and another at his old homestead in Mwaalo to replace the obsolete one.
What they say
John Yamulumye, (Buziga village, Lwengo)
He is a hardworking man with a lot of passion and consistency and I believe that is why he has managed to succeed. Sometimes we buy pancakes from some shops, which are not delicious at all but his are the best.
Claire Nanyondo, (Business woman- Lwengo town council)
Some people consider pancake selling as a small business, but Kasajja has proved them wrong. He also packs his pancakes in a clean wooden box, which also keeps them fresh. To this, he is very creative and innovative, which makes him a grand entrepreneur.
Grace Najjoba, (Resident, farmer- Lwengo)
I have not had a chance to meet him and discuss how I can also sell him my bananas, but my children prefer his pancakes. They usually go to his home at around 5pm to buy pancakes for evening tea. Kasajja’s pancakes are different because they are soft and their size is moderate.
George Mutabaazi, (Lwengo District chairman)
If we had 100 people in Lwengo who think like Kasajja, we would have been very far in terms of development. Some people start businesses in villages and remain stagnant year after year. Kasajja has proved them wrong. I heard he started small, but now he has expanded his business and he has benefited from it.