Open Letter to Minister, Amelia Kyambadde: Let’s admit that we ill-advised the President on re-opening shopping malls, arcades

KAMPALA – The terms arcade (also called shopping arcade) and mall (also called shopping mall), are used interchangeably.

Following the President’s 16th state of the nation address on June 1, 2020, that saw the lifting of the lockdown on malls, and still left arcades in lockdown, a debate between different sections of people within the country trying to establish the difference between the two-mall and arcade, ensued.

Thankfully, on June 3, 2020, the Minister for Industry, Trade, and Co-operatives, Amelia Kyambadde, came out to clarify the issue. According to the minister, malls are more spacious with shops measuring up to 40 square metres with ample and convenient space for parking while shops in the arcades measure about 20 square metres, are sub-rented, and have neither corridors nor parking space for vehicles. Kyambadde added that malls have one person per shop; they have two entrances and an exit; security guards; cameras; fire equipment, and are not overcrowded.

By contrast, arcades are the exact opposite, hence making social distancing rules impossible. Unfortunately, the information given out to the public about the meaning of the two terms (i.e., mall and arcade) by the minister was/is WRONG! By, and large, the two terms, are synonyms, and, are, therefore, used synonymously. According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, an arcade (also called shopping arcade), is a covered passage with arches along the side of a row of buildings (usually a row of shops/stores).

The same dictionary still defines an arcade as a covered passage between streets, with shops/stores on either side, or a large building with a number of shops/stores in it. It is synonymous at “shopping mall”. The Collins English Dictionary defines an arcade as a covered passage where there are shops, or market stalls. It is a place where a number of shops are connected together under one roof. According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, an arcade (also known as shopping arcade), is defined as a covered passage between two streets with shops on each side of it. It is a large building, or part of a building where there are many shops. Collocation at “shopping mall”. The MacMillan Dictionary asserts that an arcade is a covered area with shops on both sides. It is a shopping centre with stores, or businesses facing a system of enclosed walkways for pedestrians. Compare “shopping mall”. An arcade is a structure made by enclosing a series of arches and columns. The word, “arcade”, derives its roots from the Latin word, “arcus”, which literally means arc, or bow. In simple terms, an arched covered passageway with shops, or stalls on the sides is defined as an arcade, and was/is a precursor to the shopping mall.

The Burlington Arcade in London opened in 1819 and is considered to be one of the first shopping arcades of its kind, in England. With the opening of more of these shopping arcades, the opening of games started, and eventually, the meaning of the word came to incorporate video arcades, where you can play coin-operated games, hence the term, “amusement arcade”. A mall, according to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, relates to a large building, or covered area that has many shops/stores, restaurants, etc. inside it. Collocations at shopping.

It is synonymous with an arcade. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a mall as a very large building containing many stores and often restaurants, and usually with space around it, outside for parking. In short, a mall is a street in a city, or town with many stores, and that is closed to traffic. Also called, “shopping mall”, a mall represents a large retail complex comprised of several stores/shops, including other businesses like restaurants, housed in a series of connected, or adjacent buildings, or in a single building. Collocation at the shopping centre (Dictionary.com). The Collins English Dictionary postulates that a mall is a very large shopping area, and that is synonymous at the shopping centre, shopping arcade, or shopping precinct. Collocations at the shopping mall. The same dictionary further argues that a mall is a large, often enclosed complex, made up of several stores/shops, businesses, usually accessible by common passageways. It is a large retail complex containing a variety of stores and restaurants in adjacent buildings, or in a single large building.

In summary, the Collins English Dictionary asserts that a mall is an urban street lined with shops, and closed off to motor vehicles. And the Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary asserts that a mall (also called shopping mall), is a mercantile establishment that consists of a carefully landscapped complex of shops, representing leading merchandisers; usually including restaurants and a convenient parking lot. It represents a modern version of the traditional marketplace. The Collins Spanish Dictionary, also defines a mall (also known as a shopping mall), as a centre in which traffic is usually not acceptable.

The Spanish term is, “Centro Comercial). Generally, a shopping mall, shopping center, shopping arcade, shopping precinct, or simply, mall, relates to one, or more buildings forming a complex of shops representing merchandisers (as earlier noted), with interconnecting walkways enabling shoppers to walk from unit to unit. Other entities including movie theatres and restaurants are often included. The word, “mall” originates from a 16th Century Italian alley game that resembled croquet. It was called pallamagito, or pall-mall, in English. Thereafter, the alley on which the game was played came to be known as a mall. That street obtained its name from a 16th Century Italian alley game that resembled croquet. Notice that, by the 18th Century, the game had been forgotten, except on the name of a street, where it had been played, and on a parallel ritzy avenue name, “The Mall”, where fashionable aristocrats strolled and shopped.

The street in question was/is situated in St. James’ Park, London. It was landscaped with trees and flowers and became a fashionable place to walk. Other such places were also called “malls”. Later, the word, “mall”, was applied to the grassy strip that separates roadways. Nowadays, according to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, a mall, commonly relates to an enclosed walkway arranged with stores for the convenience of shoppers. On the contrary, an arcade represents a succession of contiguous arches, with each arch supported by a colonnade of columns, or piers. Exterior arcades are designed to provide a sheltered walkway for pedestrians.

The walkway may be lined with retail stores. An arcade might as well as feature arches on both sides of the walkway. Notice that this difference is just in the design of the buildings, but not in functions performed, size of the buildings, and any other features as put forward by the minister. Arcades go back to the Ancient Greek architecture of the Hellenistic period and were tremendously used by the Romans, mainly at the base of the Colosseum. Church cloisters very often make use of arcades in their architecture. Similarly, Islamic architecture also often uses arcades in and outside mosques. Elegant arcades were often used as a prominent feature of facades, for instance, in the Ospedale degli Innocenti, commissioned in 1419, or the courtyard of the Palazzo Bardi, both by Fillipo Brunelleschi in Florence, in Renaissance architecture. The French architect, Bertrand Lemoine, described the period 1786 to 1935, as “L’ ere des passage couverts”, literally meaning, the Arcade Era.

By using this description, Bertrand was referring to the grand shopping arcades that flourished across Europe, during that time. By definition, a shopping arcade (also known as a shopping mall), refers to a multiple vendor space, operating under a covered roof. Typically, the roof was/is included to allow for natural light and to reduce the need for artificial lighting. Worth noting is that the 18th and 19th Century arcades were designed to attract the genteel middle class. In time, these individuals often came to the place to shop and to be seen. Equally important, is that arcades offered shoppers the promise of an enclosed space away from the chaos that characterised the noisy, dirty streets; a warm dry space away from the harsh elements, and a safe haven where people could freely and openly socialize and spend their leisure. Also, with the advent of arcades, shoppers were guaranteed of ample parking space, moreover, with no extra expenses; security was equally guaranteed. As thousands of glass covered arcades spread all over Europe, they became grander and more ornately decorated. By the 19th Century, they had become prominent centres of fashion and special social life.


Promenading in these arcades became a popular 19th Century past time for the emerging middle class. The inspiration for the grand shopping arcades may have been derived from the fashionable open “loggias” of Florence. However, medieval vernacular examples known as “butter walks”, were traditional jettied “colonnades”, in Britain and North European marketplaces. Examples remain in Totnes and Dartmouth in Devon. During the 16th Century, a pattern of market-related trading using mobile stalls under covered arcades was established in Florence, from where it spread throughout Italy. Examples of the earliest open loggias include Mercato Nuovo (1547), by Giovanni Battista del Tasso (and funded by the Medici family); Mercato Vecchio, Florence, by Giorgio Vassari (1567), and Loggia del Grano (1619), by Giuliro Pargi. Shortly after, arcades spread across Europe, North America, and Antipodes. Examples of these grand shopping arcades include Palais Royal in Paris (opened in 1784); Passage de Feydeau, also situated in Paris, and opened in 1791.


Piccadilly Arcade that was opened in London, in 1810, and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, opened in Milllan, Italy, in 1878. Among the examples of shopping arcades in North America include New York Paddock Arcade (1850), Ohio Dayton Arcade (1904), and the Rhode Island Westminster Arcade (1828). Other notable 19th Century grand arcades include the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert in Brussels, Belgium, which was inaugurated in 1847 and Istanbul-Turkey’s Cicek Pasaji, inaugurated in 1870. As earlier discussed, shopping arcades were/are the precursor of the modern shopping mall, and the word, “arcade”, is now often used for malls, that do not use the architectural design, in any way. The Palais-Royal, which started operating in 1784, and became one of the most outstanding marketplace in Paris, is generally considered to be the earliest example of the grand shopping arcades. Originally, a royal place, the complex consisted of gardens, shops, and entertainment venues situated under the original colonnades. The area comprised of some 145 boutiques, cafes, hair salons, bookstores, museums, and several refreshment stalls, including two theatres.


The retail outlets specialized in luxury goods such jewelry, fur, furniture, textiles, wood carvings, etc. meant to appeal to the elite class. One of earliest examples of shopping arcades in Britain, known as, “Coverted Market-Oxford, was officially opened on November 1, 1774, and it is still fully operational, to-date. This arcade was erected in response to a general wish to clear “untidy, messy, and unsavoury stalls”, from the main streets of the centre of Oxford. John Gwynn, the architect of Magdalen Brigade, drew up the plans and designed the High Street front with its four entrances/exits. In 1772, the newly inaugurated Market committee, half of whose members came from the university and half from the town, accepted an estimate of £916, for constructing of 20 butchers’ shops. Twenty more soon followed and after 1773, beef was allowed to be sold only inside the market. From this nucleus, the market grew, with stalls for farm produce, pork, fish, and dairy offerings.

Gostiny Dvor in St. Petersburg, Russia is another early example of a shopping arcade. Sprawling at the intersection of Nevsky Prospekt and Sadovaya Street for over one kilometre and embracing the area of 53,000m2 (570, 000sq. ft), the indoor complex of more than 100 shops took 28 years to construct. Construction work started in 1757, and in 1785, Gostiny Dvor Arcade was opened, officially. Throughout the following century, Gostiny Dvor was augmented, resulting in ten indoor streets, and as many as 178 shops by the beginning of the 20th Century. During the post-World War II, the arcade’s inner walls were demolished, paving the way to a grand shopping mall. This already magnificent structure got a facelift recently, and entered the 21st Century, as one of the most fashionable shopping centres in Eastern Europe. As a tribute to the French campaign in Egypt and Syria, the Passage du Caire Arcade was constructed in 1798. It was highly appreciated by the public for its protection from the weather, noise, and filth of the streets.

In 1799, American architect, William Thayer created the Passage des Panoramas with a row of shops passing between two panorama paintings. Shopping arcades were increasingly constructed in the second Bourbon Restoration. Upper levels of arcades often comprised of apartments and sometimes brothels. More classic examples of shopping arcades, or shopping malls, across the world include Adelaide Arcade, Adelaide, Australia; Arcade Building, Asheville-North Carolina, United States; Barton Arcade, Manchester, England; Burlington Arcade, London, England; Cathedral Arcade, Melbourne, Australia; Great Western Arcade, Birmingham, England; Cleveland Arcade, Cleveland, Ohio, United States; The Royal Arcade, London, England; Queens Arcade, Cardiff-Wales, United Kingdom; Brisbane Arcade, Brisbane, Australia, and Burlington Arcade, London, England. Other examples of malls/arcades include Camayo Arcade, Winchester, Ashland, Kentucky, United States; Silver Arcade, Leicester, United Kingdom; Old Bank Arcade, Wellington, Newzealand; Nesto Shopping Mall; Dubai Shopping Mall; Safari Shopping Mall; Lulu Shopping Mall, and Al-madina Shopping Mall, all situated in Dubai. Grand Arcade, Leeds, United Kingdom; Grand Arcade, Wigan, United Kingdom; GPO Arcade, Dublin, Ireland; GUM, Moscow, Russia; Eaton Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; The Corridor, Bath, England; Dayton Arcade, Dayton, Ohio, United States, and Galeries Pacifico, Buenos Aires, Argentina, are all examples of some of the most fashionable shopping centres, worldwide. Related examples include Kensington Shopping Mall, Gloucester Shopping Mall, and Brent Cross Shopping Mall, all situated in London, England.

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The Strand Arcade and Queen Victoria Building, Sydney, New Wales, Australia; Galleria Umberto I, Naples, Italy; Monticello Arcade, Norfolk, Virginia, United States, and Bridgeport Arcade, Bridgeport, CT, United States, are all ideal examples of world-class shopping arcades. Therefore, against this elaborate background, is it still possible for one to draw a line between a mall and an arcade? Is the minister aware that the collocation of these two words (mall/arcade), as earlier noted is the word, “shopping”? Is she aware there are several shopping centres in Uganda and beyond, that neither have the word mall, nor arcade, and yet in actual sense, these are classified as shopping malls/arcades? So, according to the minister, how do we classify shopping centres such as Mabirizi Complex, Jjemba Plaza, Avemar, Kamu-Kamu Plaza, Church House, Jafari Kibirige Building, Dream Plaza, Freedom City, Hardware City, Namaganda Plaza, SK House (Kireka, Kira Municipal Council), Zam Zam Emporium, and all those shopping centres that neither carry the word, mall, nor arcade? Surely, according to the minister, should we blame the laziness of governmemt agencies, notably Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), that have continually approved plans, say, of buildings without parking space, on already tested definitions of particular concepts? What does the absence of parking space, got to do with the meaning of a particular concept that has been in existence for the years?

How do you start blaming the absence of firefighting equipment, a basic requirement that must be in every building, regardless of size, or location, on the meaning of a given concept? According to the minister, what is wrong with a building, moreover, a shopping centre, having multiple entrances/exits?  Should we blame the absence of security guards and surveillance cameras in the different shopping  centres on the meaning of a particular concept, that has been in use for over three-hundred years? Is the minister aware that the meaning of the terms, mall and arcade, are universal, and so, cannot be changed to suit one’s personal interests, whatsoever? About the number of occupants of a given shop, especially in the city centre, the minister ought to be reminded that this is entirely determined by the cost of the premises, i.e., rent. And for the record, it is usually one person who rents the shop from the landlord, and later, sub-rents the same, to fellow occupants. This practice is not only in shopping centres, commonly described as arcades, but it is equally in general stores, regardless of where they are situated, specifically in less developed counties, like Uganda.

In fact, even shops dealing in farm inputs, around the different shopping centres of Container Village, do the same. Needless to emphasize the fact that these remained operational throughout the entire lockdown. If nine people can sit in a taxi, which is far smaller than a typical shop in an arcade, why can’t they sit in a shop measuring 20 square metres, as put forward by the minister? What was/is the essence of allowing business to go on uninterrupted in Kikuubo, and maintaining the lockdown on shopping centres, popularly described as arcades? According to the minister, which arcade in Kampala contains traffic/shoppers to the magnitude of the amount of traffic in Kikuubo? I wish to inform the minister that even though most of the shops in Kikuubo are not sub-rented, the operators there are compelled to hire labour in a bid to catch up with the traffic. In fact, a typical shop in Kikuubo has between 5-10 people.


This is evidence enough for one to conclude that keeping arcades under lock, on the basis of shops being sub-rented, is not only unrealistic, but it is equally unjustified. Can the minister point out only one mall in Uganda that measures up to the standards of the aforementioned arcades, in Europe, North America, or Australia, even by a tenth? By, and large, the words mall and arcade are used interchangeably since the two mean exactly the same thing; i.e., shopping center, or shopping precinct. Whether, Oasis Mall, Victoria Mall, Pioneer Mall, Forest Mall, or Oasis Arcade, Victoria Arcade, Pioneer Arcade, or Forest Arcade, the meaning still remains the same. In fact, going by the actual meaning of a mall, Pioneer Mall, cannot be described as a mall. The only tangible difference between the two (arcades and malls), lies with the architectural design of the buildings, as noted above.

This implies, just as the President was ill-advised on the issue of women in the food markets, who were told to stay put at their workplaces, or risk being closed, while the rest of the women and men, of course, continued to enjoy the comfort of their homes, he was equally ill-advised on the issue of re-opening malls, and leaving arcades closed, for the two mean exactly the same thing. Imagine a situation where the President is advised to re-open junior schools and leave primary schools closed; re-open polytechnics and leave technical colleges closed; re-open salons and leave hair clinics closed; re-open bars and leave pubs closed; re-open lodges and leave guest houses closed. This is how language, specifically, semantics, syntax, and morphology can be so disturbing. I pray the minister makes use of the same platform (i.e., Uganda Media Centre), to clear the air, since, it is evident, as discussed above, that the words mall and arcade, cannot be treated as antonyms; the two mean the same thing, i.e., shopping center. Therefore, whether arcades are re-opened, or not, we need to desist from the habit of misinforming the public, especially when it comes to issues concerning language; we need to be mindful of our school-going children.

Jonathan Kivumbi, Educationist. 0770880185


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