By Fredrick Nsibambi
The history of Kampala is a mixture of both written and oral accounts. As we might be aware, before the arrival of British colonists, Muteesa I, the then Kabaka of Buganda had chosen the zone that would become Kampala as a hunting reserve. The area was made up of hills and wetlands.
It was an ideal breeding ground for various game, particularly a species of antelope, the impala. When the British arrived in the area, they called one of the hills 'The Hill of the Impala' due to the large presence of impala.
The native Baganda used this reference in their local dialect (Luganda) - 'Akasozi K'empala, which later on became K’empala or Kampala with repeated usage of the word.
Kampala grew as the capital of the Buganda kingdom and later on of Uganda, from which several buildings survive, including the Kasubi Tombs, the Lubiri Palace, the Buganda Parliament and the Buganda Court of Justice.
Severely damaged in the Uganda-Tanzania War, the city was since then rebuilt with constructions of new buildings including hotels, banks, shopping malls, educational institutions, hospitals and improvement of war torn buildings and infrastructure. Traditionally, Kampala was a city of seven hills, but over time it has come to have a lot more.
However, the current expansion and “re-birth” of Kampala is at the expense of its immense history and cultural heritage which is inadequately documented. Cities the world-over expand but safeguard their history-for it is this history that a city projects its brand, pride and identity.
For such cities, development is cumulative while in the case of Kampala, development is retrogressive because one has to destroy a building before they erect a ‘modern’ one! Examples are numerous. Currently, most of the historical buildings along Market Street, Nakivubo Mews including Pioneer House have been demolished.
Mitchell courts building which was on Burton Street as well as many historical houses in Old Kampala have been replaced with glass buildings which have nothing to do with our identity as Ugandans.
Mukwenda House at Kubbiri, on Bombo road was demolished. Mukwenda House and Basiima House on Kabakanjagala road were some of the earliest storied buildings in Kampala in 1903. I foresee a situation when Kampala will resemble cities like Singapore or Kuala Lampur (Malaysia)-yet we are Ugandans!!
My humble appeal to the Executive Director of KCCA is that we should safeguard the history and identity of Kampala. Expanding and renewal of the city is good but should not be at the expense of our history.
KCCA should provide incentives to private owners of historical buildings to prevent them from destroying our history. Incentives may include small grants to maintain such buildings, linking them to tour operators and publicise them as tourist attractions.
Sometimes recognising individuals who have preserved their buildings could work as a ‘carrot’. KCCA should also pass bye-laws to prevent demolition of important historical properties.
The writer is with Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda