By George Laghu
Four years ago, a tourist took time to photograph a Marabou stork (Kaloli) that had perched on a rusty and obviously dysfunctional lamp post on Kampala Road.
As if in protest, the grand bird flew as it splashed a trail of white shit. Until recently, the bad-looking scavengers were considered the trademark of Kampala.
But today, these birds have abandoned the city. Their migration tells much about the clean environs that leaves nothing for them to scavenge. Four years ago, there was utter mismanagement that allowed rot in the city with infrastructure wasting away.
The “scavengers” fed on the dirt littered on Kampala Road by the odd businesses. As the road got cleaner, the Marabou storks had nothing to feed on and fled. Kampala Road’s old street lamps now have light and the newly planted lawns and flowers bustling in defiance to the scorching sun, all tell different stories of Kampala Road.
Former UTV (currently UBC) news reporter, the late Toya Kilama, once told former Kampala city mayor Christopher Iga: “If you cannot keep all parts of Kampala city clean at least try to keep Kampala Road to good standards.” Kilama had been embarrassed by foreign dignitaries he was accompanying from Entebbe Airport.
They had asked him how far they were left to get to the city yet they were already on Kampala Road. Kilama’s remarks underline the importance of Kampala Road as the face of Kampala. A well-kept Kampala Road is a Kampala dressed in a suit while the dirty and pot-holed road is a Kampala in rags.
With a stretch of about two kilometres, Kampala Road now decked with splendidly manicured lawns laced with flowers and ornamental trees, is part of the Great African North road that links the East African port city of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast to West Africa’s Lagos on the Atlantic Ocean.
Since Kampala became the commercial hub of Uganda, almost the best of everything can only be bought on Kampala road.
Memories on the road
After 48 years, octogenarian Yonasiano Drale returned to Kampala with the sole purpose of buying his treasured wear of “Trevira” suit at the then famous Kampala Drapers. “No other shop sells the best except Kampala Drapers on Kampala Road,” insisted Drale.
After spending hours looking for the famed Kampala Drapers along the bee-hive of Kampala Road we finally discovered that the Drapers house had been expanded and modified into what is now the headquarters of the Crane Bank.
“I remember those Mango trees,” said Drale pointing at the trees now fenced off as part of the constitutional square.
“I used to park my car under them before I walked to Kampala Drapers,” said Drale to emphasise his being on the great Kampala Road than having found his bearing in the confusing labyrinth of Kampala’s roads.
Heavy traffic is characteristic of the busy Kampala Road today (left) one of the fast food restaurants along the road (centre) and Crane Bank head offices.
It is more than just a road that forms Kampala’s thorough through. It is the artery of Kampala; the life of the city rotates on Kampala Road; if it sneezes, the whole of Kampala catches cold. Kampala Road hosts the Main Post Office, which marks the zero mile for all distances from Kampala.
The road is home to some of the greatest banks operating in Uganda. The country’s state of the art banking experiences such as the Centenary Bank, Bank of Uganda, Cairo Bank, Crane Bank, Orient Bank, Bank of Baroda, the Kenya Commercial Bank, Diamond Trust Bank and Stanbic Bank are all located on Kampala Road.
All other banks not headquartered on Kampala Road have branches there. Although the road has no prestigious hotel that graces its greatness, it has some of the best roadside restaurants in the city.
The powerful ministries of Energy and Natural Resources as well as that of Local Government are housed on the road. Many private companies have nested on Kampala road. The road accounts for about 10% of Kampala’s employed people with one eight of the total workforce employed in commercial enterprises.
Most of the city’s ICT wholesale and retail trade is done on Kampala road making it the most up market street in the city. However, the daylight glamour of Kampala Road turns into a dull night life.
It is almost totally deserted after mid-night only to burst back to life before day break as it is the confluence of all town service buses. Still home to some of the city’s best draperies, boutiques and pharmacies, Kampala Road is undergoing radical changes involving painful adjustments.
This is aimed at matching its increasingly outstanding role as the hinge of business and face of the city to provide better infrastructure to enhance the network of close contact between production and marketing. Kampala Road is better lit than ever before.
New pavements have been built to match the new high-rise buildings and old houses have been redesigned to match to the times. The road’s continued readiness to modernise has, however, seen the destruction of old houses to give room to new ones.
This has left the road with no houses that tell its history. It is a shame that Kampala Pub, one of Kampala’s first pubs, was destroyed instead of being renovated.
Although Kampala Road has one of the biggest green reserves and gardens in the name of the Constitutional Square; there is reason to fear that the road is fast becoming a forest of concrete. Its refurbishment has not only given it a better look but also an ability to provide better service delivery.
In case of a fire outbreak, premises on Kampala road are the easily accessible.
Kampala Road in the early 1960s
A symbol of many things
The mercantile road has always been a place where freedom, tolerance and self-expression in all spheres by all has blossomed. Until recently, politicians and civil society organisations have used the constitutional square to air diverse political opinions.
However, political activities have now been banned on Kampala road because of the disruption it brings to business. Kampala Road’s history is a cocktail of modernity, tradition and the need to link the then growing civic centre on the lower parts of the established administration in what is now Old Kampala to the eastern traffic from Jinja to the Military bastion of Nakasero.
Later, it became necessary to extend this road to Makerere, Mulago and link it to Bombo, which has a great military significance in the history of Uganda.
Today, a less simplistic view is taken of Kampala Road yet it is the road upon which modern Kampala owes its origin. It is the only road that leaves Kampala city bearing names of the important garrison towns of Jinja and Bombo.
Kampala Road may have no landmarks of historical importance like other roads in some cities, but it tells volumes of the social, political and economic transformation of Kampala and Uganda as a whole.
The green Constitutional Square is iconic for political activities.
The iconic activities
On October 9, 1962 when Uganda got independence, one of the biggest motor vehicle caravans drove through Kampala Road on its way to Kololo. When Idi Amin overthrew Dr. Apollo Milton Obote in 1972, celebrations were held with people driving along Kampala Road.
Incidentally, the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), the party which Dr. Obote led still has its headquarters in Uganda House on Kampala road. When Asians were expelled by Idi Amin, the first shops to be distributed to Africans were on Kampala Road.
Apart from just being a road, Kampala road is the city’s major fashion and showbiz theatre. Latest dress fads, haircuts, ladies hair modelling, marketing and advertising pimps are considered done only when they are shown on Kampala road.
All types of cars which were imported into Uganda were first driven on Kampala road. When Idi Amin took Gabonese President, Omar Bongo who wore men’s high-heeled shoes to enhance his height on Kampala road to show to him the fruits of his economic war and Africanisation policy, it was enough to publicise men’s high-heels and flared trousers.
The shoes were immediately christened by the fashion thirsty Kampala road people as “Gabon”. Kampala road is responsible for popularising women’s trousers in Uganda. Although Kampala’s first mall, the Pioneer Mall is on Johnstone Street, it takes advantage of its proximity to Kampala road.
A Madi proverb says “A good woman starts to clean the homestead from inside her house, sweeping the rubbish onto the compound, then from the compound to the rubbish pit”. Can the changing face of Kampala road mean that some good woman is finally sweeping the rubbish out of the house?
The road that carries memories for Kampala