Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, derives its name from the Luganda kasozi ka Impala, or ‘Hill of Antelopes’, and was so named because 19th-century Buganda king once grazed impala on the slopes of a hill near Mengo palace. The area had long been a centre of Buganda activity, with Kabaka Mutesa having his capital at Kasubi Hill and kabaka Mwanga established his at near by Mengo hill. The name Kasozi ka Impala was given specifically to the hill on which a British explorer and adventurer, Captain Fredric Lugard, established his fort in December 1890.
At little fort and administrative post, Lugard hoisted the Imperial British East African Company flag, which was to be replaced by the union jack three years later.
The fort at Kampala hill, as it was later to be called (it is now known as Old Kampala Hill) attracted hundreds of people, who formed a small township, out of which modern Kampala developed.
Like the legendary city of Rome, Kampala was originally built on seven hills, around which was an appealing mixture of delightful valleys, green swamplands, and flowing streams. Tree seven historical hills on which the city was founded are Lubaga, Namirembe (Mengo), Makerere, Kololo, Kibuli, Kampala (old Kampala), and mulago.
Soon traders erected shops at the foot of the hill by the fort. By 1909, the confines of the fort had become too small for administrative purposes, and it was decided to move the colonial offices and government residences to Nakasero Hill, another near by hill. The shops and other commercial premises followed suit.
Kampala’s hills all seminaries developed their own identities in the ensuing years.
Lubega, Namirembe, and Kibuli, became the headquarters of Uganda’s three main religious groups; the Roman Catholics of the order of the white Fathers, the Protestants of the British Church Missionary society, and the Muslims.
Nakasero and Kololo became prime sites for administrative officers and residential areas for senior government civil service staff. Makerere (much later) Mulago developed into a site for healthy institutions. Kampala hills remained a fort, with a small administrative centre.
Now, years later, the hills all still have those same basic identities.
Mengo Hill- where the palace (Lubiri) of the king (Kabaka) of Buganda was situated –remained separate as the capital of Buganda kingdom.
White Missionaries, before proceeding to their respective hills, were first required to report at Mengo.
When you stand on any of the original seven hills, at some 1,200metres (3,800 feet), you are disarmed by the unexpected greenness of the capital, which is broken by red-tiled villas, green- roofed bungalows and their white washed walls, and modern buildings of the city centre. Despite almost two decades of civil wars, political turmoil, gross mismanagement, and sheer neglect, Kampala still retains its charm and remains one of the greenest cities in Africa, with a beauty giving way to a still more attractive country side.
The city is traversed by streams and small rivers, features asmall lake (the Kabaka’s Lake), and lies in the fertile Lake basin region, all of which assure Kampala of abundant fresh water for both industrial and domestic use.
Since the return of the peace and stability to the country in 1986, Kampala has extended onto more than 20green, gently rounded hills in the area. The city’s pleasant climate and temperatures- which are improved by the night lake breezes off Africa’s largest lake, Victoria’s largest lake , have attracted thousands of people to work, build, and settle in the city. In the 1991, Kampala’s official population was given as 774,261, but now is estimated to be some where near 3 million and comprises about 90 percent Africans and 10 percent Asians, Europeans, and people of mixed race (known locally as Chotaras). The city one of the fast growing districts in the country – now covers more than 300 square kilometers (116 Squares miles, with the greater Kampala planning area having a radius of about 20 kilometer (12miles).
The city’s centennial was celebrated quietly in 1990, with the majority of the people perhaps just thankful they had anything to celebrate at all. Yet until 20 years earlier, Kampala was legendary city, a beautiful city – filled with open, generous, and hospitable people who were always ready to smile. The city had become major rendezvous and was frequently the favored sites for numerous international conferences and meetings.
That all changed on January 26th, 1971, when a military coup ushered in neglect, mismanagement, and intermittent war and destruction, which turned Kampala into one of the ugliest cities of the world when, in 1972 Idi Amin decided to expel some 80,000 Asians and foreign investors – who had been dominating the country’s commerce and industry at the time – the city turned into shadow of its former majesty almost overnight.
After the restoration of peace in most parts of the country including the capital, in 1986, the problem of the restoration of Kampala – and other districts as well – started to be addressed. A popularly elected new city administration ( the Kampala Resistance council) with a new Mayor Concentrated on rebuilding the city’s potholed roads, schools and clinics, and streamlining the administration and financial management of the capital.
In 1989 a second city administration, based on the popularly elected grassroots Resistance committees (RCs), continued with the rehabilitation started by predecessors three years earlier. New plans and policies were implemented that dealt with the city land management, market management, Kampala slowly began to return to normal.
Now, after waiting and watching from afar for many years, the once expelled Asians and foreign investors were encouraged to come back and reclaim their property, shops, factories and other estates. Some 10,000 Asians and Europeans took up the offer and about cleaning out the 20 years of war debris from the shops and workplaces. Where possible, some rehabilitated, renovated, and put on new coats of paint; others pulled their old buildings down and started from scratch, adding taste of a new look and modern architecture to the cities skyline.
In 1990s Kampala truly under went a facelift almost daily, with the building industry one of the fastest growing enterprises in the city. Places of worship replaced the old, rundown cinema halls. New restaurants and take always establishments popped up on every street corner. Much of the new building was being done by foreign investors, who were given generous incentives to come to Uganda and actively participate in the new era of development.
Residents, too, were involved with the rebuilding of Kampala. Each month, the city’s inhabitants and many visitors enthusiastically took part in the keep Kampala clean campaign, complementing the city distraction’s efforts to improve the general cleaning of the capital. A new public park to be known as Centenary Park was put in motion and already features a centenary anniversary monument to mark the 100th anniversary of the city’s founding.
Because of this constant change, Kampala in the late 1990s is an intriguing place to explore. Unlike some other major cities in Africa, it’s safe to walk at any time of the day or at night. The city is attractive, green, and full of friendly people.
Although the city is built on many hills, you’ll undoubtedly spend most of your time just one of them: Nakasero, where the city centre is located. The top half of the hill is filled with pretty, tree-lined streets, up market private houses, embassies, aid organizations, the better hotels, and some government buildings.
The city’s dividing line is busy Kampala Road where you will find most of the banks, the railway station, and many descend hotels and restaurants.
The area below Kampala road is the seedier section of town, but it is filled with the colorful local life, if that is what you are looking for.
Symbols of the new Kampala include sprawling suburbs with large trading centers, a wealth of theatres featuring local music dance and drummer, many entertaining nightspots. Thanks to the government’s trade and foreign exchange liberalization policies, the city’s shops are full of latest local as well as imported goods. (Make sure you bargain when you shop; it’s all part of the shopping experience.)
If it’s conventional sightseeing you are after, don’t miss the Kasubi tombs and many more places. However, just meandering around the city is an adventure in itself.