Kampala; How I miss the Seven Hills.

Stephen Ssenkaaba

Kampala. Oh Kampala! Sometimes I cry for this beloved city. Sometimes I smile. It used to be called the city of seven hills- apparently because it was established on seven hills. Lubaga, Kololo, Kibuli, Namirembe, Makerere, Nakasero and OldKampala. There too was a story that this city was a Johnnie -Come lately of sorts; that the first choice for a city was Entebbe. It was all the colonial Master’s working. The administrative structures were in Entebbe- even Government House, where the Governor resided. How Kampala took pride of place still eludes me. This city, that we call our Capital has an interesting history.

Old Taxi park in the early 1970s during Idi Amin. Photo credit: Newvision Archive

One legend says that in the olden days, the place that is now Kampala had green glorious rolling hills. And that its grassy wetlands were home to several antelope species, particularly the impala. Then came the white man- the British imperialists to be specific. They called it the “hills of the impala”. Those who couldn’t be bothered about theWhiteman’s language called it Akasozi K’empala (Local Luganda translation for the hill of Impala). 

An aerial view of part of Kampala City in 1962.
Photo credit:NewVision Archive

Once the capital of Buganda-the largest ethnic enclave in the country, the city evolved to accommodate Uganda’s most important  structures- High Court, Parliament and all the opulent malls that have taken the city over. The white man came and turned the city into an urban metropolis. Kampala looked elegant, neat and habitable.The Asian trader showed his presence; his architecture defining part of the city. But it wasn’t long before all that began to dissipate. Independence came with its challenges. Then Amin Dada,then Structural Adjustment programmes. Then rural urban immigration, then slums. Then poor management. Then corruption.

The posher side of town- Yusuf Lule Road

Then poor workmanship. Sometimes you struggle to see the city. Sometimes you see a slum. Sometimes you see chaos. Sometimes a dumping site. Sometimes an architectural eyesore. Sometimes those buildings collapse on people. Then the mess that is bodaboda. Then the cars, fighting for space in a crammed city.

Present day Old Taxi park in Kampala

That is Kampala for you. The city where the seven beautiful hills are now replaced by valleys of congestion, mounds of mud and dumping ground for all sorts of rubbish. This is the Kampala that we know today. Dust. Dirt. Dangerous fumes. Pickpockets. Disorganised infrastructure.

A view of Kampala city form Namirembe hill

Namirembe hill, once a soaring green empire of grass and grace. Now the faintly leafy vantage point  to all the chaos and poorly planned high rise city buildings.

The once serene, aerated city is one huge messy corridor

This is the city where men, women, motorbikes, buses, commuter taxis all share space. Sometimes trade places. Taxis in pedestrian walks; pedestrians in the middle of the road. It is the place of modern architecture of dizzying proportions. It is our city. We the Ugandans. We love it. We hate it. But we live in it.

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