Kampala city excursion Uganda tours

While Uganda marks 50 years of Independence, the capital, Kampala has its 50th anniversary as a capital city this year. Christopher Bendana charts some of the changes the city has gone through.

From a city dominated by the colonialist and Indian business community, Kampala will celebrate 50 years in the hands of the natives this year.

From education institutions, to the judiciary, churches to business matters, before 1962 Kampala was managed and dominated mainly by the British and Asians. That has changed over the years, notably after Independence and later after Idi Amin’s crazy economic war.

A view of Kampala city from Old Kampala 2011


Kampala had been a Town Centre since 1948 and became a municipality in 1950. It was elevated to a capital city by the colonialist government in 1962, making it the administrative centre of the new nation Uganda.

Tamale Kigundu, an urban planner and lecturer in the department of architecture, Makerere University links the rise of Kampala as Uganda’s capital city to building of national institutions to support the budding independent government.

“Kampala looked like a Capital City for Buganda before 1962, but after that, with the construction of the Parliament Building and institutions like Mulago Hospital, it started growing in importance as a national city,” he explains. Ssebaana Kizito, a former city mayor and 50-year resident,remembers Kampala City of the 1960s covering only the areas of Nakasero, Old Kampala, and Wandedeya in what is now called the Central Business District (CBD).

In 1960, Kampala received initiatives like the development plan funded by the World Bank. UN experts came to help in the planning of Kampala.


The city expanded rapidly after the abolition of traditional kingdoms, including Buganda, as the boundaries were expanded. From Nakasero, Makerere, Old Kampala,Kololo, Mulago and Mbuya, it incorporated Kawempe township, Mengo municipality, Lusanja Kisaasi, Kiwatule, Muyenga, Ggaba and Nakawa townships in 1968.

From a city of seven hills, it now covers over 50 hills. Currently, Kampala, identifying itself as ‘Greater Kampala’, extends to Najjera beyond Ntinda, Nansana on Hoima Road, Bweyogerere along Jinja Road, Zana on Entebbe Road, Gaba, and Kyengera on Masaka road.

“Kampala was very small; a city where blacks feared going to,” reveals Sebaana Kizito. “It covered Nakasero, Kololo and parts of Wandegeya with a few storied buildings along Kampala.” Although long gone, Drapers (U) Ltd, a three storey building, stood where the current Crane Bank headquarters stand. It was one of the tallest buildings then. Kampala now boasts of several skyscrapers:

Workers’ House, Sheraton hotel, Crested Towers, Rwenzori Towers and Mapeera House, among others. Kampala at 50 has welcomed big continental supermarket chains such as Shoprite, Game, Uchumi, and Nakumatt. Numerous independent supermarkets have contributed to changing the shopping culture.

City dwellers no longer depend on the small ‘duka’ shop for their daily groceries, where supermarkets exist. There are also numerous walk-through shopping arcades replacing the street-front shops of the past. Sebaana says this is a sharp contrast to the way of life at independence: “The norm of the day was people getting their food from the village, but nowadays it is the opposite. People in the village expect food from the city dwellers,” he quips.


Kampala has risen as a commercial hub serving other countries like DR. Congo and South Sudan, regional towns like Mbale, Mbarara, and Gulu. It boasts of more hotels, newer and bigger, which have made Kampala a competitive conference and tourism destination. While much of the merchandise in shops originated from Europein the 60s, they are from Asia now. Ugandans now dominate the business, especially small and medium enterprises, although new Indian and Chinese families are gaining a foothold fast, among other non-Ugandans.

Other towns surrounding the city, like Ntinda, Nansana and Bweyogerere have established themselves as entrance trading hubs, to the extent that some people do not need to come to the city to do business. Katwe, the African City, has maintained its uniqueness as the town of artisans. Despite the construction of high rise buildings, here business still remains in the hands of Africans, dealing mostly in metal fabrication.


Kampalans have in the last two decades had their nights in glitzy places like Club Silk and Angenoir discothèque providing night entertaining to the different classes of people. There are also Casinos where the rich gamble. The poor have had betting centres set up for them, especially leaning towards sports.

The music scene, now dominated by young men like Bobi Wine, Bebe Cool and Jose Chameleone, once had musicians like Dan Mugala and Elly Wamala. Famous clubs of the 60s were Ssuzana in Nakulabye and New Life in Katwe.


Although the Pajero in the league of Mercedes Benz, Prados, and Nissans, ranks high on the list of cars of our time the Mercedes Benz was supreme in the 60s.“Volkswagens were driven by the poor, while the rich drove Mercedes Benz vehicles,” Sebaana boasts.

“The bicycles were very many. In the evening, you would see a bicycle traffic jam the way you see the current car jam,” says Hajji Abudu Semakula, a Namungoona resident. Although many people used to commute to town by bus and bicycle in the 60s, the bicycle is now identified with the poor. The buses have had a resurrection with the coming of the Pioneer Easy Bus, also a major transport means for Kampala’s residents and workers. But 14-seater commuter taxis still dominate, as they have for the last 25 years.

From the famous Mwamba styles of construction, rich Uganda have had all kinds of house styles, from the ‘French Cut’ bungalows of the 1990s to apartment blocks. The tenement (Muzigo) has made a name as an abode for Kampala’s poor, increasing the sizes of previously small or nonexistent slums.

There is also a trend of self-contained double rooms, mainly rented by fresh graduates making a start in life. Residential bungalows that had made areas of Mbuya and Kololo exclusive residential areas for white people are no longer exclusive. People of all races live together now. For example, Kololo is now home to native Ugandans, Indians and whites. Also dead are the residential quarters at Nakawa and Naguru built for African civil servants. Many civil servants live in their own gated bungalows.

In 1962, the city included only the areas of Nakasero, Old Kampala, Kololo, Mbuya, Makerere and Mulago, with a population of about 137,000. Now, one can confidently say that the city extends to Kyengera on Masaka Road, Nansana on Hoima Road, Zana on Entebbe Road, and Bweyogerere on the Jinja Road, with a daytime population of about 3 million. From the seven hills mentioned much in history books, one can easily talk of 50 hills now. The buildings like Workers’ House, Crested Towers and the numerous arcades have aluminium, cladding away from the concrete slabs and brick walls that were in the 1960s.


It was tarmac for all the roads in the CBD, the street lights were functioning, and there was no littered garbage. The infrastructure network in the expanded towns of Kawempe and Makindye has remained poor. The number of cars has increased from a few hundreds to about 700,000.  Also until the coming on board of Pioneer Easy Bus service, the mini-van, commonly known as the Kamunye has been the dominated the transporter sector in the city.

Peter Kaujju, the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) spokesperson, says that after 50 years, the city’s infrastructure is due for upgrades. The authority has hired a consultant to evaluate KCCA’s physical infrastructure in Kampala Physical Infrastructure Development Plan. In the next 50 years, is there chance of bullet trains and a planned city with designated walkways and bicycle parks? Tamale says the land tenure system remains the major obstacle to have a modern planned city.n


Around Kampala, there are many buildings that serve as monuments to the city’s old history and existence. Apart from some residential homes, many buildings in the city, schools, temples, mosques and hospitals, formed the core of what would become the capital city.


Construction of this building took place between 1925 and 1927. According to Ally Lugudo, the acting director of the Laboratory, this is one of the strongest buildings in Uganda. The thickness of its walls is about one foot and it was built using the same type of cement used to construct the Owen Falls dam.


Uganda Bookshop on Plot 4, Colville Street was built in 1927 with a mission to support and promote the mission of the Anglican Church in Uganda through publishing, printing, distributing and selling of Christian literature and other scholastic materials.


The Uganda Museum first exhibited in 1905 at Old Kampala and the locals called it Enyumba ya Mayembe (house of fetishes) because of its cultural exhibits which they believedto bestow supernatural powers on the colonial administration. In 1954, the Museum was relocated to its present site on Kira Road, Kamwokya.


The foundation stone for the Parliament Building was laid on December 18, 1956, by the then Governor of Uganda, Sir Andrew Cohen. Construction of the main building commenced in 1958. On October 5, 1962 the then Prime Minister Apollo Milton Obote laid the foundation stone for the Independence Arch.


This building was officially inaugurated on December 18, 1956 by Sir Andrew Cohen. The NationalTheatre provides a venue for stage performances of different kinds, and also serves as a cinema. It also offers a snack bar and crafts village where locally made handicrafts are sold.


Namirembe Cathedral is reputed for being the oldest cathedral in Uganda. The congregation is called to worship by the beating of the drums. The first structure constructed from March 1890 comprised reed, thatch and poles, and it could seat about 800 people. In October 1894, the roof of the Cathedral was blown off by a severe storm. Consequently, in September 1894 with Katikkiro (Prime Minister) sir Apollo Kagwa as the architect, reconstruction of the Cathedral commenced, but with a bigger capacity of 4,000 people. It opened in July 1895.


The Mill Hill Fathers, established their mission where St. Peter’s Church stands today in Nsambya. A clinic was started under a mango tree, which in 1903 became the present Nsambya Hospital. Later the St. Peter’s primary and secondary schools were built from 1907. The present church building replaced an earlier structure in 1951.


Located near Mackay Memorial College, this was the first Church to be built using permanent material in Uganda, starting in 1912 and completing in 1915.

The Church is in remembrance of Alexander Mackay (1849-1890) a Scottish engineer and missionary of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), and a memorial to the very first three Ugandan victims of martyrdom: Makko Kakumba, Yusufu Lugalama, and Nuwa Serwanga.


Built in the Roman style, Rubaga Cathedral is the seat of the Catholic faith in Uganda. Construction of this Cathedral was launched on the Feast of Pentecost in 1917 and its foundation stone was laid by a one Bishop Streicher. It replaced a thatched structure and was completed in 1925. It holds the archives of the renowned 22 martyrs of Uganda.


Located in Kisozi village, below Kings College Budo, Nsangi sub-county Council, Wakiso district, this church was built between 1920 and 1926 by Omutaka Makamba Mika Sematimba on land he donated to the church.


Completed one year before independence, this is the major temple of this religious sect in Africa. The Kampala Bahá’í Temple is more than 130 feet high and over 100 metres in diameter at the base. Its foundation goes 10 feet underground to protect it from earthquakes. Its foundation stone was laid in January 1958 and the temple was dedicated on January 13, 1961.


In the 1930s, the late Prince Badru Kakungulu offered land on Kibuli Hill for developing infrastructure central to improvement of the Muslim community in Uganda. The foundation stone for this white landmark that dominates the hill was laid in 1936 by Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah Aga Khan III. It was finally opened by Prince Prince Aly Salomone Khan in 1951.


This building is sacred to the Hindu community in Uganda. Built in 1954 at a cost of £60,000, the building’s marvel is that it was built with no steel bars. It is rich in oriental art and architecture.


Twekobe, the Kabaka’s official residence was constructed between 1924 and 1928.

However, it sustained damage in the 1966 political crisis and during its occupation by the army in mid 1980s.It underwent a facelift and it has now regained its ambience.


The Buganda Parliament building was designed by British Architect Mark Andrew and built from 1952 to 1956. Bulange’s western architectural design gave one of Uganda’s and Africa’s ancient kingdoms a modern outlook.


As the fi rst modern hospital in Uganda, it was founded by Dr. Albert Cook in 1897. It is also reputed to have acquired the first X-Ray equipment in East Africa, after it was installed in 1907 by Ernest Cook, a nephew of the founder.


It was initiated in 1913 by Sir Albert Cook as a centre for treating sleeping sickness and venereal diseases. 50years later, more constructions were done, raising the inpatient capacity to over 650 beds in several buildings spread over Mulago hill. Considered individually, these buildings would not command much historic value.


Makerere College School came into existence in 1945 as a demonstration school for the then Makerere University College’s School of Education. However, it commenced its existence in a core of initial buildings that had already been part of the University College.

Makerere University

It is Uganda’s largest and oldest university, which was established as a technical school in 1922. In 1963, it became the University of East Africa. It became an independent national university in 1970 when the University of East Africa was split into three independent universities: University of Nairobi, University of Dar