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Kampala city’s troubles

By Joseph Bossa

A historical perspective shows need to build confidence and trust with firmness

Kampala has not lived up the expectations of a capital city. There are people who argue that it is irredeemable and that Uganda should establish a new capital city somewhere else. Others assent that it can be salvaged yet.  The question is what to do and how to go about it.

City status was bestowed on Kampala in 1963, probably to befit the capital of a Uganda which had achieved sovereignty a year earlier.  But its lack of organisation has led to referring to one posh suburb of Kampala as “a rich man’s slum.” Plans for its regulated growth and improvement are lacking.

City planning would of necessity involve restraining the unrestricted exploitation of the land in the city. It could involve the compulsory acquisition of land or the deprivation of land owners of certain proprietorial rights over their land.

It could control erection of buildings, enforce a code of building standards, streamline road construction, drains, water supplies, and electricity lines, and `zone’ the residential, commercial or industrial areas. Considerations would be made of health, sanitation, communication, safety and convenience.

The absence of the above factors, which has left Kampala in the sorry city it is in, has a history with attitudes and behavior we witness today rooted in the past. Anyone, therefore, who wants to tackle the present Kampala must first appreciate its past.

Kampala’s history consists of three epochs: the pre-colonial, the colonial and the post-colonial. To explain this history, we rely heavily on the highly informative and scholarly work of Peter C.W. Gutkind in his book entitled “The Royal Capital of Buganda: A study of Internal Conflict and External Ambiguity.”

Pre-colonial Kampala: Days of innocence

Kampala and its environs has been the Kibuga or the Royal capital of Buganda kingdom for the last 200 years or so and the last six kings, the Kabakas, have had their capitals within a radius of 8kms of today’ s Kampala Capital Centre. Since 1885, however, Mengo has remained the official capital of Buganda.

In the Luganda language, the word `Kibuga’ has several meanings, based on the context. Kibuga can mean `town’, the `capital’, or the settlement surrounding the palace (lubiri) of the Kabaka.  With Mengo becoming the permanent seat of the Kabaka since about 1885 those three meanings have become fused.

The size of the kibuga was not exactly defined at the time of the arrival of Europeans but was assumed to include the hills and slopes from Kibuli in the east to Natete in the west and from Mulago in the north to Kabowa in the south, an area approximately 20 square miles.

It was in the middle of this kibuga territory that the British colonialist, Capt. Frederick Lugard, without invitation or permission from, or consultation with Kabaka Mwanga, established a camp at Old Kampala in 1890 and proceeded to fortify it.

Colonial Kampala:  The clash of quadruple interests

Lugard’s establishment of his fort at Old Kampala was the beginning of the deep suspicion and fear among the Buganda establishment that the development of Kampala might lead to further encroachment of the Kibuga (Mengo)by the Protectorate Government or, later, by members of other tribes holding posts in the capital city.

To “the Baganda, the kibuga was the apex of their emotions. It was the centre of military life and political administration’’. Gutkind tells us each of the principal chiefs had a home in the kibuga. They could not stand Kampala assuming greater political importance and prestige than the kibuga.

To this nationalistic sentiment was added and reinforced the personal interests introduced under the 1900 Agreement to widen the area of conflict between the Protectorate Government, which controlled Kampala, and the Buganda Government which controlled the kibuga.

That agreement, among other things, created a new land ownership and distribution unknown before in Buganda. Some 9003 square miles of Buganda land were allocated among the Kabaka and his heirs, the chiefs and senior office holders and others, thus giving individual land rights contrary to the system which had existed before and which was unique to Uganda in Africa. There is a reason to describe the land distribution under the 1900 Agreement as the first exhibition of grand corruption of public officials in Uganda.

The kibuga was included in this settlement since plots were allocated within the kibuga to the royal family and senior chiefs either as private mailo (freehold) or official estates. Those chiefs who may not have been allocated land near the kibuga, recognising the necessity of having property near the power base, either maneuvered to obtain or buy some, at least to erect `a town house’’.  A powerful land –owing aristocracy was created which has had a long-lasting bearing on the future development of the kibuga.

At about the same time, the kibuga officially became a sub-county headed by Omukulu we Kibuga or chief of the capital. A little earlier a decision had been made to have Kampala as the capital of the Protectorate Government. This created a need for that government to have land.

The Buganda Government had conceded the land Lugard had taken to the Protectorate Government to locate its administration offices. Later some Buganda land owners either sold or leased their land to the Protectorate Government. This became the Kampala Municipality.

The stage was thus set for two contiguous capitals – the Kibuga and Kampala Municipality- with two parallel controls – the Buganda Government of Kibuga and the Protectorate Government of Kampala Municipality. The Buganda Government was keenly aware of and jealously guarded the principle of indirect rule embodied in the 1900 Agreement which upheld traditional political institutions.

With the coming into force of the 1900 Agreement began the emergence of four distinct interest groups over the land making up kibuga and Kampala Municipality; namely the Protectorate Government, the Buganda Government, the Buganda notables, and the Asian traders. In short order those four interests began to clash.

There was a tacit understanding between the Protectorate Government and the Buganda Government that the kibuga was to be occupied by natives (read Africans) while Kampala municipality was to be occupied by non-Africans (read Europeans and Asians) .

But in 1920 the Protectorate officials noting the growth of Asian bazaars on the slopes of Namirembe Hill, and the unhygienic conditions of the area, declared a portion of it a separate township.

The political leaders at Mengo, who regarded any proposal to extend any town planning rules beyond the area that had been conceded to the Protectorate Government as a threat and a breach of the 1900 Agreement, protested.

But there was also conflict within Mengo. Whilst the Mengo notables collectively did not want non-Africans to reside in kibuga, individually those who had land in kibuga saw and exploited the economic advantage in non-Africans leasing their land and residing there.

Additionally, the notables, as land owners in the kibuga, resented extension of town planning because it would curtail their free reign in the utilization of their land and would entail the paying of rates. However, both Africans and non-Africans resented the obligations that went with non-African residency, namely central control over building standards and hygiene.

The Asian traders complaint to the Protectorate Government about their colleagues in the Kibuga, who operated from cheap premises over which no property rates were levied, is similar to today’s complain by Kampala shopkeepers against hawkers who operate from side-walks and don’t pay any rent.

Although a Kibuga Planning Board was set up, it never addressed the issue of zoning. It saw its main function as being the passing or rejecting of building plans submitted by the well to – do Baganda who wished to construct `a town house’. The Buganda Government was unable to exercise effective control over the orderly development of the kibuga because the power elite who set the rules were themselves responsible for breaking them.

The enforcement of such rules was entrusted to the `Omukulu we Kibuga’. But this new office was not in the traditional set up and was held by a non-titled, landless officer who the landowner chiefs regarded not only as a rival in power and influence but their inferior. This was the beginning of the impunity witnessed today.

Matters were not helped by the fact that the laws themselves had loopholes. For instance, at some point, the town planning law in kibuga prohibited only the construction without consent of the Kibuga Planning Board of houses using permanent materials. Therefore construction of the mud and wattle structures did not require a permit.

Like  is done today, ‘‘a much larger building, frequently of permanent materials, is erected around the shell of some ruin and room after room  added, the house owner saying he is repairing[an old] house, not constructing a new one,’’ Gutkind writes.

Post-Colonial Epoch: Continuity and Change

When the terms under which Uganda would become independent were being negotiated, that Kampala would be the capital of the new state was never disputed. Dr. Audrey Richards, in the foreword to Peter C.W. Gutkind’s book “The Royal Capital of Buganda: A study of Internal Conflict and External Ambiguity”, states that if it had been mooted to put the capital elsewhere, the Baganda would have been the first to protest. The situation of contiguous capitals and parallel control, therefore, continued after independence.

This duality of control was crystalised in the Independence Constitution. In the foreword to Gutkind’s book Dr. Audrey Richards, writes, “By sheer persistence they (the Ganda) won themselves a separate Municipal Council for Mengo, as well as an influence on the parallel Municipal Council for Greater Kampala.

Article 125 of the Report of the Uganda Constitutional Conference 1961 states quite unequivocally that Kampala itself shall be ‘recognized as part of Buganda territory and the Kabaka’s Government should have a special association with its administration’.”

The special association took the form of a special Joint Advisory Council with three members appointed on the advice of the Uganda Government, three on the advice of the Buganda Government and three nominated by the Kampala Municipal Council. The Central Government Ministers were obliged to consult the Joint Advisory Council on all matters affecting Kampala.

That arrangement remained in place until 1967 when the Constitution passed that year abolished the Buganda Kingdom, among others. In 1968 the long held desire of the Protectorate Government was realized when Mengo Municipality (kibuga) was incorporated in Kampala City.

The two entities for the first time came under a single planning authority. Announced simultaneously with the merger was the great expansion of Kampala City boundaries in all directions to a radius of seven miles from the city centre, thus incorporating an area far larger than the original city.

This merger and expansion of Kampala City was done without putting in place a viable administrative structure and the necessary technical staff and funds not only to formulate a planning scheme but also to enforce it. In practical terms, therefore, it was not the city that incorporated the villages but the villages that took over the city. The observation of M.J. Laclercq made in 1913 that “Kampala est mois une ville qu’in immense jardin” (Kampala is less of a town than a huge garden) was re-enforced.

Next week: We look at the way forward.

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