Renaming of Kampala roads: Let’s not go there

Thursday August 15 2019

We argue that Kampala is far bigger than the

We argue that Kampala is far bigger than the original seven hills the colonialists left it sitting on and is still expanding 

By Joseph Bossa

Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) is grappling with what to do with the names derived mainly from the colonial past, which characterise the city’s roads. It is asking the general public’s contribution towards that effort.
Mr Apollo Makubuya’s scholarly presentation to the officials of KCCA, in which he pointed out the odious character of some of the people, foreign and local, after whom some of the roads are named, is said to have over-awed them.
In our opinion, the effort is not worth a spit in the bucket. The debate over colonial names is as old as the independence of African countries. But it appears that every generation would like to have a go at it. That is fair enough. That is what independence means.
A meaningful participation in the debate of the colonial legacy should start with one clearing their mind and taking a position over three questions: Was the colonial experience irredeemably evil; was it entirely beneficial to the colonised people or was it something in between?
We believe that many people think it was something in between, not because the right answer lies in the safe middle, but because logic points to it. This, therefore, calls for selectivity.
The first selection begins with Uganda, the name of the country we call our nation. It is a colonial concoction. The fathers of our generation, in their wisdom, chose to keep it as a name of the independent nation. Mr Makubuya, not being satisfied with that name, has tried to create his own concoction: (B)Uganda. It is part of the title of his recently published book.
Secondly, whatever stand one takes, they should be prepared to walk the talk, at least over matters they have control over. For instance, when renown author Ngugi decided to go authentic, he did not only change his name from James Ngugi to Ngugi wa Thiong’o, but also his attire and the language of his public writing from English to Gikuyu.
We have reason to suspect that when Mr Makubuya went to KCCA to make his speech on the colonial names, he was attired in a three-piece English suit complete with a neck-tie and made his presentation in impeccable Queen’s English, with the accent to boot, of the Cambridge University graduate he is.
No one noticed the irony of a lack of contradiction between the circumstances of the presenter and his subject.
Thirdly, an attempt to abolish colonial names of streets and places will open up a Pandora’s Box. We should not even go there. Take Lake Victoria. Every ethnic group whose territory touches the lake has a name for it. Nalubaale is just one of the names. Besides, it belongs equally to Kenya and Tanzania. We are informed that the name of Mbarara City is a mistake. It should have been Mbalala, a type of grass, which is common to the area. And who remembers the original name of the sprawling Fort Portal City?
We argue that Kampala is far bigger than the original seven hills the colonialists left it sitting on and is still expanding. Let the new names apply to the new areas.
Perhaps, KCCA would do a better job than it has done in the past in as far as planning is concerned. For now, most of the road names, apart from those the colonialists named, end with the name “Close” because that is where they end.
While KCCA is at its planning for the new areas, it should consider what to name roads, streets, avenues, lanes, crescents, bypasses, and of course, closes. There is enough work besides digging up the history of the personalities behind the names of the roads.