Court of Appeal latest homeless entity in Kampala

Thursday January 5 2012

By Karoli Ssemogerere

A prominent advertisement in the print media announces the new location of the Court of Appeal of Uganda as Tweed Towers, somewhere between Yusuf Lule Road (formerly Kitante Road) and Nakasero. Tweed Towers (just two floors of it) is expected to house 15 Justices of Appeal of the country’s second most important court.

The decision to move the Court of Appeal into a mainstream commercial building is unwise, dangerous and an unprecedented attack on the symbolic value courthouses have in any judicial system. At this pace, we should fully expect the courts to move next door to Garden City Mall in an attempt to bring justice closer to the people so to speak.

The rapid degeneration of government into regular commercial tenancies seems to have picked up speed in the last couple of years. First, the Supreme Court, the final Court of Appeal in the land, moved from Bulange to a building in Kololo that at times looks like a used car sales building or glittering in what used to be a quiet residential neighborhood; or a pharmaceutical building or branch of an important bank.

Their neighbours in Kololo, the Anti-Corruption Court next to Interpol, seem to have better premises. Afterall Kololo is the address of the well-appointed in Uganda’s pecking order allowing them to attend court at ease.

On the occasional morning, I am amused in my rearview mirror with the flag carrying Minister of Agriculture traveling to Entebbe. Mr Tress Bucyanayandi supervises a plethora of agencies in Kampala- the Cotton Development Organisation and Uganda Tea Authority. NAADS is at a confluence of another busy street in Nakasero.

Early this year, the technocrats in his ministry moved from Entebbe-- forget the clean air and relatively garbage-free surroundings-- to Kampala. At the time of this move, the ministers temporarily sought refuge in Kampala while on business. It is a reality that Entebbe, the colonial capital, is no longer a feasible ride away from Kampala. Anyone traveling to the airport on a day when the beaches that dot the Entebbe peninsula are busy knows this.

Other partly homeless departments include the Ministry of Works, two of whose ministers are housed in workshops on Port Bell Road. Their permanent secretary is in Entebbe in spite of a prominent sign advertising his presence next to his boss at Central Engineering Workshop.

Kampala’s yellow pages recently advertised the fate of the President’s Principal Private Secretary and former State Minister Grace Akello. She is working on the streets having been locked out of her office by Trade and Industry Minister Amelia Kyambadde. Mr Muruli Mukasa, the Security Minister, may be relieved that he is now acting Minister for Presidency since his official office is still at the service of the Prime Minister.

Returning to the Court of Appeal, the decision to relocate to a class A commercial building is ill-thought. The court will share premises with so many other tenants, depriving it of a quiet environment to conduct its business.

The Court of Appeal hears criminal appeals requiring the transportation of appellants from Luzira; Tweed Towers does not have the space for the prisoner’s bus. Being a boss in Uganda carries a lot of fanfare, including outriders to outgun Uganda’s stubborn traffic. These facilities require a lot more space than the aptly named Tweed Towers can offer.

The court administrators seem to forget that courts are public places; requiring relative accessibility to members of the public on all forms of egress, foot, cycle, etc. Students and lawyers should be able to access these facilities at ease. Of course selling most of the public land in Kampala, the collapse of zoning has turned the city into a marketplace. Our Mumbai model where street hawkers, vendors long took over the streets or the boda boda, Uganda’s cynic response to choking traffic, is about to succeed in tearing down this country’s historic downtown.

There is a reason why many cities have a government centre- marked and distinct from the commercial downtown. Squeezed New York has a Federal Plaza where the functions of the federal government are organised and City Hall Plaza where the city functions are located. The area around Westminster houses the core of British government.

In Accra, Ghana, there is a core of government well-appointed from the busy downtown. The President’s residence is close to his office and Parliament. The Central Bank and Supreme Court are all within walking distance of each other overlooking Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park. If the urge is to find space in this central business district, Kampala Capital City Authority, with its dilapidated White House, may be happy to get tenants to help fix its once majestic building.

Tweed Towers is more problematic. If the fire alarms go off-- and there is reason they will-- the sight of judges, followed by advocates, running up and down public elevators in court dress may not do much for the image of the courts and supposed sanctity of justice.

Mr Ssemogerere, an attorney and social entrepreneur, practices law in New York.
[email protected]