A tour around Kampala City unearthes rich history

Saturday April 24 2021

Tourists board the sight-seeing bus in Kampala. PHOTO | GABRIEL BUULE.

By Gabriel Buule

It is 10:40am and I am finalising plans to set off to coordinate a trip around Kampala City, organised by Lydia Odaga, the travel consultant of American Travel Bureau.

In the parking lot of National Theatre building, where we are set to depart from, is a sight-seeing bus and all the occupants are excited about touring and learning about the history of Kampala’s best landmarks and attractions.

The itinerary reads that our journey starts from National Theatre, tour Mackay Cave and Uganda Museum. Our day’s guide, Sabiiti Baguma reminds us the tour will also have a live narration.

Before we set off, we are told that the Uganda National Cultural Centre, a remarkable spot for Ugandan art, was officially opened in December 2, 1959. The theatre has a state-of-the-art auditorium, with chairs made of vintage cast iron.

The journey begins
The events at the theatre are part of the journey but l could not wait to see the bus take off. Past Parliament Avenue, people embark on taking selfies.
Moments later, we are already at Kimathi Avenue, where the magnificent Impala statue is located. The narrator is not sure when it was installed, but he tells us the name Kampala was derived from an Impala, a species of antelope.

We later make our way to Christ the King Church, one of the oldest Catholic parishes in Kampala City located on Colville Street. We are told that the church existed as early as 1900 and was established by a small community of Catholics in Kampala that had come all the way from Goa, Mangalore and South India.


About Christ the King Church
The church was built by Father H. Janssen, who was commissioned by   Bishop Campling, on October 27, 1929 to do the work with the help of Dutch architects. A total of Shs7,500 was used to construct it and it was opened and blessed on October 26, 1930.

While at the Independence Monument, we learn that it was designed by a Kenyan artist, Prof Gregory Maloba. I also discover that the World War Memorial Monument was built in Kampala by the British colonial government in 1945 in memory of Ugandans who died fighting for the British empire during the first and second world wars.

Norman Cinema
“Bus yimilira!,” a speeding motocyclist stops the bus as we wait for one of the members who had delayed our trip. At this point, we are at Buganda Road craft village and we proceed to Watooto church. The most important thing that I get to learn is that Watooto was initially called the Norman Cinema.

We are told that the road via Norman Cinema was always the busiest during the time of Ssekabaka Daniel Bassamula Ekkere Mwanga. The narrator says men who were digging the Kabaka’s lake at that time, used to camp at Nakasero and in the evening, they would be seen with baskets, picking soil from the lake, and that is how the name Nakasero came about.

Kiseka market
Thirty minutes later, we are on Kiseka market lane towards Martin Road. If you have been to downtown Kampala, you have an idea how much jam, the errant driving and chaos that happens in that part of city.  It took us some good minutes for the traffic to clear.

Later we get to Martin Road, the home of Kampala’s oldest town characterised by British and Indian architecture. After marveling at buildings, the narrator then draws our attention to St Matia Mulumba Catholic Church. We are told that the place used to be a bush back in the days. We later learn that in that very bush is where a Catholic catechumen (a person who receives instructions in preparation for Christian baptism or confirmation) was clobbered to death and the body was discovered three days later.

While Lwanga and his fellow pages were sent to Namugongo, Mulumba, 50, was taken to Old Kampala per his request, where he was dismembered.
On his deathbed, he said: “Surely God will deliver me, but you will not see how he does it. He will take my soul and leave you with my body Mulumba was beatified in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV and canonised on October 18, 1964, by Pope Paul VI.

At 11: 35, we are at Fort Lugard, one of the most important places the in the colonial days on Kampala Hill, currently referred to as Old Kampala. Fort Lugard was built in the 1890s, by Capt Fredrick Lugard, the first military administrator of the British East Africa Company. We are told by the guide that the British referred to the hill as the Hill of the Impala. The Luganda translation is Akasozi k’empala.

Akasozi k’empala
Through repeated usage, the name eventually became Kampala and was applied in the entire city. Capt Lugard, a British mercenary, arrived in Uganda in the 1890s and built his fort on top of the hill.

Adjacent to Fort Lugard, is the Gaddafi Mosque a religious infrastructure in the heart of Kampala completed in 2006. It seats about 15,000 worshippers and can accomodate 1,100 in the gallery, while the terrace caters for another 3,500.

Gaddafi Mosque
The Gaddafi National Mosque that also houses Uganda Muslim Supreme Council was renamed Uganda National Mosque, in 2013, following the death of Col Muammar Gaddafi, president of Libya. The new Libyan administration was reluctant to rehabilitate the mosque under the old name.

We get to learn that this is the most visited landmark in Kampala city and a tour costs Shs10,000 for Ugandans, while other tourists have to part with Shs20,000.

Lost in the city
Ever heard of the common phrase, Kampala ssi bizimbe, which literally means besides the buildings in Kampala, one has to be street smart.

On our way to the cave of Presbyterian missionary, Alexander Murdoch Mackay, in Nateete, commonly known as Ewa Makaayi, not the guide, driver or Google map could save us from getting lost.

We find ourselves at 360 degree view of Kampala City at Namirembe Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in East and Central Africa that dates as far back as 1915.

We also get a chance to tour Sir Albert Cook Hospital, in Mengo that was established in 1897. It is here that we see Buganda’s monumental building that houses the Lukiiko. What we learn here is that Bulange is a replica of Stormont House in Northern Ireland.

Bulange houses the Lukiiko (Buganda’s Parliament) offices, the Kabaka (king) of Buganda and the Katikkiro (prime minister) of Buganda also maintain offices in this building. The building serves as the administrative headquarters of the Buganda Kingdom.

As we drive past Wakaligga instead of Lungujja to Mugwaanya Road in order to connect to Mackay in Nateete, the guide tells the driver that we are lost. We decide to go to Wakaliga via Nateete Park, where we branch off to Lungujja.

Mackay the missionary
Moments later, we arrive at Mackay via Sembera Road junction, where we find a school and a church, all named after Alexander Murdoch Mackay, who lived in this area from October 13, 1849 to February 4, 1890.

Rev Lubega Kisakye, the custodian of this place, tells us that this was not meant to be the original place designated to the missionary because he was living in Lungujja.

He says spies of Ssekabaka Daniel Mwanga accused the missionary of using binoculars to watch the king while he bathed every evening. This prompted kindgdom officials to shift him to another place.

The church at a glance, is an epitome of rich history; the keys, hinges, locks, which were all produced by Mackay are still functional. Even the original church plan designed by the missionary is still kept at the church.

Mackay’s cave
In the compound, is a grave of a one Ssembera K. Mackay, the first person to be baptised at that church by Mackay himself.  He was murdered in Masaka during religious wars.

Near the Church, stands the Mackay’s Cave (locally referred as “Empuku ya Makayi).  You are likely to miss it, because it is a deserted structure, save for the beautiful painted wall.

 Above are two-winged angels blowing trumpets on either side of Jesus Christ in one side and a white man dressed in a khaki trouser with a hat, holding a Bible while preaching to a crowd. The reverend further reveals that it was in this cave that Mackay used to hide during the infamous religious wars in Uganda.

The Uganda Museum
As we conclude our day’s trip around the city, we drive to the Uganda Museum via Makerere hill, the home of the prestigious Makerere University.

The narrator reminds us that this was initially called Nyanja Eladde. He tells us a story of how one of Buganda kings, who had a home in that same place, delayed at mistress’s  home in Kyengera, Mugongo and when he came home late, people mocked him saying Atuuse Makerere. This is where the name Makerere was derived from. The trips ends at 1:12pm.

Other landmarks in Kampala
While in Kampala, you can visit other places such as Kasubi Royal Tombs of Buganda kings. Built in 1882 and converted into the royal burial ground in 1884, the site has four royal tombs in a traditional burial house called Muzibu Azaala Mpanga.

Kampala also has the magnificent Kabaka’s Lake, Ndere Centre ,the Kings palace,  Baha’i temple ,several places of worship such as Rubaga Cathedral, markets and the beaches in Ggaba on Lake Victoria.