Bringing the wild into the heart of Kampala City

Sunday October 25 2020
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Ruhondeza: The Gentle Giant, is in memory of Ruhondeza the patriarch from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. PHOTO/KELVIN ATUHAIRE

By Dennis Nsubuga

In front of Colline House, Kampala, close to where Pilkington Road meets upper Kimathi Avenue, stands a giant sculpture of a mountain gorilla. With huge arms, a broad chest and shoulders, its large black hairy body is captured in gentle walk. It is covered in fresh light bamboo vegetation. 

The monument is one half of the newly-launched gorilla-impala monument project. The other half is the impala monument standing at the lower Kimathi Avenue, near Jubilee Insurance Company, above Parliamentary Avenue offices.  

Both monuments are part of the latest public art to hit the capital city, Kampala.

The monuments in the city centre are complemented by 10 equally new sculptures of wildlife spread on the Mulago-Kamwokya-Kira road stretch, in a project dubbed “Wildlife Street” project.

Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) commissioned the monuments during the independence week, as experts in tourism, art and culture say the development should be a wake-up call to improve efforts in conservation and preservation of Uganda’s heritage.

The monuments join other famous landmarks  around town, such as the Independence Moment, a one-minute walk from the gorilla monument. But whereas most of the old monuments tell the political history of the country, the new art pieces have strong connotations with tourism, a sector that is increasingly driving Uganda to global recognition.

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Wild  in the city

The gorilla monument, dubbed Ruhondeza: The Gentle Giant, is in memory of Ruhondeza, a popular male gorilla who was the oldest gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. 

Before his death in 2012, he was believed to be more than 50 years old. He has since become a legend, a story that fascinates numerous tourists that visit the country for gorilla trekking.

Ruhondeza, loosely translated as a “sleepy fellow,” from Runyakitara, was the first dominant silverback to lead the Mubare gorilla group in 1991 when the national park was gazetted. Mubare was the first habituated tourism gorilla family in Uganda. His family name Mubare originates from an area in the park called Mubare hills found South West of Bwindi, where, according to UWA, habituation started.

The monument, which stands at four metres in height, and three metres in width, was inspired by “the gentle giant’s favourite posture whenever he received visitors”, the lead curators, KCCA, say. It was designed and executed by Kazi Ni Kazi Sculpture Studio Limited who also made the impala monument. The impala and gorilla were sculpted out of bronze for durability. 

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Kampala City Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago and Dorothy Kisaka, the executive director of KCCA at the unveiling of the project. PHOTO/KELVIN ATUHAIRE

Ode to Kampala

The impala monument is in memory of the impalas that originally occupied the present day Kampala City, the capital city of Uganda.  

In the rainy season, when food is plentiful, they are known to gather in large herds of several hundred animals to browse on grasses and herbs, bushes, shrubs, and shoots.

The monument, the curators say, represents the birth of the name Kampala (area of Impalas). The natives called present day Kampala “Kasozi Ka’ Mpala” which translates to ‘Hills of the Impala’. 

When the British arrived in the region, they developed a piggy translation ‘Ka’Mpala’ as the local name was, to them, long, difficult to grasp and pronounce.  The translation in native Luganda, (Kasozi Ka meaning Hill of), and Empala being the plural for impala. 

Ka Empala sounded like one word Ka’Mpala. It is said when the Kabaka would go hunting, the people would say Kabaka a’genze e Ka’mpala (the Kabaka has gone to Ka’mpala). Thus was born the name of the city Kampala. 

Heritage

According to Dorothy Kisaka, the executive director of  KCCA, the impala  is meant to educate the public and Kampala’s visitors about the city’s heritage and highlight the country’s most important wildlife.” 

The three impalas are captured in their characteristic leaps, which constitute an anti-predator strategy. The animals are running, visibly at a fast pace. 
To Henry Ssegamwenge, the main artist and sculptor of both the impala and gorilla monuments, the animals were captured in their natural way of life, “because they are always running away from enemies.”

He says: “We use the animal’s nature to explain the city’s diversity and development. Every impala in the composition is moving at a high speed. The motion in the sculpture indicates the rate at which the city is moving.”
Ssegamwenge explains that the three different impalas symbolise life of Kampala city dwellers.

“These animals have life, which means they do not live alone in the wild. It has to be a family, just like people in the city. They are city dwellers. They do not just come and work. They live in the city.” 

The male in the middle, its female counterpart on the left and the kid on his right, running about in the Savannah grassland, Ssegamwenge observes, represent a family in Kampala. The father, mother and child, are jumping and moving in the same direction, a symbol of diversity living in harmony as “they create a happy home.”

On the other hand, the Ruhondeza story being told in the city centre, to the experts, is a celebration of the country’s diversity.   They think it is also a move that will inspire and boost tourism in Uganda, especially when the gorilla is one of the most significant tourist attractions in Uganda.

“A mountain gorilla is Uganda’s flagship wildlife species that brings majority of visitors to Uganda,” says Stephen Sanyi Masaba, the director  of tourism and business development at UWA. 

The magnificent apes are both rare and endangered, with a population of less than 800 animals, according to UWA. 

Their concentration in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park makes the park Uganda’s foremost tourist attraction, and according to industry observers, one of the world’s most remarkable wildlife encounters. The primate can only be found in Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

“People plan for more than two years, save a lot of money to see the mountain gorilla. It costs about $700 (about Shs2.6m) to see it for just one hour, so people spend roughly $5000 (Shs18.6m).  

That is coupled with the time spent through the flights, hotels, a safari and more,” Masaba explains.

KCCA’s director of Education, Juliet Nambi Namuddu, says the gorilla monument does not  only venerate the endangered species of mountain gorillas, it is  also meant to educate the general public and visitors about this very unique heritage.

The wildlife street

The chimpanzee comes second to the gorilla in attracting foreign tourists in the country, according to Masaba. Consequently, the Eastern chimpanzee is one of the 10 sculptures on Mulago-Kamwokya-Kira road stretch. 

The stretch, which UWA has recommeded to be renamed “Wildlife Street,” hosts concrete sculptures of some of the major species that represent the rich wildlife in Uganda.

Others are the lion, buffalo, elephant, zebra, giraffe, shoebill, hippopotamus, crested crane, and leopard.  
Established on different spots on the paved, gardened space that separates Kira Road, the animal sculptures have fascinated their viewers. The African lion stands adjacent to Mulago round-about. The renowned ‘King of the Jungle’ welcomes the viewer into the street.

Works by Passionate Events, each of the concrete sculptures, embodying textures of the respective wildlife animals, have inscriptions about the animal and which national park to find it.

Omumbejja Nuulu Nakamanya is a vendor near the African elephant sculpture, situated a few metres from the Uganda Museum. “People usually come here to take pictures with the elephant sculpture. They usually seem fascinated. Children also love it,” she narrates. “If you have never seen an elephant, you can see it from here.”

Nakamanya says: “I have asked some what they loved about the sculptures and they said they are their totems.” 
She says although some people have not gone to the parks, “because it is expensive, when you reach here, you feel it is part of you. When you see the crested crane, you fall in love with Uganda.” 

She observes that for those using taxis, locating the stretch has become easier. “I just tell the driver to drop  me off near the elephant,” she says.

Artistic heritage
At the unveiling of the impala monument on October 5, two pupils from Nakasero Primary School showcased their artistic visual interpretations of Kampala City in paintings. In tutelage of veteran visual artist, Nuwa Wamala Nnyanzi, the children, Shalom Nakayiza and Alvin Kiwalabye depicted the Kampala city “they would love to see.”

The paintings show some iconic buildings in Kampala, such as the Mapeera building which is dominant in Nakayiza’s painting; and Parliament and Bank of Uganda building in Kiwalabye’s work. 

The 14-year-old Nakayiza told guests at the unveiling that the painting was a description of her wish for a city with low traffic flow, to allow her to always reach school early. Nnyanzi, who is also the vice president of National Arts and Cultural Crafts Association of Uganda, used that opportunity to call out the authorities to preserve and conserve the country’s heritage, saying art has once more proved to be the most effective medium to achieve this.

Glimpse into Uganda’s story
The development is a climax of an MoU between UWA and KCCA, signed in October 2016, which Masaba says was a collaboration to promote Kampala as a tourist destination.

He says the city is the gateway to the country. Therefore, “when people come here, they should be able to get a glimpse of what happens in the rest of the country.” He also reveals that they have started talks with KCCA to rename the street.

While addressing people before officially unveiling the monuments, the Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago said this is the best way for Kampala to tell its own history. 

“It is the gateway to the nation. Whatever the tourists see here should be able to reflect what happens in the rest of the country. The image and impression they get here is what will entice them to visit most of these spaces,’’ he said.

Lukwago is of the view that Kampala is yet to tell its own story, especially about values and things its people treasure. He concluded that it can be reflected in such monuments.

He also proposed a museum specifically for Kampala City.  
“We don’t want to lose our history. We need that to keep history on how Kampala came about,” he asked.

Lukwago revealed that he was opposed to the location of the impala, it being a private space. 

“I didn’t like the idea of the location being private, yet the monument is  public,” he siad. 

According to the authorities, KCCA and UWA, the gorilla-impala monument project cost Shs400m while the Wildlife Street project, Shs220m.

Origin: Becoming Kampala
When the British arrived in the region, they developed a piggy translation ‘Ka’Mpala’ as the local name was, to them long, difficult to grasp and pronounce. 
The translation in native Luganda, (Kasozi Ka meaning Hill of), and Empala being the plural for impala.

Ka Empala sounded like one word Ka’Mpala. It is said when the Kabaka would go hunting, the people would say Kabaka a’genze e Ka’mpala (the Kabaka has gone to Ka’mpala). Thus was born the name of the city Kampala.

Origin: Becoming Kampala

When the British arrived in the region, they developed a piggy translation ‘Ka’Mpala’ as the local name was, to them long, difficult to grasp and pronounce. 

The translation in native Luganda, (Kasozi Ka meaning Hill of), and Empala being the plural for impala. Ka Empala sounded like one word Ka’Mpala. It is said when the Kabaka would go hunting, the people would say Kabaka a’genze e Ka’mpala (the Kabaka has gone to Ka’mpala).

Thus was born the name of the city Kampala. 

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