Saturday, May 9, 2015


If you lived in Nakasero in the 70s and 80s you know what I mean when I say going back there today feels so bizarre. The area was residential and it was home to the families of senior public servants. The original houses on Lumumba Avenue, Buganda Road, Nakasero Road, Kyadondo Road, Aki Bua Road, Lourdel Road and other roads I no longer recall run through one of Kampala's famous seven hills. At the top of the hill sat, the broadcasting studios of the government owned Uganda Television and All Saints Church; the Church of my childhood and youth. On the other side of the hill was the state lodge where H.E. Field Marshall Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE lived; right next to the infamous State Research Bureau (SRB) where he is believed to have slaughtered many good people including Archbishop Janan Luwum, the gentle soul who confirmed me in the Christian faith up the hill a few months before he was slain. Further down the hill from the slaughter house you run into Nakasero Primary School, where I attended Sunday School in the Lower School classrooms walking by the place of horror to attend Crusaders and back up to Church where we joined our parents in the main service at All Saints.
Depending on which side of the hill you chose to walk after that you either run into Fairway Hotel if you turned left or International Hotel if you turned right. Down the hill past International Hotel (aka Apollo Hotel after the first President before Amin renamed it, and now called The Sheraton Hotel;) you started to reach the civic center with the High Court and Central Police Station being the first signs of the city creeping up the residential neighborhood. If you took a left and went by the tall, imposing statue symbolizing Uganda's Independence, you would be in the city proper and here you may see the Nile Mansions along Nile Avenue, another torture chamber now home to the Serena Hotel. Further down was Christ the King Church, Neeta Cinema and the business district. But if you had walked down to the bottom of the hill after the High Court and turned right on Kampala Road, you would walk past many shops on both sides of the street until the junction where the road became Bombo Road. At that junction was Norman Cinema where I watched many James Bond movies before someone turned it into KPC and later Watoto Church. If you walked along Bombo Road towards Wandegeya you passed by Bat Valley Primary School on the left, the play grounds of Norman Godhino (aka Buganda Road) Primary School and the YMCA basketball pitch. If you turned right again and walked back up the hill crossing Buganda Road to reach Lumumba Avenue, you would have reached the heart of my childhood memories.
The houses in this suburb belonged to the government before privatization in the mid 90s. They were old-fashioned houses built in the early 20th century long before independence. Typically the houses were one level high had a master bedroom with two or three smaller bedrooms and everyone shared the same bathroom and toilet. The idea of ensuite bedrooms was unknown to us and there was little privacy for a family such as ours with six children which was pretty average. The dining area and sitting room were spacious and hosted many family gatherings and visits. The kitchen came with a cooker and even some of the cooking utensils. The beds, basic chairs, dining table and other hardwood furniture came with the house and were left behind for the next civil servant's family that would stay there.
I was there when Nakasero started to decline. As times changed and civil servants became poorer it was not unknown for a retiring civil servant to pack the government owned furnishings when they left. It used to be an exclusive neighborhood where mango, guava and jambula trees were grown for aesthetics and flowers abounded. The houses were separated only by green hedges with bougainvillea and hibiscus plants, so pleasant to the eye. As Uganda's economy crumbled, poverty and bad politics bred crime and the wall fences started going up for security. The flowers and fruit trees were replaced by vegetable gardens, banana and cassava plants to feed the family. Instead of keeping pretty dogs for pets, families now kept attack dogs to guard the goats and hens that were reared for meat. The neighbors also started to change. The civil servants were leaving the country in droves for exile and the military officers who seemed to have abandoned their barracks, moved into the neighborhood.
Two wars (in 1979 and 1986) blazed through Nakasero and left scars on the walls of our homes but still Nakasero's homes survived. The families who stayed behind through the turmoil still attended All Saints and Christ the King on Sunday. The Muslims went to the Mosque in Wandegeya. We still went to the same cinemas and hotels even though the decay in all these places was all too apparent. Then in the mid-1990s the neighborhood homes were sold to individuals and everything changed. The sleepy suburb where I grew up quickly became part of the town center with high rise buildings springing up all over the place. And Nakasero lost its character.

At 50 I know that a community is made up principally of the people who live in it but it's character is also defined by the architecture of its homes where many memories are made. When we demolish the neighborhood in the name of modernizing without preserving any of the original architecture, we lose a bit of who we are.

— feeling nostalgic.

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