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Category Archives: Urban Sins

The rescue of the remaining and the creation of new recreational parks within Kampala should focus on two zones: valleys and hilltops. The former is a physical necessity; wetlands with frequent flooding make developments either costly (if they are done properly), or hazardous (if not).

Sparing the hilltops from further privatisation is more of an Urban Design issue.

In a recent Monitor article, Mr Frank Matovu, an Architect in the Urban Planning and Land Management Department at KCC, was quoted as saying that further sub-divisions of Kampala’s hilltops threaten their very existence. “Nakasero hills should be covered by trees but people are sub-dividing the original plots and structural developments are coming up thus most of the trees are being cut.”

It is good to hear that, for once, a KCC official actually states that Kampala’s hilltops should be covered by trees. Surely, that is a brand new policy. Or what happened here:

Naguru Hill, Kampala

Refering to the practical aspects on how to handle public green spaces, the article further quotes Mr Matovu as saying that “it is better to let everybody know them and give it’s management to private individuals who should work under close supervision of the concerned authorities. The private developer can then come up with a few income generating activities within the public space and impose a fee on them to help him pay his bills.”

While principally there is nothing wrong with private management of public spaces, the “close supervision of the concerned authorities” will never take place if Mr Matovu has his own organisation in mind. If KCC is running the show, we end up with Kisementi Gardens (two tiny triangular pieces of lawn, cut into two by a petrol station = the private developer); or Centenary ‘Park’ – a bit of green littered with uncompleted shopping malls and restaurants.

All of this is spiced by KCC’s idiotic fence-obsession. A public space – whether publicly or privately managed and financed – DOES NOT REQUIRE ANY FENCES. What is public about a caged area? Are we in England? Why don’t we allow people to walk through a park where and when they want to? And what on earth do the traffic islands around Clock Tower need fences for?

In its latest issue, The Independent reports that ‘a municipal council in Eastern Uganda is considering levying a tax on owners of grass thatched houses in a bid to improve on the standard of living in the municipality. Mbale Municipal Council Town Clerk, Daniel Christopher Kawesi says this decision will expand the revenue base or compel owners to sell the plots to those who can afford to put up better structures’.

Thatched roofs of Mihingo Lodge (Lake Mburo NP) and Le Chateau Restaurant (Kampala)

Better structures? They don’t know what they are talking about. However, their view is shared by our friends from Kampala City Council. The latter, too, believe that grass thatched roofs are a thing of the past and a sign of underdevelopment and poverty. They don’t want to see them around town and special permissions need to be obtained (i.e. paid for).

The truth is, a high-quality grass thatched roof – built to the right angle and thickness and chemically treated to be non-flammable – is indeed a rather expensive affair. It is not at all a sign of poverty, but of entrepreneurial spirit: most foreigners love those roofs and prefer to wine and dine under one of them (while most Ugandans prefer to live under fake tiles). They are expensive – up to 90$ per square meter – and require regular maintenance but seem to pay off. Most upcountry lodges have them (e.g. Mihingo Lodge/Lake Mburo NP), and a few hotels and restaurants around town (e.g. Le Chateau Restaurant/Nsambya). I only have seen one private residence in Kampala – of course expat-owned.

To get back to Mbale, if I was the Municipal Council Town Clerk and thus in charge of a town that to the best of my knowledge hasn’t got a single decent hotel on offer: I’d pretty much suggest the opposite.

Wakiso district never bothered to hire any experts to design its fast growing Lubowa neighbourhood. So nobody designed it at all. And everybody does the same: building boundary walls all over the place.

So is that the reason why Lubowa will be taken out of Wakiso and become part of Kampala? Of course not, since KCC is not an inch better than their incompetent counterparts to the South. Instead, it is part of the government’s proposed Master plan for Kampala which – according to the New Vision – states that

…these areas are very close to city and should be allowed to develop into slums.

Now that sounds like a plan (or New Vision poetry).

Garden City steel monster

You might have thought the Garden City steel monster was one of those CHOGM things that didn’t quite make it in time. It doesn’t look like it. The presidents left one month ago and still nothing has happened.

So what on earth is it? I am collecting explanations:

1. Squash courts. The thing will be glazed on all sides to form Africa’s most spectacular Squash court. (Woman in skirts will not be allowed.)

2. Janet’s Drive-in cinema. The first of the pyramid roofs actually serves as a projector stand. God TV will be screened 24/7 and if you park your car on the top deck you can actually read the Bible verses the right way round. The boda-boda guys downstairs can look at the pictures.

3. Shimoni Memorial. A blank blackboard will be installed to commemorate Shimoni Demonstration School which had to be relocated from the plot right opposite to give way to large tarmacked terraces which serve as God knows what.

Please provide better explanations.

UCB Building, Kampala Road.UCB Building some years ago

Not every good Rally driver is a good property developer.

A lot has been said about the quality of his new Imperial Royale Hotel including its purportedly leaking swimming pool. In his CHOGM blog outgoing Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon slightly cynically called it ‘a potentially combustive combination of water and electricity’ – referring to a lot of journalists having arranged their expensive electronic equipment in a room located right underneath a dripping pool. (Less has been said about the Imperial Royale building seemingly cantilevering into the road reserve.)

Way more important to Kampalans, however, is what Mister H is doing to one of Kampala’s most iconic high-rise buildings: the former UCB Building, a beautiful chamfered tower growing out of a sculpturally shaped plinth, located in the very centre of town. After having been renamed ‘Cham Towers’, it is currently undergoing a thorough Mutasa-fication including a silly temple-like entrance canopy, yellow (!) window frames and cheap tiles.

Cham Towers Kampala, new Shopping Mall

The new cladding first looked like rather funky white and blue Aluminium panels. By now, nature is revealing the truth behind:

Cham Towers Kampala, Alubond facade

For crying out loud.