With few early written records we must rely on the oral tradition for the earliest history of Kampala. This suggests that people were living in the area that is now Kampala for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Earliest records indicate that the area was established as the capital of the Buganda kingdom since the 1600s.
The name, Kampala, is said to be derived from the word, Impala – a type of antelope regularly found grazing on the hills. The Kabaka (King) of Buganda hunted these and it was referred to as the ‘Hill of the Impala’. It is likely that when the British arrived they heard the area called, ‘Kasozi k’empala’ an began pronouncing it by its present name, Kampala.
Arab traders from Zanzibar set foot in Buganda in the 1840s, using established trade caravans. Trade was conducted at the Kings Court. The Arabs came for ivory and slaves in exchange for their firearms and cotton clothes. Before 1890, Kampala acted as the centre of interstate trade with other Kingdoms. Buganda exchanged crafts, barkcloth and foodstuffs for millet, pots, iron tools (hoes and spears), cattle products from Bunyoro and Ankole.
The area rose to prominence, from the perspective of the European powers, around 1869 with the opening of the Suez Canal. Then, until 1889, the area of Kampala (and northern Uganda) was of interest to European and Egyptian powers which financed explorers under the administration of ‘Equatoria’. Troubles in Sudan spelled the end of the joint Anglo-Egyptian interest in the region in 1889 and a race between Germany and Britain to establish a colony ensued. Politics in Europe meant that the British effort succeeded with Frederick Dealtry Lugard forcing the Kabaka to sign a treaty granting ‘protection’ to Buganda in return for the Imperial British East African Company, essentially, taking over the place.
In 1890, Kampala was declared headquarters of Uganda’s colonial administration.
Kampala then grew to be the capital of the Buganda Kingdom. A lot of cultural heritage buildings can still be found there, such as the Kasubi Tombs, built in 1881, to house the tombs of previous Kabakas. Kampala is also home to Lubiri Palace (the royal house of the Kabaka), the Buganda parliament, and the Buganda court of justice.
The city used to only occupy seven hills. These were: Rubaga, Namirembe, Makerere, Kololo, Kibuli, Kampala, and Mulago. Each of these hills was designated with a specific purpose. Three were for religious communities (Catholic – Rubagga, Anglican – Namirembe and Kibuli – Muslim). Kololo and Nakasero were for diplomatic, residential and administrative purposes. Mulago was for a hospital and Makerere for the university.
The structure and layout of Kampala’s centre is a product of European colonial planning with the first urban planning programme being initiated in 1912 and encompassing the hills of Nakasero and Old Kampala. At that time, Kampala’s population was 2,850 people. The British divided the city into three quarters – the European, Asian, and African. Nakasero and Kololo were European. Old Kampala was Asian.
The colonial period came to an end in 1962 and independence from Great Britain was declared on 9th October 1962. The fortunes of the city were, and remain, closely tied to the socio-political events of the country through to the present day.
In 1962, Kampala replaced Entebbe as the capital of Uganda. A big part of the city was destroyed during the war with Tanzania in 1978, which culminated with the removal of Idi Amin Dada from power in 1979, and the civil war. During 1906, Kampala attained township status. By January 1, 1949, Kampala becomes a municipality and by March 1962, Kampala was declared capital of Uganda seven months before the independence on 9th October.
Originally, the city was limited to a small area of about 50 square kms. But today, with a population of about 1.5 million people of different ethnic backgrounds, the city’s geographical boundaries stop at Najjanankumbi on Entebbe Road, River Mayanja on Masaka Road, Banda on Jinja Road, Mpererwe on Gayaza Road, Busega on Mityana Road and Kawempe on Bombo Road.
With time, the city spread to Nakasero Hill where the administrative centre and the wealthiest residential area are, Tank Hill, where the water storage tanks that supply the city are located. Mulago Hill is the site of Mulago Hospital, the largest hospital in Uganda. The city is now rapidly expanding to include Makindye Hill and Konge Hill. Kololo Hill to the east of Nakasero hill, is the highest hill in the city, at 1,300 metres above sea level, and is home to the Uganda Museum. When one sees Kampala, it is truly a city of hills.
Kampala is surrounded by hills to the north, papyrus wetlands and Lake Victoria to the south. Like many cities around the world, Kampala also claims to have been built on 7 hills. The 7 historical hills of Kampala are: Kasubi Hill, Mengo Hill, Kibuli Hill, Namirembe Hill, Lubaga Hill, Nsambya Hill and Kampala Hill. Today, Kampala is a vibrant city, full of history, and modernism.
What Does Kampala Mean?
The name Kampala comes from an Impala, a type of antelope which used to graze on the slopes of Mengo. The name Hill of the Impala was given specifically to the hill on which Captain Fredrick Lord Lugard, a British administrator, established his camp on December 18, 1890. The Baganda translated a Hill of the Impala into kasozi ka Impala (pronounced ka Impala and eventually Kampala) When the king would go hunting, the Buganda 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.