On October 9, 2020, Uganda will celebrate 58 years of independence from British rule. However, its roads, streets, water bodies, monuments and landmarks still carry colonial European names.
When they first arrived in Uganda, British colonialists named water bodies and landmarks after their fellow citizens in total disregard of the original indigenous names.
Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest fresh water body that is shared by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, was renamed after England’s Queen Victoria by the explorer John Speke, the first Englishman to see it in 1858.
People living near the lake in Uganda called it Nnalubaale in Luganda; it is known as Nyanza in some Bantu languages, and the Dholuo name in Kenya is Namlolwe.
The explorer Henry Stanley, the first European to see a lake in the Albertine rift, called it Lake Edward in 1888, after Prince Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, son of Queen Victoria.
In 1864, the explorers Samuel Baker and Sass Flóra saw Lake Albert on the border of Uganda and the lake and renamed it after the recently deceased Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria.
The indigenous people called it Mwitanzige (killer of locusts).
In many Ugandan towns, the roads, bear names such as Speke Road, Ternan Avenue, Colville Street, Hesketh Bell Road, Dewinton Road, Dundas Road, Coryndon Road, Dastur Street, Portal Avenue, Dastur Street, William Street, Prince Charles Drive, Princess Ann Drive, and Philip Drive.
To correct this colonial naming, more than 5,300 change activists have signed a petition calling for the removal of symbols, street names, monuments and other relics in Uganda that represent a nefarious legacy of conquest, occupation, exploitation and impunity.
The petitioners say the continued public display of colonial iconography is a slap in the face of the many brave people who fought for the political independence of Africa from the 15th century until the late 1960s.
“It is doubly painful for others that continue to fight for the socio-economic independence of the African continent from neo-imperial subjugation and the indignity and injustice that comes with it. Colonial iconography not only offends fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals and groups from cruel inhuman and degrading treatment, but reinforces and celebrates a culture of colonial supremacy, domination and impunity. The removal of these ominous vestiges is long over,” states the petition dated June 25, 2020.
The petition is signed by, among others, Apollo N. Makubuya (chief petitioner and former deputy prime minister of Buganda Kingdom); Justice James Ogoola (chair of the Elders Forum of Uganda and Emeritus Principal Judge); Lwanga Lunyigo (Professor of History and Special Presidential Assistant); Stephen Adyeeri (Buliisa County Member of Parliament and chair of the Bunyoro Parliamentary Caucus); and Medard Segona (Member of Parliament Busiro East).
Makubuya handed over the document titled “Petition to Decolonise and Rename Streets in Kampala and Other Landmarks in Uganda” to the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga on June 25, in Kampala.
A tweet from the parliament on June 30, said Speaker Kadaga would forward the petition to the prime minister for government action.
“I am yet to receive a formal communication from the prime minister. But some informal contact has been made,” Makubuya told The EastAfrican.
The petitioners claim that they are encouraged by the movement in many other parts of the world, especially the US and the UK. “We have seen the positive actions of some governments, cities and universities to acknowledge, review and redress a legacy of racism, discrimination and a grim imperialist past.”
The petitioners call for the removal of symbols of Brigadier General Trevor Ternan, Lord Frederick Lugard, Major General Henry Colville, Commissioner Harry George Galt and the Kings African Rifles who were notorious in their inhumane and degrading treatment of the colonised people in the Uganda Protectorate.
They want the government to place the iconography in the Uganda museum, with appropriate labelling, so that people can learn about the true stories behind these figures. They are also calling on the government to revisit the school curriculum on Uganda’s struggle against colonial rule and the meaning of Independence to ensure that the history of the country is taught in its entirety rather than that which glorifies the colonial order and demeans those that resisted it.
“It would be remiss to suggest that removing offending colonial iconography from public display means that decolonisation has been achieved. However, we believe it would be an important step in the continuing struggle against decolonisation of the mind and matter in Uganda. We are aware that there are many concerns including on the procedures and responsibility for renaming. We believe though that these are surmountable,” the petitioners say.
“There has been a lot of support in a relatively short period. We started the online petition on June 9. So in less than a month we have 5,380 endorsements. That is a huge sign of support. Perhaps unprecedented. Also government officials, from the speaker, Kampala mayor and some ministers have expressed support. The local press has covered it quite well. The story has attracted international interest and has been covered by CNN, Al Jazeera, The Guardian in the UK, Irish Times, Reuters, Chinese media as well as in South Africa,” Makubuya told The EastAfrican.
“As expected there are a few sceptical voices, mostly on social media,” added Makubuya.