A petition to rename roads honoring British colonial figures has gathered thousands of names.
The move comes as similar actions against dubious historical figures are taking place in the U.S. and South Africa.
Speke Road, for example, is named after the British explorer John Hanning Speke, the first European to reach Nyanza, one of the great African lakes in 1858 and who re-named it after Britain’s Queen Victoria. In 1890, at the height of the European scramble for colonies in Africa, Britain and Germany divided Lake Victoria at 1° south latitude, with the southern portion allotted to Germany, the northern portion to Britain.
The drive to rename streets was launched on June 9, marked as National Heroes Day,
“People feel passionate about the issue,” said Apollo Makubuya, author of “Protection, Patronage, or Plunder. British Machinations and (B)uganda’s Struggle for Independence” – a book about Uganda’s independence struggle, who set up the petition.
“Because we have been caught up in political and economic crises between 1962 and now, not many of us have had a chance to comprehensively examine how colonialism shaped (and continues to influence) our politics and socio-economy-negatively or positively,” Makubuya wrote in a recent article.
Although the colonial-era names still stand, Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago has said local authorities support removing them. He has warned, however, that this will take time.
“There is no reason why we should celebrate dictators and people who violated our rights, people who participated in the slave trade … all those people who committed atrocities against Ugandans during that period, it’s a matter we are taking seriously,” he said in an interview with the German news service Deutsche Welle.
“The death of George Floyd and events in the United States are symbolic of a bigger issue that affects the world. It’s about ending a culture which glorifies colonial conquest, occupation, subjugation and control,” Makubuya told the Reuters news agency.
Historian John Bosco Kalule, professor at Makerere University, is also behind the campaign to rid Kampala’s streets of colonial names. Rather, he said, the roads should honor local heroes who “have played a big role” in Uganda and worked for the country’s good.
Africa is still home to cities that still hold on to names given by colonial administrations., Makubuya points out. “Take Nigeria’s Port Harcourt for example — the city of more than 3 million people got its current name in 1913 from Frederick Lugard — Lugard just felt like honoring Lewis Vernon Harcourt who was then secretary of state for the colonies by naming a whole Nigerian city after this one man.
“Bear in mind, prior to the British imperial government, the city was known as “Iguocha” in the Ikwerre language, the Igbo people called their port city “Ugwu Ocha”, which means bright skyline.”
“Though all African countries can now proudly claim to be independent with their flags hoisted up, the “colonial flags” remain firmly rooted in the continent albeit not as visible as before. How else can one explain why Africa’s largest freshwater lake is still named after the British monarch Queen Victoria?”