Sometime back, India decided to rename one of its biggest cities Mumbai after many decades of it being called Bombay. The British failed to grasp the pronunciation of Mumbai.
Whenever somebody mentioned Mumbai, they heard Bombay! The Indian nationalists party, Shiv Sena, had been pushing for a change for many years. When it won elections, the process of discarding this unwanted reminder of British rule was finally dispensed with in 1995. Bombay became Mumbai.
India managed to make many changes, including changing from English-sounding Calcutta to Indian Kolkata as well as Orissa to Odisha. When the whites came here, they spelt names of places differently from what locals always called them, which was a result of their failure to make proper pronunciations. That is how Entebe became Entebbe and Buddo became Budo.
In some other cases, they even discarded the original names of rivers and lakes. I am certain the world’s second biggest fresh water body in the world had a name before somebody named it after one of their royals.
Buganda, for instance, had a navy and, therefore, it is not possible that Lake Victoria had no name. The people in western Uganda certainly had names for Lake George and Lake Edward.
They, too, had a name for the Queen Elizabeth national park. The people who lived around the longest river in Africa had a name for it; so, Speke discovered nothing as he claims.
Therefore, when I recently made a Facebook post that Entebbe is misspelt and we should change it, Uganda’s elites went into overdrive making unbelievable arguments, including one who said Entebe instead of Entebbe would sound like it is the end of the world.
Another said, how come I am called Denis instead of calling myself only Kiganda names. When I mentioned that Lubaga is spelt as such and not as Rubaga, I was told that I now want to change the name of the country from Uganda to Buganda.
Anyway, the issue is about our heritage. We must think about it and how we can actually make business out of it. Instead of taking people to a place allegedly called source of the Nile, we can actually tell people why River Nile is called Kiyira or why Lake Victoria is called Nalubaale.
That is more authentic to anybody interested in tourism and heritage. Because we don’t value our heritage, we have grown up telling our children about Napoleon Bonaparte, King Louis VI, and how grains are grown on a large scale in North America. Yet we have our rich history here.
Why not a story on how to make back cloth? Can’t we create a massive industry out of back cloth? Can’t we make a massive industry out of luwombo? When a tourist visits Thailand, they are taken on a ride on how to grow matoke, how to prepare luwombo yet our luwombo here is many times better.
If you go around the country, we demolish all historical buildings and replace them with unimaginative architecture. Rarely do you find an architect that thinks through stuff. Just look at those twin towers that now house the prime minister’s office. They are some of the most unimaginative buildings you will find anywhere in the world.
We are also replacing gates of academic institutions with tasteless canopies. And putting up ugly (though very big) structures all over the place. Look on your left around Bwebajja on the way from Entebbe to Kampala, you will know what I am talking about.
That we have not created a city that somebody easily identifies from others. That is why I recommend whoever designed that iconic roundabout in Mengo with a long drum. At least they didn’t simply pick a design from anywhere. They thought about some of these things that make us Ugandan and came up with the long drum idea.
It will probably define our city in the future. Yet all major cities have something that make them unique — the Burj Arab in Dubai was designed as a dhow to reflect the history of that city-state.
When the Chinese wanted to build a major stadium, they picked the bird’s nest; the South Africans chose the calabash. What does Namboole stadium reflect?
Yet we could borrow a leaf from others instead of saying things cannot change because every airline has Entebbe in its system. The same airlines had Bombay in their systems for many years and today they have Mumbai. They had Johannesburg International Airport and today they have O.R. Tambo. What is so difficult in removing one letter?
The writer is a consultant and businessman