Hobnobbing with Lord Lugard’s ghost

Kampala city

Kampala city is so alive and sophisticated.

Photo credit: John Fox | Nation Media Group

Last week I was back in Kampala, Uganda for two days of intense workshopping. I was keen to see how the city had changed in the seven years since I had been there. I was expecting some surprises – but nothing like what happened on the second evening when the workshop ended and I was ready to relax.

 When I got back to the rather grand apartment that had been assigned to me – at the Ssanga Courts on Nakasero Hill – and when I turned the key and entered the sitting room, there was a man already there. He was oddly dressed: a khaki shirt, tight khaki shorts down to his knees and long brown socks. The thinness of his face was accentuated by a drooping moustache.

‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said, ‘But I have heard that you have already hobnobbed with some of my ghost friends – even with the missionary, David Livingstone and the explorer, Joseph Thompson. I am the ghost of Lord Lugard. I am sure you will know something about me.’

‘Yes, I do know something about you,’ I said. ‘You were a soldier, explorer and colonial administrator. I know you were a Governor of Hong Kong and the first Governor-General of Nigeria. But I have particularly read about your exploits in Uganda, when you were employed by the IBEAC – the Imperial British East Africa Company.

‘I started with them in 1889,’ he went on, ‘and my first assignment was to open a trading route between the Indian Ocean Coast and Lake Victoria. It took me five months to lead a caravan from Mombasa to the Kingdom of Buganda. I gather that you have just flown here from Nairobi in just over an hour!

‘I had a fascinating time here. I was trying to keep the peace between the British Protestant missionaries and the French Roman Catholic missionaries. There was also a power struggle going on between the Christians and the Muslims. And I managed to persuade the Kabaka to agree a treaty of allegiance to Britain.

But all that is long in the past. This is my very first haunt back to Kampala. Will you show me around a bit? As you know, no-one but you will see or hear me, whatever we do. Actually, I was with you in the car from Entebbe Airport to here but I couldn’t declare myself till I found you alone and not busy. That Express Way – what a fast road!’

 So I took Lord Lugard with me to the Mediterraneo Restaurant for dinner. He sat watchful and, for the most part, quiet. He was clearly fascinated by the cosy ambience of the place and the cosmopolitan clientele – the mix of smartly dressed Ugandans and the more casual Europeans. A few times he muttered, ‘Wow!’

After dinner, I called an Uber and we went to one of my own old haunts: the Speke Hotel in Nile Avenue – the oldest hotel in Kampala. We sat on the terrace, where I drank red wine and Lord Lugard stared at the youngsters passing us on their way to the Rock Garden night-spot.

It has been well spruced up since I was there. But my old ghost colleague was obviously fascinated by the young women – by their creative hairdos and the daring way they were dressed. Many more Wows.

On Sunday morning, I took him for a farewell brunch at the Coffee Culture Café in the small Platia eatery complex on Kololo Hill. ‘This is all so very peaceful,’ he said at last. ‘This is a city now, isn’t it? A city that is so alive and so sophisticated.

When I first arrived here, I found a kingdom that had the kind of governance that was more advanced than anywhere else in East or Central Africa. But I could never have imagined what it has become.’

 John Fox is Chairman of iDC Email: [email protected]