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Notes on the Geography of Uganda: Entebbe

The city planner Henry Kendall wrote in the mid-1950s that "Entebbe must have seemed like a glimpse of paradise to early travellers after their struggle up from the coast, but behind all this beauty was dirt and disease. Malaria, blackwater fever and sleeping sickness were prevalent and remained so until much of the bush and trees which made Entebbe so picturesque were cut down and cleared.... For more than thirty years Entebbe has received the attention of technical officers whose work in improving health conditions, constructing roads and introducing a first-class water supply, has made it in modern times one of the healthiest stations in Uganda."

Kendall, who had been transferred from Jerusalem to Uganda, probably liked Entebbe, now that it was cleaned up. It was still a small place, he wrote, whose "government offices and bungalows are spread out in spacious well-kept gardens, usually within sight of the lake..." It remained the capital of Uganda throughout the period of British rule (1894-1962). (Kendall, Town Planning in Uganda, 1955, p. 34).

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Uganda: Entebbe picture 1

It doesn't look much like a lake, does it? More like the ocean. It's about 175 miles to the other side, though there are lots of islands close to the northern shore. For example, that would probably be Nsadzi Island at the left edge. Uninhabited, you say? Not a prayer.

Uganda: Entebbe picture 2

The Brits cleared the forest around Entebbe to rid it of the tsetse flies responsible for sleeping sickness. As early as 1898--three years after establishing the protectorate--they also created a national botanical garden on the Entebbe lake shore. The flies, fortunately, prefer brush or scrub more than august trees.

Uganda: Entebbe picture 3

There's been time for this Australian lemon-scented Eucalyptus citriodora to reach maturity.

Uganda: Entebbe picture 4

And a "false mvule," Antiaris toxicaria, its botanical name hinting at its Chinese name, "poison arrow tree."

Uganda: Entebbe picture 5

We're just a few hundred yards from the botanical garden. What do you think this is? Hint: it's a public building of a kind that exists in almost every village, town, or city. Ignore the signs: just take three guesses.

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There you go: you had it.

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There are lots of government buildings nearby. The coat-of-arms bears a crested crane and a Ugandan kob on either side of the Great Lakes (Victoria and Albert), sunshine, a royal drum, the Nile, and, to the sides of the river (and hard to distinguish here) some cotton bolls and a twig with coffee beans.

Uganda: Entebbe picture 8

Here's the Ministry of Agriculture. It's a nearly standard design; the secretariat was only slightly grander. Here, perhaps, J.D. Tothill wrote Agriculture in Uganda (1940), one of those imperial tomes that may be outdated but will never be superseded.

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One of the bungalows built for British officials.

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Another, one grade lower.

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In their spare time, those officials might have dropped in here. Or perhaps it was their wives.

Uganda: Entebbe picture 12

A necessary establishment, St. John's church.

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Necessary for what? Well, remembering.

Uganda: Entebbe picture 14


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A lawyer who managed to survive beyond the allotted span.

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The old Entebbe downtown.

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Why say old? Well, there's a big airport here, of course, and there's an expat population still.

Uganda: Entebbe picture 18

The dollars have to go somewhere, and it's probably not in the old commercial center.

Uganda: Entebbe picture 19

Meanwhile, along with death and taxes there's traffic, habitually jammed between Entebbe and Kampala. Since we're not moving, we might as well browse another page of Winston Churchill in 1908: "The distance between the ancient and the administrative capital [Kampala and Entebbe] is about twenty-four miles. The road, although unmetalled, runs over such firm, smooth sandstone, almost polished by the rains, that, except in a few places, it would carry a motor-car well, and a bicycle is an excellent means of progression. The Uganda Government motor-cars, which are now running well and regularly, had not then, however, [at the time of Churchill's visit] arrived, and the usual method was to travel by rickshaw. Mounted in this light bicycle-wheeled carriage, drawn by one man between the shafts and pushed by three more from behind, we were able to make rather more than six miles an hour in very comfortable style" (p. 71). We can probably do better than that today, but don't imagine that you can do the 20 miles in an hour. Plan that way, and you'll miss your plane for sure.

Uganda: Entebbe picture 20

Ooh! We're speeding up! If only those motorcycles wouldn't continually pass us.

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