Urban Studies Kampala
William Monteith
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0065


Located on the northern shores of Lake Victoria (also known as Lake Nalubaale), the city of Kampala was founded on a series of hills, each of which has functioned as a panopticon from which different authorities have sought to project their own visions of order over the surrounding valleys. The foundational hills of Mengo, Rubaga, and Namirembe were settled in the late nineteenth century by the Buganda monarchy, the Catholic Mission (Péres Blanches), and the Anglican Church Missionary Society, respectively. The capital of the Buganda region (the Kibuga, or seat of the king) was previously a “proto-city” that was moved upon the ascension of each new ruler until it finally settled in Mengo in 1885. At the time, this settlement was considered the most populous urban agglomeration in the East African interior, connected to the surrounding region by an elaborate network of roads. However, its development was disrupted by the arrival of the Imperial British East African Company (IBEAC) in 1890, and the erection of a British fort on a fourth hill (now “Old Kampala”). The Baganda (people of Buganda) subsequently lengthened the name of the hill to Kampala Alizala Bigwe (“the white man’s selection of Kampala will result in strife”). The British colonial project in Uganda was enshrined in the 1900 Buganda Agreement, which divided crown (British) from mailo (Baganda) land. The Agreement gave British administrators the authority to establish an exclusive urban enclave governed by British colonial laws on the understanding that the Kibuga was to remain the exclusive domain of the indigenous population. However, despite attempts to separate the indigenous and the colonial capitals, the Kibuga was quickly surrounded by the British township, which mobilized indigenous labor through land expropriations and poll taxes. Rather than a straightforward case of displacement, one of the legacies of the Buganda Agreement in contemporary Kampala is a series of land tenure agreements that are among the most complex in the world, giving rise to a form of rentier capitalism in which indigenous landlords exploit indigenous and non-indigenous tenants. In the early twenty-first century, Kampala’s hills are inhabited not by missionaries and colonialists but by politicians, entrepreneurs, and development consultants, all of which project their own visions of power over the contemporary city. As the city of Kampala has expanded beyond its foundational hills, the literature on Kampala has evolved beyond an initial concern with sanitation and social order toward a broader set of inquiries centering questions of gender, land, livelihood, politics, infrastructure, and waste. This bibliography attempts to capture continuity and change within the scholarly literature. Rather than a comprehensive review, it aims to illustrate the evolution of different strands of debate on Kampala while foregrounding the emergence of a new generation of scholars at institutions including Makerere University’s Urban Action Lab. The bibliography proceeds in seven sections, covering Planning and Service Provision; Land and Housing; Politics and Protest; Gender and Livelihood; Transport and (Im)mobility; Waste, Water, and Sanitation; and Climate and Energy.

Planning and Service Provision

There is a prominent literature on urban growth and planning in Kampala, which grapples with the legacies of colonial rule in the contemporary city, including the 1919, 1930, and 1951 planning schemes. In terms of key texts, Omolo-Okalebo 2011 and Omolo-Okalebo, et al. 2010 provide a comprehensive analysis of the history of planning episodes in Kampala since the start of the twentieth century, charting the influence of four key ideas: utopian modernism, “mosquito theory” (the theory that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes), racial segregation, and migrant labor. Relatedly, Byerley 2019 provides an analysis of late colonial planning, while Brown 2014 traces the contemporary legacies of colonial planning in Kampala’s municipal sewage system, which remains largely limited to the elite inhabitants of the city’s hills. Vermeiren, et al. 2012 examines recent patterns of urban growth in Kampala, projecting them forward to 2030. Meanwhile, recent shifts from decentralized to recentralized systems of service provision in Kampala have been well documented in Bidandi and Williams 2017, Golooba-Mutebi 2003, Goodfellow 2010, Gore and Muwanga 2013, and Lambright 2014. These shifts culminated in the dissolution of the Kampala City Council and creation of the Kampala City Council Authority in 2011; a centralized body with new executive powers over the management of the city.

  • Bidandi, Fred, and John J. Williams. “The Challenges Facing Urbanisation Processes in Kampala.” Urban Forum 28.3 (2017): 235–249.

    DOI: 10.1007/s12132-017-9311-6

    Explores the dynamics underpinning Kampala’s urbanization from 1990 to 2013, with a focus on unofficial administrative dynamics, unofficial political influence, political unrest, rural-urban migration, and underdevelopment.

  • Brown, Stephanie Terrani. “Planning Kampala: Histories of Sanitary Intervention and In/formal Spaces.” Critical African Studies 6.1 (2014): 71–90.

    DOI: 10.1080/21681392.2014.871841

    A historical evaluation of sanitation planning in Kampala which explains why so few inhabitants of the contemporary city are connected to the municipal sewerage system. Argues that rather than an unfortunate oversight, the historical absence of formal infrastructure has been constantly cultivated to perpetuate informality and abjectivity.

  • Byerley, Andrew. “Drawing White Elephants in Africa? Re-contextualising Ernst May’s Kampala Plans in Relation to the Fraught Political Realities of Late-Colonial Rule.” Planning Perspectives 34.4 (2019): 643–666.

    DOI: 10.1080/02665433.2018.1425635

    Provides a reinterpretation of Ernst May’s (1947) Kampala Plans in the context of the political tensions of late colonial rule. Shows that May’s elaborate socio-spatial interventions and their promotion of new African urban lifestyles proved unpalatable to a colonial administration stifled by particular understandings of race, politics, and economy.

  • Golooba-Mutebi, Frederick. “Devolution and Outsourcing of Municipal Services in Kampala City, Uganda: An Early Assessment.” Public Administration and Development 23.5 (2003): 405–418.

    DOI: 10.1002/pad.290

    Traces the evolution of planning ideas in Kampala from the 1980s with a focus on devolution and the outsourcing of municipal services. Shows how these reforms were prompted both by internal demands for democratization and the decentralization of power, and by external demands for economic liberalization pursued by international financial institutions.

  • Goodfellow, Tom. “‘The Bastard Child of Nobody’? Anti-planning and the Institutional Crisis in Contemporary Kampala.” Cities and Fragile States Working Paper 67 (2010).

    Explains why the pendulum of municipal power swung back toward centralization in the late 2000s as a result of political unrest, urban riots, and informal bargaining between elites and urban interest groups.

  • Gore, Christopher and Nansozi K. Muwanga. “Decentralization Is Dead, Long Live Decentralization! Capital City Reform and Political Rights in Kampala, Uganda.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38.6 (2013): 2201–2216.

    DOI: 10.1111/1468-2427.12012

    Written after the creation of the Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) in 2012, this article explores how the national government gradually created the legal conditions necessary to take over Kampala through the invocation of past service delivery failures in a departure from its longstanding policy of democratic decentralization.

  • Lambright, Gina. “Opposition Politics and Urban Service Delivery in Kampala, Uganda.” Development Policy Review 32.s1 (2014): 39–60.

    DOI: 10.1111/dpr.12068

    Provides a similar analysis of the centralization of service delivery in Kampala in the leadup to the establishment of the KCCA with a focus on partisan politics, urban financing, and tax.

  • Omolo-Okalebo, Frederick. “The Evolution of Town Planning Ideas, Plans and Their Implementation in Kampala City 1903–2004.” PhD diss., Makerere University, 2011.

    A PhD thesis providing a comprehensive analysis of the history of planning episodes in Kampala since the start of the twentieth century, charting the influence of four key ideas: utopian modernism, “mosquito theory,” racial segregation, and migrant labor. 196 pp.

  • Omolo-Okalebo, Frederick, Tigran Haas, Inga Britt Werner, and Hannington Sengendo. “Planning of Kampala City 1903–1962: The Planning Ideas, Values, and Their Physical Expression.” Journal of Planning History 9.3 (2010): 151–169.

    DOI: 10.1177/1538513210373815

    Focuses on the legacies of colonial planning schemes in Kampala, showing how both the discovery of malaria and the imperative to reproduce “European type space” had a profound impact on the spatial organization of Kampala in the first half of the twentieth century.

  • Vermeiren, Karolien, Anton Van Rompaey, Maarten Loopmans, Eria Serwajja, and Paul Mukwaya. “Urban Growth of Kampala, Uganda: Pattern Analysis and Scenario Development.” Landscape and Urban Planning 106.2 (2012): 199–206.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2012.03.006

    Provides a spatial analysis of recent urban growth in Kampala using LANDSAT images from 1989, 1995, 2003, and 2010. Develops three models—“business as usual,” “restrictive,” and “simulative”—which predict patterns of urban growth to 2030.

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