CHOGM 2007: Uganda Prepares to Host Historic Commonwealth Meet
Kampala City Council says it is ready for CHOGM.
Note that this photo is not edited... simply resized.

CHOGM 2007: Uganda Prepares to Host Historic Commonwealth Meet


The labourious sweeping that goes on throughout the day along Entebbe Road tells volumes about how much CHOGM has changed the mentality of the officers in charge of managing Kampala's hygiene.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: October 26, 2007


How ready should a nation be, less than a month away from an international summit that is to be graced by the Queen of England, her husband (the Duke) and her likely successor, Prince Charles? Ugandans are asking themselves that much, as the country gets into 'standby mode' for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) scheduled for November in Kampala.


The Queen, who heads the Commonwealth, will be in Kampala to open the summit and unless there are some changes, her husband will accompany her. Prince Charles is also expected in Kampala, which could go down in history as the first time the Queen and her son will be in the same foreign country for a summit at the same time. For the last 2-4 years, Uganda has been preparing for a meeting that brings 53 heads of governments of the Commonwealth of Nations together every two years to consult, share experiences and deliberate on issues of pan-commonwealth and international significance.

A Kampala City Council dust cart and its crew do their bit for CHOGM
A Kampala City Council dust cart and its crew do their bit for CHOGM.

The Commonwealth family, at the summit held in December 2003 in Abuja, Nigeria, granted Uganda the opportunity to host CHOGM. Two years later in 2005, this decision was reaffirmed at the Malta CHOGM. Come November 23rd 2007, Uganda will join the list of CHOGM hosts of the last two and a half decades. Others include Australia, South Africa, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Cyprus, Zimbabwe, Malaysia, Canada, Bahamas, India, Malta and Zambia.

By the time the expected heads of governments set foot in the country, Uganda is expected to have met all the logistical requirements for CHOGM. These include venues for meetings, accommodation and transport for the heads of governments, foreign ministers and other delegates and arrangements for the state visit of Her Majesty the Queen of England. Logistics are also necessary for a musical gala/extravaganza (to be performed during the opening ceremony), transport, media and publicity facilities, medical facilities, protocol, hospitality events and immigration facilities as well as security and accreditation services.

Queen's Way now looks much greener than it has been in the recent past
Queen's Way now looks much greener than it has been in the recent past.

Publicity for CHOGM 2007 has been and is still all over local newspapers, airwaves and the billboards. The most outstanding billboard messages read, 'ARE YOU READY FOR CHOGM?', 'UGANDA HAS BEEN READY FOR CENTURIES', 'I AM READY FOR CHOGM,' etc. CHOGM Uganda 2007 will have an opening ceremony for the heads of governments and other invited guests, an execution session for the heads of governments and a retreat for them too.

Hotels that will host CHOGM in Uganda are constantly monitored especially for safety, quality and security reasons. Among the hotels listed to provide the 4000+ hotel rooms needed are Speke Resort Munyonyo, Serena Hotel Kampala, Hilton Hotel Kampala, Sheraton Hotel, Hotel Emin Pasha, Grand Imperial Hotel, Hotel Equatoria, Hotel Africana, Speke Hotel Kampala, Imperial Botanical Hotel, Imperial Resort Beach Hotel, Hotel Windsor, The Joggo Hotel, Leisure Complex Bwebajja, Hotel Shangrila and Hotel Fangfang.

Policemen are very visible all over Kampala
Policemen are very visible all over Kampala.

Since security is a key issue for the expected heads of governments, the Government of Uganda developed a thorough security plan to prevent acts of terrorism. For example, during CHOGM, there will be no sailing or surfing on some parts of Lake Victoria, which will be under full surveillance by security operatives, some of whom will be located in security towers.

Commonwealth Secretary General, Don McKinnon is impressed with Uganda's progress and there is no doubt that. "Fantastic. This is Fantastic. Thank you very much. You are doing fine", said the visibly impressed McKinnon during his last visit to Uganda to see for himself what progress the country had made in preparing for the event. This was more than enough to boost the confidence of the Ugandan government.

Janet Museveni, the Ruhaama County Member of Parliament and wife to President Yoweri Museveni suggests that debates about whether or not Uganda should host the summit should end. Instead, attention should be focused on ensuring the success of the summit and preceding events like the Commonwealth Youth Forum, Business Forum, Peoples Forum and the Meeting of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers. "CHOGM is now irreversible."

Her comments are followed by remarks from the Kampala District Woman Member of Parliament, Nabila Sempala, who says that CHOGM is now welcome. Nabila is a member of the leading opposition political party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), which was initially against Uganda hosting the event, citing the country's questionable human rights record and respect for the democratic values that the Commonwealth stands for. As the women's MP for Kampala, which is hosting the event, Nabila says she is concerned that very few local leaders in Kampala were included by the Ugandan government in the CHOGM preparations.

Sempala also says that the people of Kampala would have benefited more from CHOGM if the infrastructure in the whole of Kampala - including the flood-prone Bwaise Township were improved. However, she admits that the preparations have changed the look of Kampala, especially within and near the areas/facilities that will host CHOGM activities/delegates. "We can never be 100% prepared. I equate CHOGM to a wedding ceremony in Africa. You can do the cleaning, this and that, but even on the day the in-laws finally visit, there are things that may not be ready."

A helicopter parked outside Kampala Serena Hotel
A helicopter parked outside Kampala Serena Hotel.

But there are standards that any country has to meet to be considered to be ready for CHOGM the same way it would be ironical for an African family considered to have produced a presentable woman welcome the in-laws into a home where the courtyard is bushy and unswept, with houseflies patrolling it. For this reason, Gideon Munaabi walked around Kampala city from Entebbe Road to Nakasero (where many CHOGM hotels are situated) to see for UGPULSE how advanced the CHOGM preparations are.

Entebbe road and Queensway roundabout:

Anyone who has not been to Kampala in the last six months will on arrival, realise how beautiful this area looks without the chronic traffic jams and floods that it used to suffer from. The green scenery that has been created by recently planted trees and flowers along the road, the redesigned junction at the Clock tower, and the billboards that are competing for the attention of passers-by make you wonder why it took the authorities so long to work on the entry gates to the southern part of Uganda's capital city.

Traffic at Clock Tower is much smoother than it was before the Japanese government redesigned the junction and installed traffic signals
Traffic at Clock Tower is much smoother than it was before the Japanese government redesigned the junction and installed traffic signals.

Newly painted or cleaned buildings including Uganda House, Workers House, Sheraton Kampala Hotel, Communications House and their shorter siblings gracing Kampala's skyline send a clear message about the importance of the impending CHOGM summit even to the most skeptical of inhabitants. It is no wonder then, that the latest international reports on city developments currently rank Kampala as the fastest growing city in the world. The labourious sweeping that goes on throughout the day along Entebbe Road (recently fitted with signs reading, 'Keep Entebbe Road Clean') tells volumes about how much CHOGM has changed the mentality of the officers in charge of managing Kampala's hygiene.

Kampala's inhabitants are advised to keep the city clean
Kampala's inhabitants are advised to keep the city clean.

However, the green trees and flowers along Entebbe Road could paint a false picture of Uganda as a country with short trees. Although the experts doing this work insist that the trees, flowers and grass being planted now or those that are yet to be planted will have grown by the time CHOGM arrives, it still puzzles many how the trees will grow tall enough in less than a month.

Keep off the grass: Fences have been erected around the grass that has been planted along Kampala's streets
Keep off the grass: Fences have been erected around the grass that has been planted along Kampala's streets.

CHOGM hotels.

According to the CHOGM Preparatory Committee, all the hotel rooms that will host the visitors are ready. Hotel Africana has changed tremendously, to the extent that it could now be ranked very highly among the very best of Kampala's hotels in terms of conference facilities. A new conference center has been built and the older conference rooms have been refurbished.

At Serena Hotel, where the Heads of State will meet for the opening of the summit, everything seems to be in order as the construction work that was going on about six months ago has ceased, leaving a superlative brown structure in the heart of Kampala.

However, at the neighboring Royal Imperial Hotel, construction work is still ongoing, though the main structure already passes as a magnificent sky-kissing hotel that is expected to host most of the journalists from around the world. Taking of photos of this hotel is not allowed, however. This is the reason why this article is not running with a good photo of the hotel. This writer took one from the eastern side of Kampala Serena Hotel. Characters calling themselves security agents grabbed his camera after he had taken photos of the Royal Imperial Hotel and held him at the hotel for close to two hours, demanding that he deletes the photos he had taken, which showed the unfinished part of the hotel.

Kampala Serena Hotel. In the background is Royal Imperial Hotel
Kampala Serena Hotel. In the background is Royal Imperial Hotel.

Security concern was the reason given for denying him and other journalists an opportunity to take pictures of the hotel. "This hotel is being built for you (journalists) and we want to ensure that you are secure," one of the men, claiming to be from the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence said. Whatever these security operatives have to do with securing a place for journalists will perhaps be revealed during CHOGM.

Jinja Road, Kitante Road and Shimoni Road.

With just a month to CHOGM, repair work on Jinja Road is still ongoing, especially between Hotel Africana and Kampala road. Nevertheless, everyone who regularly uses this route appreciates how well the previously traffic jam-prone road has been re-designed, especially at the former roundabout that has been turned into a signal-controlled junction. Flowers have been grown along the road and the Wampewo roundabout opposite Hotel African redesigned.

Garden City Hotel
Garden City Hotel.

During this writer's tour of Kitante Road and Shimoni Road on October 19th, 2007, the erection of streetlights was just beginning. The streetlights and poles lay on the ground right from Centenary Park, through Kitante Road to Shimon Road opposite Crested Towers. Right opposite Crested Towers, the building that is houses Uganda Broadcasting Corporation Television (UBC TV) - the official CHOGM broadcaster was under renovation with white tiles being fixed on its walls.

So, like Nabila says, whether Uganda is ready to host a 'family' of people with a common heritage in language, culture, law and education or not, the day is fast arriving and it cannot be reversed. Since the Commonwealth community believes in working together in an atmosphere of greater trust and understanding, they have to trust that their leaders' summit in Uganda will be a success. Uganda is doing all it can to ensure its year of CHOGM is a success. This, however, is coming at a high financial cost to Ugandans. The Ugandan government has had to cut the financial funding of many sectors to beautify Kampala, Entebbe and otherwise fund the CHOGM 2007 preparations.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: October 26, 2007
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Gideon Munaabi is a journalist and public relations practitioner with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. He has been and continues writing widely for different publication locally and internationally. He is a founding member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and is currently the chairman of the organisation.