A Trip to Uganda's Parliament
Carved screen at Uganda's Parliament.

A Trip to Uganda's Parliament

This is the most interesting thing with our carved screen. It has a journey motif. A journey around Uganda, and for people who have been to these places, it is great and interesting to look at this representation.

By Gerald Businge
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First published: June 18, 2006


We all know the Parliament building as the country's legislative house. And so one would think that all the people who flock Uganda's parliament in the center of the Kampala come for matters related to law making or to discuss issues with their representatives.

Kivumbi Kagole, the outgoing Parliament Public Relations Officer does not think so, sighting the fact that many tourists visit the Parliament in Kampala. He says Uganda's Parliament building has an artistic feature representing the whole county's physical and cultural attractions that has awed many visitors, especially foreign visitors.

"You know in every country, the Parliament is a tourist attraction. When people from the outside come here, what they hold in awe is our carved screen," Kagole says.

The main feature of the central lobby as you enter parliament from the main entrance is a huge decorative carved screen, some 40 feet wide by 30 feet high, employing many different types of Ugandan timbers and incorporating designs in relief representing the geographical features and trees, plants, animals and birds of Uganda.

Kagole says the carved screen not only enhances the beauty of parliament but is a wonderful piece of art that continues to dazzle many visitors, more than 50 years since it was made.

The screen is bordered along its lower left edge by a frieze of papyrus plants accompanied by carvings of birds commonly found by the lake's edge and in the swamps. "Just above this frieze on the left hand side of the screen is lake shore life- the crocodile and the canoe in the reeds are easily identifiable," Kagole explains.


Carved screen at Uganda's Parliament
Carved screen at Uganda's Parliament
Carved screen at Uganda's Parliament.


In the lower center and the lower left-hand areas of the screen are various features common to Buganda (central Uganda) including banana trees and local music instruments like drums. Continuing on the left hand side and rising towards the top of the screen are the features found on the route towards the western region. Of these, the Zebra is a typical example that can be made out from the screen. Those familiar with the country between Kabale and the Democratic Republic of Congo border will recognize, towards the left hand of the screen, the terraced hillsides, the rain forests, the bamboo forest and, at the extreme left hand corner, the volcanoes which can be seen from the Kanaba gap at the south western tip of Uganda.

You also cannot miss the representation of the "land of milk" as Ankole is popularly called. Around this lower edge, you will notice the cattle as pervasive in the Ankole and Kigezi.

"This is the most interesting thing with our carved screen. It has a journey motif. A journey around Uganda, and for people who have been to these places, it is great and interesting to look at this representation," Kagole says.

Carved screen at Uganda's Parliament
Carved screen at Uganda's Parliament.

Across the top of the screen (traveling from Kabale to the Fort-Portal area) are stretches of the Rwenzori mountains- the Mountains of the Moon-in, and a copper drill which Kagole says symbolizes the Kilembe mines. The moon itself is shown as if it is at the mountain. All these in excellent woodcarvings!

Below this range of mountains are wild animals that are to be found in the Queen Elizabeth National Park. Also at the right hand top corner of the screen, beyond the Rwenzori Mountains can be seen a representation of what Kagole says is Lake Albert with some of the birds and beasts normally found in the area and in Murchison Falls National Park, including the rhinoceros and bushbuck.

At this point in the carved screen, the Murchison (Kabalega Falls) themselves are represented, with the Nile meandering down the carved screen to the Owen Falls dam at the river's source towards eastern Uganda.

In the bottom right hand corner of the screen, one can identify the Tororo Rock and various trees and plants commonly found in the eastern Uganda region.

In the center of the screen is a symbolic shield with abstract carving. Kagole says it suggests the present and the future industry of the country. "You know that a shield is a symbol of protection. So our industry was envisaged then as our protection," he says. This shield is shaped at its lower edge like a tradition hut; under which is gathered a collection of tribal drums. They represent a calling for unity.

Also comprehensible are houses and domestic animals representing people's settlements and domestic life in Uganda.

Carved screen at Uganda's Parliament
Carved screen at Uganda's Parliament.

Kagole says that when the architects first proposed the provision of this screen, it was agreed that the screen should represent the best-known artists. The committee in charge decided to appoint Mr. Joseph Mayo to prepare designs and he was then invited to visit Uganda for one month in order to collect materials for the design.

The foundation stone for parliamentary house was laid on 18th December 1956 by the then Governor of Uganda, Sir Andrew Cohen and the actual construction of the building began in February 1958.

Kagole says Mr. Mayo toured the whole of Uganda collecting information, making drawing and taking photos. He returned to England and prepared his first sketch designs, which after minor modifications were accepted. They formed the basis of the final drawing of the screen as it stands now.

Such a large work of art in the form of hard carving would have been very expensive and would have to have taken a lot of time to complete as it was not done with wood carving machines.

Mr. Mayo informed the Protectorate government of the different types of wood, all native to Uganda, which he intended to use. The then Public Works department and the forestry department obtained sufficient amounts of these woods and the timbers were sent to England to be seasoned and transformed into curved panels ready for shipping to Uganda and erecting on the site.

When all the panels had been completed, Mr. Mayo came to Uganda to fix the various decorative panels on to a Mvule (local tree) backboard. "Information about much of the details is a bit scattered. We were told most if got lost during Amin's time," Kagole says.

But what has not been lost is the fact that the carved screen was made to represent the images of Uganda and the country's expectations towards independence.

Kagole says the screen took eighteen months to build and is the largest and the most elaborate artwork of this kind in the Commonwealth if not in the world. "It is an interesting technical feat. Apart from its artistic merit, it illustrates the way in which it is still possible, even in these days of mass production and mechanization to achieve original works of art on large scale," says Kagole, who was recently appointed as the Director of Information in the president's Office.

Kagole says that what is portrayed in the curved screen is both educative and entertaining. It also gives the Parliament an aura of importance. "The Parliament is a national house. That's why the curved screen is a representation of the whole country," he says. Kagole says people who have visited comment that it enhances beauty and aesthetic quality as represented in a wood curving.

Carved screen at Uganda's Parliament
Carved screen at Uganda's Parliament.

This curved screen is found in the foyer as you enter from the main entrance, overlooking the door to the central lobby of parliament house in the southern wing of the Parliament building. In the parliament building, the walls surrounding this foyer are all covered by wood, which enhances its beauty. The carved screen starts from the ground floor to almost the 3rd floor in the foyer.

The Parliament of Uganda has four wings. The northern wing- what you would call the behind and the main parking space, the south wing- the formal entrance and the logo of parliament are found here, west wing (President's office) and the east wing.

Another interesting feature in the Uganda parliament is the Chamber of the Parliament house where MPs sit to deliberate on laws. This was constructed by Molem Construction Ltd and is modeled after the British House of Commons.

Parliament gate with names and symbols of Uganda's different tribes
Parliament gate with names and symbols of Uganda's different tribes.

By Gerald Businge
more from author >>
First published: June 18, 2006
To learn more about Ultimate Media Consult go to www.ultimatemediaconsult.com.

Gerald Businge is a media practitioner and features Editor at Ultimate Media Consult in Uganda. He is a graduate of Mass Communication and several journalism and leadership certificates. He has been a practicing journalist since March 2001 and has worked at The New Vision as features writer, and has written extensively for different newspapers, magazines, newsletters in Uganda and internationally. He currently does fulltime media communication consultancy work as well as writing and editing at Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd where he is a founding member and CEO. You can get his attention so long as you are interested in and you are working for a better world.