By Nita Bhalla
NAIROBI, June 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Thousands of people have signed a petition calling for the East African nation Uganda to rename roads and landmarks that celebrate white power, joining a growing global movement against racism.
Statues linked to colonialism and slavery have been defaced or downed in the United States, Britain, and beyond, amid protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black man, after a US policeman knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
Now a prominent Ugandan lawyer and writer has joined the worldwide push on monuments, winning the backing of some 5,000 people to review place names that honour British colonial rule.
"People feel passionately about the issue," said Apollo Nelson Makubuya, organiser of the petition.
"The reason why it hasn't come up before is that the ordinary Ugandan is not aware as the history they are taught in schools has been white-washed," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
He added: "The removal of visible vestiges of a colonial hegemony from public spaces is a crucial part of ... decolonisation."
Makubuya said his online petition had attracted more than 4,800 signatures since June 9 — adding urgency to a campaign he had already waged with the government over many months.
Uganda gained independence from Britain in 1962, but countless roads, monuments, buildings, and landmarks in the east African country still bear the name of British royals, army regiments, and senior military officers, he said.
"I've read and understand the history and some of these names mentioned on street signs really shouldn't be celebrated," he said.
Places named after Henry Colville, Frederick Lugard, The King's African Rifles, General De Winton, and Colonel Ternan are found in cities such as Kampala, Entebbe, Jinja, and Fort Portal — even though they committed crimes such as pillage, rape, and murder during colonial rule in Uganda, said Mukubuya.
Statues and monuments have been defaced in Belgium, Britain, and cities across the United States as protesters galvanised by Floyd's death in custody challenge racial inequality across countless aspects of everyday life, from pay to promotion, loans to language.
"The death of George Floyd and events in the United States are symbolic of a bigger issue that affects the world. It's about ending a culture which glorifies colonial conquest, occupation, subjugation, and control," said Makubuya, who also chairs the board of directors at Equity Bank Uganda.
Makubuya wants the government to set up an independent body to review all monuments, roads, and buildings and rename them after Ugandans and other historical figures who promote values such as freedom, dignity, peace, and justice.
The petition is addressed to President Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan Parliament, and the Kampala Capital City Authorities — but Don Wanyama, Museveni's senior press secretary, said it was not in the president's power to rename roads and monuments.
"The president doesn't name streets. It's not his mandate," Wanyama told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a WhatsApp message. "Roads are named by district councils," he said, adding that the petitioner should approach city authorities about the issue.
Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org