Cold War Kampala

Did the Soviets have a plan to occupy Kampala? This map suggests they may have.

In the Cold War years, Africa was a battleground for the major powers seeking influence. Uganda was no exception. Obote’s leftist leanings resulted in the British backed Amin coming to power. Amin courted both sides and received extensive military support from the Soviets who kept up to 30 diplomats and 300 ‘military advisers’ in the country. The Peoples Republic of China had 30-40 Technical Assistants also in the country.

Why the interest in Uganda? US Ambassador Ellkerman believed the Soviets did not have any ‘affection for Amin or Uganda, but they are extremely interested in the port of Mbossa and in East Africa generally because of their strategic position… they are also preparing for the day when Kenyatta no longer runs Kenya’ (US Embassy Nairobi Telegram, 1975).

It was in 1977 that the Soviets began collecting huge amounts of geographic data to build a map. This was no ordinary map, the detail is intricate.

The detail is intricate. This compares the Kabakas palace from a Soviet perspective and the Google perspective.

The detail is intricate. This compares the Kabakas palace from a Soviet perspective and the Google perspective.

GeoGecko translated the accompanying narrative text to reveal some interesting highlights. Some features of interest, such as, ‘The Ministry of Defense and the General Staff (obj. 28), the command post of the President (obj. 73), the Office of National Security (obj. 108), Police training centers (obj. 117, 118), two military bases (obj. 2 and 10), police barracks (obj. 20) and armament storages (obj. 24) are also located in Kampala.‘ Administration, transport, industry, communications and medical are all talked about.

Recent fascinating articles on the BBC and Wired magazine elaborate on how cities around the world were secretly mapped even to the level of the load capacity of bridges (tanks are heavy). It is possible that the Soviet diplomats and military advisers were just very enthusiastic cartographic tourists.

Kisementi from a Soviet perspective. Historians believe they may not have been fans of Acacia mall.

Kisementi from a Soviet perspective. Historians believe they may not have been fans of Acacia mall.

So the question remains, what was the true purpose of the map? Were they over-enthusiastic cartographer tourists? Was this map a method of consolidating all information about the city in one user-friendly format? Or was occupation considered so as to extend influence into resource rich Zaire or be within reach of the strategically vital port of Mombasa?

GeoGecko translated the accompanying narrative text. You can read it below.


GENERAL INFORMATION. Kampala is the capital of Uganda, its main commercial, industrial, financial and cultural center, as well as main transport node and a railway station on the Kasese-Mombasa line. Entebbe International Airport is located in 25 kilometers to the south from the city. The city is located in the northern part of the Central African plateau, in 7.5 kilometers to the north-west from the northern shore of Victoria Lake and in 150 kilometers from the Kenyan Border.

In 1976 population of the city was around 500 thousand citizens; the city was taking an area around 30 square kilometers.

CITY SURROUNDINGS. The city of Kampala is located on a hilly area and crossed by small rivers.  Hills can have around 60-200 meters height, with flat and slightly separated slopes. Lower parts between hills usually have flat and sometimes swamped surface. Soils are mainly loamy, while shores of Victoria Lake are sandy loamy in general. The capital is located in a zone of seismic activity, where earthquakes higher than 6 points may occur. All the rivers around Kampala are not big; they have an average width lower than 20 meters and a depth around one meter. Rivers have really low and flat shores and mainly loamy or sand loamy bottoms. Highest water levels are usually achieved in periods from January till February and from June till July. Low water levels are usually noticed in October and November. Victoria Lake takes an area around 68 thousand square kilometers, and has a depth up to 80 meters. Lake shores to the south-east from the city are generally low and huge area is covered with papyrus swamps. Port Bell is located on the northern shore of Victoria Lake and has a railroad connection with Kampala. The port is open for all the vessels with a capacity lower than 500 tones. Vegetation in Kampala surroundings is typical for the savannah and consists of alternating regions. Half of them is covered with grass (elephant grass), while other half is full of bushes and some trees (acacia, combretum), which are not exceeding 5-10 meters in height. Rainforests can be found to the east from the city on slopes of hills and along various rivers. Such forests usually consist of podocarpus as well as different kinds of palm trees and bamboo. Cultivated land is used for plantations of coffee, groundnut, banana and other cultures. Kampala surroundings are covered with various roads and highways. Roads are usually made with bitumen, gravel and sometimes macadam. Typical road width is around 7-9 meters, while covered part takes around 6-6.5 meters. Advanced roads are enforced with a base from sand, gravel or crushed stone. Rural settlements are usually looking like small villages, which contain 100 and more houses. Buildings are usually dispersed, but sometimes several buildings can be situated really close to each other. Typical houses are made from clay, have squared or cylindrical shape, one floor and a thatched roof. Large villages are electrified. Water in villages is mainly supplied from wells or wellbores, equipped with pumps.

The city can be easily identified from air by its position to the west from the northern shores of Victoria Lake, as well as by size and specific pattern of road network.

CITY AREA. The city is located on hills, which are divided by flat depressions and small river valleys. The city has no unified system of development or planning. Administrative and business center of Kampala is located to the north from railway station (obj. 90). It has almost squared shape with dense buildings. Buildings are made from stone and have 2-6 levels. There are some high-rise buildings (10-13 levels). Here one can also find the Town Council (obj. 35), Parliament and the Office of the President (obj. 40), various ministries, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Education (obj. 26), as well as the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Provincial Affairs (obj. 34), the Ministry of Culture and many other; this area also contains General Post Office (obj. 72), the Supreme Court (obj. 98), several embassies, banks, offices of main industrial companies and other venues. All main residential areas of Kampala and suburbs are located outside of the center. Such areas have really different planning with rare buildings. Stone houses of 1-3 levels are tiered along hill slopes.  Residential areas of Kampala include various administrative buildings: the Ministry of Industry and Energy (obj. 29), the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (obj. 27), the Ministry of Culture (obj. 97), the Ministry of Labor and many other. Main highways of Kampala are straight and wide (20-40 meters), covered with asphalt. All other and smaller streets are more narrow, sometimes curve and without any solid layer. Vast majority of industrial companies is situated along railroad, which crosses the city. Kampala is extremely green city: many parks, squares, trees all around districts and along main streets.

The city has Makerere university (obj. 105), Technology Institute (obj. 19), regional Institute of Eastern Africa, scientific research institutions in the area of agriculture, medicine, chemical industry and other fields of science. The Ministry of Defense and the General Staff (obj. 28), the command post of the President (obj. 73), the Office of National Security (obj. 108), Police training centers (obj. 117, 118), two military bases (obj. 2 and 10), police barracks (obj. 20) and armament storages (obj. 24) are also located in Kampala.

INDUSTRIAL AND TRANSPORT OBJECTS. Industrial companies of Kampala produce around one fifth of total manufacturing products of the country. The leading industries of the city are textile and food processing industries. In the city one can find a textile factory (obj. 112), a sewing factory, a flour mill, milk and butter factories, a brewery, coffee sorting and fermentation factories, a currying factory and tea&tobacco producing plant. Kampala also has some huge warehouses (obj. 87 and 87), including storage of fuels and lubricants (obj. 83, 84, 85).

The city is serviced by two railway stations: “Kampala” station is for passengers, freight and sorting (obj. 90) and second is freight-only station (obj. 89). Both stations have wide variety of connected roads, loading and unloading spaces and warehouses. Kampala station (obj. 90) is equipped with locomotive depot (obj. 13).

Entebbe International Airport has asphalt-concrete runway with total length equal to 2658 meters. Airport equipment allows planes to land and take off in difficult weather conditions during day and night. The airport is equipped with storage of fuels and lubricants, several hangars, and service facilities. Two small airports are located in the northern and in the southern part of the city (obj. 1 and 2). They both have runways with 700 meters length.

COMMUNAL SERVICES, MEANS OF COMMUNICATION AND MEDICAL INSTITUTIONS. Kampala receives all the electricity from the Owen Falls water power plant (total power – 135 000 kW), which is located on the Victoria-Nile river, in 45 kilometers to the east of the city. Main water supplies of the city are small rivers and underground water. Water in villages is supplied from wells or wellbores. The city has a sewerage system. Kampala has all modern communication means. There are two telephone centrals (obj. 95 and 96), 4 radio stations (obj. 92, 93, 94 and 74) and TV-center (obj. 116). Main type of city transportation – by bus.

Kampala also has several big hospitals, clinics and other medical institutions.