Home Magazine Issues Dec - Jan 2016 THE KAMPALA CITY FESTIVAL!

Kampala City Festival 2015 - PHOTO by Pat Larubi Robert

Kampala City Festival 2015 – PHOTO by Pat Larubi Robert

Question: What can possibly be more colourful than everyday life in Kampala?
Answer: THE KAMPALA CITY FESTIVAL!

By Charlotte Beauvoisin

Pink hot pants, bright blue afro wigs, huge sunglasses, red lollipops and pink lipstick were all the rage on the first Sunday in October as festival fever hit the streets of Kampala. We all know how Ugandans love to party – they love being part of the latest trends too – and everyone that was anyone had to turn up for what was undoubtedly the city’s biggest event this year.

Kampala City Festival - Photo KCCA

Kampala City Festival – Photo by KCCA

Kampala is the party capital of East Africa. My friends from all over East Africa go crazy for Kampala’s nightlife. From Kigali to Bujumbura to Nairobi, they all say Kampala boasts the best nightlife (and the most beautiful ladies!) Nowhere was the party nation’s reputation more visible than on the crowded streets between Kitgum House (Jinja Road intersection) and City Square. It was wall-to-wall party, shoulder-to-shoulder all afternoon and long into the night. Did many people get to work on time on Monday? Not many I’m sure – a good number of people were still travelling home at 3 o’clock in the morning!

Kampala certainly rose to the occasion when Jennifer Musisi, the Executive Director of Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) announced:

“This year’s theme is COLOUR. Kampala is a Cosmopolitan City, so, Mr/Mrs Indian, please bring out those beautiful saris, the Rwandese, get the stunning Mishananas ready, the Masai remember to show up in those coloured, striking wrappers…the list of exciting attire from across the world is endless, but whichever your culture is, prepare to show off this October.”

2015 Kampala City Festival – the biggest street party in East Africa!

2015 marked the fourth year of the Kampala City Festival. If you hadn’t been before, perhaps this was the year you joined the festivities? If you didn’t go this year, I’m sure all the noise – and COLOUR – generated has got you interested in going next year!

Kampala City Festival has something for everyone.

Kampala City Festival - Photo Ndijjo

Kampala City Festival – Photo by Ndijjo

In 2015, the Festival or Carnival started to come of age. Kampalans have been embracing the carnival feel and 2015 has been bigger and brighter than any other previous year. Festival-goers have been designing and making their own costumes and putting a lot of thought into how they can show off in as colourful a way as possible.

For one day a year, Kampala residents get to reclaim the normally congested streets. The festival kicked off with a convoy of large, decorated vehicles slowly driving in a loop through the city centre. Each float (themed vehicle) used its deafening sound systems, brilliant dancers and performers to fight for the attention of the crowd. Guys on roller skates and beautiful women in dazzling costumes all competed to wind up the crowd, and get them dancing and moving.

The streets of Kampala were alive with thousands of Ugandan boys and girls, giggling teenagers, those trendy illuminati, families with young children and the occasional dancing Muzungu. Everyone danced together. On street corners, young men set up photo printing machines. Vendors sold samosas, ice-cream and lollies. Ladies carried plastic buckets of fried cassava on their heads.

A friend in KCCA’s tourism department had invited me to check out the festival. He wondered what I would think of it. Always on the lookout for a good story, how could I resist? I decided I’d jump on a boda boda and head into town for the afternoon.

Tip: do not think of taking your car anywhere near downtown Kampala on the day of the Kampala City Festival. Many roads are closed off and you will find it more difficult than ever to park. The road closures impact the flow of traffic across the whole city, so ask someone to give you a lift or, better still, catch a boda boda or walk. The streets might not look that crowded when you first head into town but they will be jam-packed with people when you return home. You think you know how congested Kampala can get? Think again. If you haven’t been into the city centre on Festival day, you will not believe your eyes. Plan your journey and don’t get stuck in the jam – there’s nothing worse than having a great day out, being a little bit worse for wear and then not being able to get home.

Highlights of the day

  • It was free!
  • The dress code: Streets of Kampala were a riot of colour. Needless to say, there was plenty of the Ugandan yellow, red and black!
  • The acrobats and street performers
  • “Traditional attires” – I loved the Intore dancers from Rwanda
  • Masks, wigs, bright pink lipstick, wacky eyeshadow, facepaint, huge fake sunglasses, bright red lips, brightly decorated ‘float parade’ vehicles festooned with banners and balloons, amazing headgear, some walking freaks too! Some of the ensembles were rather strange.
  • The Festival had an amazing seven stages – for music, dance, culture, drama, comedy and fashion.
  • Big-name musical performers included Radio and Weasel, Dr Jose Chameleon, Afrigo Band, Aziz Azion, Ragga Dee, Irene Ntale, Dr Hilderman (seen dancing with Jennifer Musisi), Coco Finger and Pallaso.
  • As well as the everyday Ugandan buffet, fried chicken, popcorn and chapati, the Kampala City Festival is a good place to try Kasese Tonto, a murky-looking traditional brew that hit the spot, or malwa, served from a gourd. There was plenty of alcohol or soda on sale (you could hardly move for towers of soda bottles) but if you prefer water, takes your own.

Special interest areas 

  • The Kids’ Zone in Constitutional Square, off Kampala Road, is always a huge hit. Like everything else at the Kampala City Festival, it was free: facepainting, activities and games. It was packed.

Kampala City Festival Gallery


  • The gardens of the Sheraton Hotel were alive with the sound of gospel music and prayer and the Kampala Serena Hotel gardens hosted the Muslim community
  • The Miss Tourism pageants were there to promote Uganda, the Pearl of Africa. The cultural ambassadors represented different regions of Uganda: Kigezi and Karamoja amongst others.
  • Uganda’s big name corporates had floats, VIP tents, stages and legions of brightly coloured boys and girls promoting their brands
  • The area around the National Theatre was particularly popular with bazungu.

Would I go again?

You bet! I admit that the thought of getting lost in a big festival crowd had worried me a bit. I was a bit apprehensive about getting stuck in a huge throng of people. I attended the festival for the first time in 2014 and was impressed with the setup. The roads were cordoned off in advance and there was strict security to get into the festival area. As I followed the floats during the now-pedestrianised streets, I spotted one of my security friends, in plain clothes, hanging around nonchalantly on a street corner keeping an eye on everyone. In some places, the crowds were pretty overwhelming. Over the course of the day, there were inevitably a number of arrests for petty crimes such as pickpocketing. In such a massive group of people – estimates range from between one and five million! – petty crime is to be expected, in Kampala as anywhere else. Tip: leave all your valuables at home and carry the absolute minimum.

The future of Kampala 

KCCA has big plans to develop Kampala and there are visible improvements. The city is a lot cleaner and better organised than it was a few years ago. Civic pride is flourishing. Jennifer Musisi’s team have worked hard to plant and manicure roadside verges. The rather strange-looking giant ‘flower pots’ double as manhole covers; the idea is that they are so heavy, no one can steal them! Not everyone agrees with what KCCA have been doing, dismantling the makeshift duukas that used to line every road, but there are concerted attempts to bring order to the streets of Kampala. (Oh please, don’t let Kampala be as orderly as Kigali!)

Needless to say, the event generated a bumper amount of rubbish that day, particularly plastic. Big respect to KCCA, who worked all night so that on Monday morning streets were clean again for – at least some of – Kampala to get back to work until the next festival comes around.

For travel ideas and more adventures across Uganda, check out Charlotte Beauvoisin’s blog: Diary of a Muzungu www.diaryofamuzungu.com also on Facebook or follow @CharlieBeau on Twitter.

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