Access to Kampala’s public spaces remains controlled, not available for everyone

Access to Kampala's public spaces remains controlled, not available for everyone
Public park. Sheraton Gardens also known as Jubilee Gardens in Kampala, Uganda.

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Access to open spaces and public parks in parts of Kampala remains a nightmare, as many are now kept out of bounds for ordinary citizens and maintained under heavy security deployment.

Designated public parks in Kampala include the Constitutional Park also known as City Square, The Sheraton Hotel Jubilee Garden, Railway Grounds, Centenary Park, Children’s Park-Kamwokya, Pan African Park, and Equatorial Park among others, which ordinarily, should be open to the public.

Urban planning experts say that such spaces provide opportunities for social interaction and social inclusion, and can facilitate the development of community ties. They provide an opportunity for children and young people to meet and play, read and recreate during their leisure time.

But the parks in Kampala are all closed out, with the exception of a lower part of the Constitutional Square. The Sheraton Jubilee Garden, which sits on three acres cannot be accessed by the public and is heavily guarded at both its entrances, one at Speke Road and the other, on the right turn after the entrance to the hotel.

Kampala Capital City Spokesperson Peter Kauju says that although the garden is supposed to be open to the public, Sheraton Kampala Hotel, which manages it on behalf of the government, often restricts its access on security grounds. However, it is sometimes hired out for functions and as a parking area for guests.

He, however, adds that Ugandans should be free to access the grounds for relaxation, reading a book and group activities among other activities.

The management of Sheraton Hotel also emphasizes that the park is free for the public to access if their activities do not pose a security threat. “You are free to relax or read a book, just clearly explain your reasons to the people at the checkpoint when you come,” a voice on the official hotel management line reaffirmed.

Constitutional Park, commonly known as City Square among other parks around Kampala town area collects the highest number of people through observation. Throughout the week, workers retire to the place to rest after a long day, to refresh before they continue to their destinations.

Others say they use it as a waiting place whereas some use it for small meetings. Users attribute its effectiveness to location and free accessibility.

Tushabe Brenda, a cook around town says that the park at the Constitutional Square is convenient because it’s closer to the taxi stop. “Since the taxis I use are just near this place, I sit and wait for traffic to loosen up before I board.”

The other park is the Equatorial Park opposite Watoto Church Down Town gathers people mostly during the night. Although it is smaller than the other parks, it’s neon lighting and tiled seats which are not in the rest of the parks, add a tone of beauty to the place, attracting more people especially in evenings and part of the night.

James Otai, a businessman around Kampala town says areas such as Equatorial Park are for relieving stress after work, although he feels Ugandan security infringes on liberty for those that try to use the parks for group meetings.

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Meanwhile, the Children’s Park in Kamwokya behind Café Javas at City Oil is also open to the public. This is well maintained with pavements, lights and huts for shelter. However, only a few people utilize it, because some are unaware of its availability while several others believe that its access is restricted, according to our findings.

One resident of Kamwokya said they do not even know where its entrance is since it was fenced off. He says back in the day the park was much accessible and used as a soccer playground and resting place during the day.

Community engagement in preservation, maintenance and enhancement of open spaces is critical according to a study on informal places for recreation and Children’s play in Kampala slums.