It is not usual that Presidents go public about the things that they dream about, but on August 04, 1972, 19 months after he had taken power in a coup, President Idi Amin, went public about a dream that he claimed to have had,
“I have dreamt that unless I take action, our economy will be taken over. The people who are not Ugandans should leave,” he told a gathering in Karamoja.
The self-styled Field Marshal then hopped onto a helicopter and flew to Rubongi barracks in Tororo where he addressed a hastily organized gathering. There he once again told them about the dream. Some of the members of the Asian community thought that the comical man who usually took to playing the accordion and participating in sports events was bluffing. They were very wrong.
That dream laid the ground for the expulsion of over 32,000 Ugandan Asians of British citizenship from Uganda. They were given three mouths to leave the country. The order was later extended to include other Asians descended from the lndian subcontinent.
This was followed by the December 18, 1972 announcement by the government that it was taking over several British and foreign firms in Uganda. That meant that almost 85% of the industries were nationalized.
Those two moves by President Amin set the ground for the fall of Jinja from what was once Uganda’s most industrialized to the economically struggling town that it is today.
Growth and development
Jinja‘s first step to fame – discovery of the source of the river Nile
Jinja town is situated on the east bank of the river Nile, at the point where the river flows out of Lake Victoria to start its 4,000 mile 6400km journey through Northern Uganda, Sudan and Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea.
Lying just north of the equator, but at an altitude of 3,750 feet above sea level, it enjoys a very pleasant climate with temperatures ranging from 63 to 82 degrees F.(17 degrees to 28 degrees C).
The city which was once a municipality covering an area of 11.5 square miles (28square kilometers), has since been expanded to cover parts of Bugembe Town Council, Buwenda Parish, and parts of Budondo Sub county.
Until about 1900 Jinja was no more than a very small village situated near the place where canoes made the crossing of the Nile from Busoga into the neighboring Tribal Kingdom of Buganda.
About 30 years earlier, the English soldier and Explorer John Hanning Speke had arrived on the west bank opposite Jinja confirming for the outside world the fact that Lake Victoria was the source of the White Nile.
The starting point of the great river Nile had for centuries had man scratch the hairs off their heads. Of course now that most of the world has been surveyed and mapped, with maps and locations easy to trace thanks to advancements in technology, it seems surprising that geographers should have had to argue so much about what had actually been there all the time.
Only the people who lived near that great lake knew that the river Kiyira (River Nile) flowed from it. But although they daily witnessed the beginning of the journey, they did not know where it eventually led nor of its age-long significance for mankind.
Speak described his ‘’discovery’’: thus ‘’we were well rewarded, for the stones as the Waganda call the fall was by far the most interesting sight I had seen in Africa.
The falls that Speke saw, naming them the Ripon falls after the president of the royal geographical society of London are now no more. They were sub-merged in 1947 when work on the construction of the Nalubale Dam, formerly Owen Fall Dam, began which was opened by the Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 1954.
A large Obelisk stands on the West Bank at the spot where Speke stood, with another identifying monument across the River. It was a sight that attracted me for hours. He wrote a letter ‘’…the roar of the Waters, the thousands passengers fish , leaping at the falls their might, the Wasoga and Waganda fisherman coming out in boats and taking all the post on all the rocks with the rod hook, the hippopotami and cattle, driven down drink at a margin of the Lake , made, in all, with the pretty nature of country-a small hill, rock grassy topped, with trees in the folds and gardens on the lower slopes –as interesting a picture as one could wish to see today’s tourist will not see exactly what Speke saw. The small hills and rocky grassy topped greens have preserved, but the hippopotami and the cattle are no more. The number of fishermen canoes has dwindled too.
Speke’s guide had taken him to the stones, and this he understood to refer to the falls. Other writers have, however, pointed out that the reference could have been to Jinja itself.
The Luganda word for the stone is “ejjinja” and the village overlooking the River there was a large stone from which the place obliviously got its name. Some of the stones can still be seen today.
Speke did not take the canoes across the River to Jinja and it was Henry Marton Stanley who became the first European to land there, in 1875, when he was making a voyage round Lake Victoria.
By 1890 the Napoleon Gulf as the bay through which the waters of the lake funnel into the Nile is called, was becoming of increasing importance as the main ferry on the route from Kampala to the Kenyan port of Kisumu, and in 1901 the protectorate Government administrator in Busoga moved his headquarters from Iganga to Jinja.
The same year saw the railway line from Mombasa reach Kisumu on the lake east of Jinja and a steamer service was established to serve the lake ports.
For the first few years Jinja developed slowly as the Busoga district headquarters. A memorial to a British Administrator of these days can be seen today in Jinja. A small cairn of stones, on a hill east of Kamuli Road.
The marble slab inscribed in Luganda reads: “This heap of stones is to commemorate Mr. F. Spire, CMG, the provincial Commissioner of our country, Busoga, who help us from 1909 to 1918 as recorded by us in his memento book” then follows the names of the nine Busoga chiefs who it erected.
Spire who died in England in 1951 at the age of 87, entered the Uganda protectorate service in 1893, having formerly been a batman to a military officer serving in East Africa. A remarkable man, he earned the deep respect of the people. One of the roads, Spire Road, and a school, Spire Road Primary School were named after him.
The only trade with the coast was in Ivory. Though cotton was introduced in Buganda in 1903 and was soon being grown in the Eastern province, it was quite long before it was produced in sufficient quantities to for more than 50 years stimulate trade and lead to the opening of several ginneries in the hinterland.
By 1910 Busoga and some areas north of Lake Kyoga were growing so much cotton as a cash crop that it became necessary to construct a railway from Jinja northwards to Namasagali, on which the cotton could be railed to Jinja and then transported by streamer to Kisumu.
Some years later a direct railway line called the Uganda was built from Nakuru in Kenya to Jinja and this was completed in 1928.
Birth of Industries
The earliest industries in Jinja were based primarily on agricultural production particularly cotton, sugar and timber, in which the Muljiibhai Madhvani and Nanji kalidas Mehta families were principle players in that sector.
The Madhvani family still owns a large sugar estate in Kakira near Jinja. The estate which covers an area of 22,154 acres out of which 2,3630 acres are taken up in housing, compounds, schools, roads, rails and factory sites, leaving about 20,000 acres under sugarcane in addition to supporting private sugarcane growers who supply their cane to Kakira.
The Mehta Family too still runs a large sugar estate in Lugazi, about 25 kilometers outside Jinja, on the Jinja Kampala highway.
However, although the town flourished under the stewardship of Madhvani, Mehta and a host of other English and Ugandan Asian businessmen, it was not until the completion in 1954 of the Owen Falls Dam and power generation plant that it grew into a large town. The power station gave Jinja tremendous advantage over other towns in the race for economic growth and progress.
Government had earlier gazetted Jinja as Uganda’s Industrial town, but following the completion of the power generation plant, it enacted a policy that provided for preferential electricity tariffs whereby the cost of transmission of power would be met by the consumers. Given the minimal cost of transmitting from the power plant to the town, it had the cheapest electricity power in the country. That helped to attract many more industrialists to the town.
Such conditions led to the birth of the textile manufacturing industry, a brewery in Njeru, and a plywood factory, which was the first in East Africa.
Later, a copper smelter for the treatment of copper concentrates from Kasese in Western Uganda, a tobacco factory and the first steel rolling plant in East Africa, the East Africa steel corporation opened up in 1963.
In 1964, the government owned Uganda Grain Milling Company, which has since been privatized and sold off to Unga Uganda, opened up the Jinja flour mill. The company was to later open a bread production line producing the famous “Tip Top” bread and later an animal feed plant.
In 1965, the Madhvani family opened the second textile mill, Mulco Textiles. The Madhvani family has never revived it.
Other categories that opened up include large scale printing and the manufacture of packaging materials, match boxes, soaps, oils, sawmilling, furniture making and steel tubing.
By the end of 1970 Dunlop East Africa had established a tyre and tube factory and Chillington Tool Company of Wolverhampton, England had established an agricultural tools plant.
Plans were also underway to establish a tractor assembly plant, a bicycle factory and a large paper mill, but some of those plans did not materialize. The ugly head of political upheavals soon jumped onto the scene to halt the development juggernaut.
First was the January 25, 1971 coup and then an abrupt charge of economic policies.
Amin’s dream of August 1972, the expulsion of Ugandan Asians of Asian origin and those descended from the Indian Sub-continent, the nationalization of their assets, the mismanagement of those enterprises and sanctions that were to later be imposed against the regime meant that production levels fell to an all-time low for all the industries in Jinja. Those combined to bring the city’s development process to a halt. They are developments from which the town has never really recovered.