Gently Revolving in Kampala

Last week I took the chance to revolve in Kampala. Not in a head-spinning way, you’ll understand. Gently, it was. It took a full 90 minutes to turn through 360 degrees.

I’m talking about the revolving restaurant at the top of the Golf Course Hotel. They call it the Seven Hills Revolving Restaurant. That’s because Kampala is said to have been built on seven hills:   Kasubi Hill, site of the Kasubi Tombs, the tombs of the Kabakas; Mengo Hill, site of the present Kabaka’s Palace and the headquarters of the Buganda Court of Justice; Kibuli Hill, wih its Kibuli Mosque; Namirembe Hill, topped by the Namirembe Protestant Cathedral; Rubaga Hill, topped by the rival Rubaga Catholic Cathedral; Nsambya, site of the Nsambya Hospital; finally, the little hill of Impala, once the hunting ground for the Ugandan kings.

I was at the restaurant for dinner. So it was after dark, and I couldn’t distinguish the seven hills. But from the way the lights of the city spread out into the see-able distance, they showed that Kampala now covers many more hills than the original seven.

The Seven Hills on the tower of the Golf Course Hotel is one of only six revolving restaurants in Africa. Nairobi once had one, didn’t it? At the top of the KICC. Sadly, it no longer revolves – it doesn’t even exist. I don’t know why. But it’s a pity. Because the view was magnificent. It showed that Nairobi is still very much a green city – and usually in the sun. Mind you, it is still possible to take in the view by riding the lift to the top of the building – but not to linger over it with a juicy steak and a glass of red wine.

At night, from the Seven Hill Restaurant, one of the most striking features of the view was the unbroken streams of red or yellow lights of the cars moving along the main Yusuf Lule Road. My mind went back to a conversation I had with a consultant colleague in the early 1990s when we were staying at the Sheraton Hotel in the middle of Kampala.

‘Have you seen the hotel’s car park?’ I asked him. ‘It’s crammed – Uganda is recovering.’

‘But have you looked at what they are?’ he asked back. ‘Mainly white Land Cruisers or other four-wheel drives. Mainly of aid foreign agencies. When the car park is full of city saloons like Mercedes and BMWs and owned by Ugandans, only then can we say Uganda has moved on!’

My mind also went back to a dinner my brother-in-law gave us in 1967 as a farewell treat when my wife and I were about to set sail for a couple of years in Kenya. It was in the revolving restaurant at the top of the Post Office Tower in London – now called the BP Tower. It was the only time I have experienced the only person given the menu with prices was the one the waiter assumed was going to pay the bill. Fortunately, the waiter didn’t choose me – because the prices, like the place, were very fancy.

That was the restaurant where the Provisional IRA exploded a bomb in the men’s toilet in 1971. Nine years later, the revolving restaurant was closed for security reasons. Perhaps that’s why our Nairobi one was closed?

Anyway, back to Kampala… Yes, Uganda has really moved on. Except that there are now so many cars of all shapes and sizes that it is difficult to move at all in the city.

Another indicator of development that evening as I looked out of the slowly moving windows were the lights down below of the adjacent and huge Garden City shopping complex, with its supermarket, cinema, bowling alley, casino, banks, forex bureaux, big bookshop and many trendy clothes shops. The other side of the hotel was the black hole in the undulating carpet of lights that was the city’s central golf course. In the morning, at breakfast in the attractive ground floor restaurant by the bright blue of the serpentine pool, through the screen of trees you could see a few golfers already engaging in what my old dad called a ‘good walk spoilt’.

So with golf on one side and a shopping complex on the other, the Golf Course Hotel must be attractive for those who like an easy – even a spoilt – walk to many things they might want to do in Kampala. For me, I chose it because the meeting I was attending was being held there – not even a walk away but a short lift ride.

The hotel is a bit cheaper than the nearby Sheraton and Serena, and a bit more expensive than the also nearby Speke or the Grand Imperial. I like it. The conference room was airy; the view from my room over the golf course was refreshing; the breakfast was as varied as you could wish – and dinner in the revolving restaurant was unforgettable.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation