Uganda’s Budget and Kampala’s Houses. On architecture as a sign of internationalized rule

by Klaus Schlichte

This article is part of the TRAFO series “Doing Global International Relations”.

Probably in all capital cities, architecture tells us something about the history of government. Washington DC, London and Moscow, as well as Vienna or Madrid exhibit impressive buildings that denote an imperial past. Upon this, architectural remnants of later forms of rule have been layered. The political battle surrounding architectural expression of power is ongoing: Paris is known for the presidents of the 5th republic and their attempts to eternalize themselves by means of impressive buildings. In contemporary Berlin, almost thirty years after of reunification, there is still a fight about the politics of history fought with architectural means: the GDR’s popular and prestigious “Palace of the Republic” is now replaced by the “Stadtschloss”, a reconstruction of the Prussian ruler’s palace, and the debate goes on regarding what to exhibit in the building that will be named “Humboldt-Forum”. In all these cities, the simultaneity of government buildings from different ages and political systems add not least to their attractiveness as tourist sites.

African cities are no exception to this rule, even though they are usually much younger than European metropolises. But in Africa, too, architecture is indicative of political forms and ambitions, as I want to show in this contribution. [1] In Uganda’s capital Kampala, a row of buildings symbolizes global transformations of modes of government, even though the city is hardly more than a hundred years old. Around 1880, Mengo, now a quarter of Kampala, had been chosen by the pre-colonial kingdom of Buganda as its royal residence. Over the previous fifty years, the site had been moved ten times (see Callas, 1998: 34). With the arrival of the British, Kampala emerged east of Mengo, being mainly a colonial creation, like many other African capitals.[2]

This essay will deal only with three buildings located in the center of Kampala: The colonial “Treasury” building, built in the 1930s, the neighboring “Ministry for Finance, Planning and Economic Development”, erected in the 1960s, and finally the “Audit House”, site of the Auditor General of Government, opened in 2014. I will argue that these buildings are relevant sources for the historical analysis of rule in Uganda as they stand for three different and international modes (Schatzki, 2002) of government: balance sheets, planning, and the rule of the pure number. The sequence and imbrications of these three modes might become more visible in Uganda than elsewhere as they stand in a row in Apollo-Kaggwa Road. A few remarks on the topography of Kampala will help to render the interpretation of the architecture of rule more plausible here.

Kampala’s topography

About 80 per cent of Uganda’s 30 million inhabitants live from agriculture. The capital with its roughly two million inhabitants is clearly the most important urban center of what is still largely an agrarian society. Political power is centralized in Kampala, but the topography of the city is already indicative of the polycentric structure of power in Ugandan society. On each of the nine hills that constitute the city’s center, one can find the headquarters of an important institution – Rubaga is the hill with the largest Catholic cathedral; Namirembe is the site of the largest Anglican church, and Kibuli hosts the largest mosque in Uganda. Kasubi is the graveyard of the former kings of Buganda; Kabalagala is the area with most of the NGO headquarters as well as bars and restaurants. North of the city-center, the hill of Makerere is the site of East Africa’s oldest university, and next to it, at Mulago, the country’s largest hospital is to be found.

Both the university and the hospital show the same mix of architectural elements from colonial buildings of the 1920s and 1930s and the modernism of the early 1960s. The promises of modernity and the pathos of decolonization seem to find their expression in what is called “international style”. This style has made its way from Europe and North America to Palestine and Brazil and, since the late 1950s, to decolonizing Africa.[3]

Both styles can also be found on two other hills which form the centers of political power in Uganda: Nakasero is the site of “State House”, the president’s residence of which no pictures exist in the internet and where access is blocked even for pedestrians. Beyond the neighboring gulf court is Kololo, the hill of embassies and diplomats’ residences. Here, traffic is calm and dominated by SUVs with tinted windows.

The center of power that attracts most attention, however, is the hill Nakasero. On its top is the State House, at is southern slope the parliament building, the offices of the EU, the World Bank, and all Ugandan ministries. As if it wanted to demonstrate its particular position among Western donors, the British High Commission chose a new compound in between Nakasero and Kololo.[4] Nakasero is also the site of all the major banks in Uganda, of which South-African-owned Stanbic is the biggest while all smaller ones are owned by Ugandans with South Asian backgrounds. And finally, the more expensive hotels are to be found on Nakasero as well. The great number of foreign consultants and the endless numbers of training participants, mostly state employees and NGO workers from up-country, are by far more important customers than the rather modest number of Safari tourists visiting Uganda. Every day one can find several of such trainings organized by international donors in the seminar rooms of the upper echelon hotels.

The architecture of rule

In Uganda and elsewhere, architecture and the road network bear witness to the history of domination. In post-colonial states, the architecture of government buildings also signals how internationalized political domination in Uganda was and still is. What is experienced within the EU as “Europeanization”, namely the relevance of rule-setting elsewhere for national legal and political arenas, has for a long time been an African experience, and this history is still visible in architecture, too. The claim to rule and the efforts undertaken to realize these ambitions have for a long time been “international”, both in the colonial and the post-colonial era. “Time presenting itself in space” (Schlögel 2003) was and is an international one.

Buildings of colonial architecture from the times of the British Empire are primary examples. The so-called international style of the decolonization period and the late modernist glass facades of the most recent office buildings are equally petrified objects of a global history. In the following, I want to demonstrate how three such buildings from different eras can be interpreted as epitomizations of three different technologies of rule: The Treasury Building from the 1930s stands for the colonial worry that colonies might be a financial burden, the Ministry for Finance, Economic Planning and Development from the 1960s epitomizes the logic of planning and projects, and the “Audit House” of 2014 expresses the most modern technology, ruling by pure numbers.

The Treasury – the problem of colonial balance sheets

Today, the Treasury building looks almost romantic amidst the much higher office buildings of later eras. Erected in the 1930s, the building hosted the central financial administration of the British protectorate Buganda. In this de facto colony, one key issue was the financial balance: Soon after the protectorate treaty was signed in 1900, John A. Hobson wrote the first fundamental criticism of imperialism. In “Imperialism: A Study” of 1902”, Hobson developed a liberal critique of which main arguments were later picked up by Vladimir I. Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg in their Marxist theoretical critiques of imperialism. Hobson’s book became important first for the internal British discussion about the Empire as a burden: Colonies, as the liberal wing argued, should finance themselves instead of being publicly funded sources of enrichment for a small oligarchy. In Buganda as in other parts of the Empire, the “mise en valeur” was set in motion in order to render the colony more productive. It translated into supporting agrarian exportation, the construction of roads and railways using contract laborers from South Asia, and in enforced monetarization. Hut tax and agricultural production for exportation should transform the colony into a prospering economy, which would finance the costs for administration, infrastructure and enforcement through taxation. In the “Treasury” building, the balance would be drawn: Is the colony self-financing? This question, we would say in retrospect, was the building’s raison d’être.

Procedures of urban planning, introduced and developed in this time, displayed the manifold features of the Empire – they connected British experiences in India with those from the Caribbean and from African colonies. Even the term “planning” seemingly emerged only after 1906 in colonial administrative discourse, and after first laws on urban planning were introduced in India (1905) and Palestine (1920), the first such planning schemes became effective in East Africa in 1926 (see Home, 2013: 179). The same imperial connectedness explains why the Treasury building’s architectural style is not different from that displayed by Indian colonial buildings. The form is seemingly a hybrid of colonial classicism and architectural adaptations to tropical conditions.

Today, the building is a mere annex of the Ministry of Finance. Its driveway has become a parking lot for the SUVs of higher financial officers, and even the inscription “Treasury” was tilted in the course of a renovation carried out by a Chinese construction company. But originally, the building stood for the logic of balance sheets by which the colonial state introduced the logic of national accounting. This logic was preserved in independent Uganda and is still manifested in annual budget accounts. So today, this colonial scheme has not vanished but is rather a lower layer in a heap of other logics as already the neighboring building shows, the “Ministry for Finance, Planning and Economic Development”.

Planning projects – the logic of MOFPED

The logic of merchant capitalism was soon supplemented by the plan, the signum of the development era. This technology of government characterized the young independent state. Uganda’s first ten-year plan was still decided during colonial times, in 1944. But the practice survived the moment of independence in 1962, as the new government was equally beset by the idea of development. This meant that it followed a paradigm that was directly linked to the dominant Keynesianism of European states during the “trente glorieuses”.[5] The five-year plan was in fact not a Soviet monopoly but was practiced in independent Uganda as well as in France. It was based on the strong belief in the production of progress by the planning of an active and capable central state.

This international idea found its architectural expression in Uganda. The “Ministry for Finance, Planning and Economic Development” (MOFPED) as well as Uganda’s main hospital Mulago or the main library of Makerere University were built in what is called the “international style” of the 1960s. Its stairways are bright and holes between bricks allow for a light breeze so that few offices have air-conditioning running.

The international style was intended as non-ideological, as liberation from historical ties and as a sign of entering a designed future. And even if the majority of buildings of this style on the African continent were not planned by Africans but by architects from Great Britain, France, Poland, Yugoslavia or Israel, they met the taste of the first heads of states in independent Africa. The style seemed to express the aspirations of decolonization – a new, non described époque should begin, the new style marking a breach with colonial architecture (see Förster 2015: 620).

After 1962, the building was the center of planning in independent Uganda. This only changed with Idi Amin’s coup d’Etat in 1971. During his rule (1971-1979), the ministry like most official institutions became ever more dysfunctional as salaries dried out, inflation was galloping, and the economy shifted into the informal.

Shelves in the ministry’s basemaent (photo: Klaus Schlichte)

Around 1990, the ministry was renovated. The new government under Yoweri Museveni started with a leftist discourse, but soon adapted to the neoliberal schemes of IMF and the World Bank. These were the early years of project logic, the new mode of “developmental aid” which led to a long row of plans and project reports now archived in the ministry’s basement.

Today, MOFPED still has a planning unit, but it is only occupied with drafting the central government’s budget.[6] The building’s international style no longer indicates that there is a vision at work behind the walls.

Bureau of Statistics I (photo: Klaus Schlichte)

Bureau of statistics II (photo: Klaus Schlichte)

None of the plans and reports written after 1990 gets by without numbers. It is not by coincidence that it has been linked to the Ugandan Bureau of Statistics by an underground hallway, which lost its importance entirely in the years of informality but regained relevance after 1990. Its annual reports have grown steadily in volume since then. But Uganda’s “partners” in development seem to doubt the figures coming from all ministries that converge here.[7] The “donors” rather refer to the “Technical Advisory Unit” of the World Bank in Washington DC, testing all national statistics’ plausibility.[8] Donors, however, still support the Bureau of Statistics, not least when a national census in 2014 was promoted with the slogan “I count, you count, together we count!”.

Donor influence has also shaped the way “Uganda” is measured in all respects – by adaptation to international standards. If we follow Alain Desrosières (1998: 9) here, then statistics were finally the means by which “Uganda” as a unified political space was created in the first place: aggregated numbers created the unity. They limit the scope of what is counted and what isn’t. This is how a “national economy” emerges, and a “national population” as object of government. Seemingly, Uganda has lost the sovereignty over its numbers as it lost its plans. In this regard, the architecture assembled in the Apollo Kaggwa Road indicates a new logic of international government, and that is the logic of pure numbers.

The pure number – the architecture of auditing

With the renovation of the MOFPED-building, the relaunch of governmental architecture was not yet over. The biggest and most recent building in the row is the “Audit House”, site of the “Office of the Auditor General”, constructed in 2014. It was a gift from the British Development Service, and it is not by chance that it is to be found in the same street as MOFPED and the Prime Minister’s Office. The architects wanted to achieve “a symbolic presence of the Auditor General in the cityscape.[9]

In order to understand the logic of this institution, working behind glass facades in fully air-conditioned rooms, we need to cast a glance over the budget: Between 1986, the year when the current government took power, and 2012, between a third and half of the budget was accounted for either by loans or grants from the so-called donors, in particular from the World Bank, the USA and the United Kingdom. Later on, Japan, Germany, the EU as well as Denmark and Norway became important as well. Constant corruption scandals around the Office of the Prime Minister led to the institutionalization – and petrification so to say – of accountability. The Auditor General of Government, an office created due to donor pressure, depends on government only with regard to its budget. Its mission is to check all public expenditure in Uganda. Three hundred accountants are constantly working on this, supported in peak times by international consulting firms like Ernst & Young.[10]

Inner hallways of the Audit Hall (photo: Klaus Schlichte)

Rather atypically for Uganda, there is total silence in the inner hallways. An elevator with glass fronts goes up to the top floors in which Ugandans with college degrees from abroad have their offices. They check the numbers. The earlier governmental tools, the balance sheet and the plan can be found here again in a dialectical synthesis, as the convergence of projected and factual expenses is a core aim of financial administration. The balance of income and expenditure, however, so dear to the colonial administration, is no longer the main issue. The annual budget deficit has become the norm. The current governmental logic is also not about social utopia, at least not beyond the proclaimed benchmarks of the “sustainable development goals”.

The plain rationality that radiates from Audit House and the chill of its inside indicate the formal rationality which governs bureaucratic domination throughout the world, even in those parts like Uganda where we would expect them the least (see Morcillo Laiz/Schlichte, 2016). The target of each government department is not about any content or material goal but just to meet the numbers. The definition of relevant categories as well as the technology of accounting is carried out according to international standards, just like the architectural style once again is coined abroad.

Conclusion – is architecture an anatomy of domination?

The Audit House is not the only new building in Sir Apollo Kaggwa Road, and it is not an expression of “the West” dominating the world. Like anywhere else, the People’s Republic of China has become active in Uganda as a donor of gifts and loans (see Adu Amoa, 2016). Just across from the three buildings described here is the Prime Minister’s Office. The twin towers were given to Uganda by the PR China, as it gave the African Union a headquarters building in Addis Ababa, valued at 200 million USD.

Office of the Prime Minister (photo: Klaus Schlichte)

Western observers, although they are heavily involved in Uganda’s government, look at Chinese involvement with suspicion: Not everything is really a gift, they say, and new loans would mean new dependencies.[11] The Ugandan government, however, seems to believe in the idea of focusing on “infrastructure”, which basically means the construction of roads and railways, just like in the early decades of colonial administration.

International ideas and schemes for the construction of buildings might be read, as I attempted to show here, as indicators of the distribution of power and influence. But do buildings indicate the anatomy of domination? Two arguments seem to support an affirmative answer to this question.

First: government buildings have functions which are not purely fictional or symbolic. Office buildings are proof of the global victorious history of bureaucratic rule. These buildings are functional, and they are visible signs of domination. But other forms of domination are not stationary. The traveling king of Early Modern France, the patrol, or the inspectors of colonial rule are examples for this. But today, political domination is centered on huge office buildings. Political domination has become mostly bureaucratic in nature.

But seeing and being seen is another important aspect of political architecture, just like being the working place for employees or the representation of political power. Yet, political sociology has remained largely silent about office buildings (Mills, 1951), even if the material is easy to find and has spread globally (see Schlichte, 2014).

Second, office buildings usually form ensembles. Not only historical change of governmental forms becomes traceable as the example dealt with here should show. Even how government buildings are arranged, their location and their style are elements of figurations of domination as Norbert Elias (1990) has shown in his masterful study of the court of Versailles. Even when buildings are just part of the “branding” of cities (Dangschat, 2009), their style, their spatial arrangement and in all other facets of architecture more or less explicit ideas about social and political order and organization are expressed.

Perhaps buildings cannot prove theories. But they are material for the interpretation of subjectively intended meaning, of the core material of sociology if we follow Max Weber’s famous version. Pierre Bourdieu (1990: 173) recognized the representative office as the location of “plena potential agendii” and as “sigullum authenticum”. All the offices mentioned here are sites of officialization where particular representations are produced, just like the buildings themselves ought to represent something that would perhaps not exist without them: political domination. “Every house has a meaning”, as the anthropologist Marcel Mauss (2007: 83) once wrote.


[1] This text is written on the basis of material collected during two research stays in Uganda in 2014 and 2016. The author is grateful to German Research Community (SPP 1448) and Käte-Hamburger-Kolleg, Duisburg for respective funding of both stays, to Ugandans for background information and to Alex Veit and Thoralf Niehus for comments on earlier versions of this text.

[2] Ethiopia, the entire Sahel region and Southern Africa have known many older cities which were markets along trade routes or royal residences. On Africa’s history of settlement see Förster (2015). On the history and political structure of precolonial Buganda see Rusch (1975). Contemporary Uganda encompasses further areas than the erstwhile kingdom.

[3] Whether the term “international style” means a style or stands for the shortening of a social-reformist and aesthetic architectural movement is an open question. The term dates back to an exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in 1932, in which the curators Philipp C. Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock collected buildings by Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Alvar Aalto and others under this name and presented it as a new style in architectural history.

[4] Merely the US had a new embassy building constructed in the 1990s according to strict security standards in a less prosperous area. The American diplomats work surrounded by “dwellers”, whose buildings are described as “architecture without architects” (see Elleh, 2011: 67). American diplomats informally label the Area as “dump ground” (fieldnotes).

[5] This refers to the three decades of economic growth in Europe after the Second World War, which are referred to in France as “thirty glorious years” („trente glorieuses“), see Fourastié (1975).

[6] Interview with the “Head of Planning Unit” of MOFPED, February 19, 2014, Kampala.

[7] Concerning the chronic unreliability of African statistics, see Jerven (2013).

[8] Interview with the “Head of Coordination” of a Western European embassy, February 13, 2014, Kampala.

[9] Interview with a EU–representative, Kampala, March 23, 2016.

[10] Interview with a leading official of the Auditor General, March 24, 2016, Kampala.

[11] Interview with EU representative, March 23, 2016, Kampala.


Klaus Schlichte is professor for political science at the University Bremen, Institute for International and Intercultural Studies. His research focuses on the sociology of international politics and political violence in historical perspective. Selected publications: In the Shadow of Violence. The Politics of Armed Groups, Frankfurt am Main / Chicago, IL, 2009. Der Staat in der Weltgesellschaft. Politische Herrschaft in Afrika, Asien und Lateinamerika, Frankfurt am Main 2005.


Further Readings on TRAFO:

Antonia Witt, Felix Anderl, Stefan Kroll, Philip Wallmeier (2016), Clues, Careers, and Curricula – Doing Global International Relations, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.

Amitav Acharya (2016), Developing Global International Relations: What, Who, and How?, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.

Anthoni van Nieuwkerk (2016),  Reflections on (not so) International Relations … and what scholars from the Global South can do about it, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.

Frank Mattheis (2016), New metres for a wider world: interregionalism and Global International Relations, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.

Catherine Baker (2016), South-East European Studies in the ‘House of International Relations’, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.

Amaya Querejazu (2016), Andean Cosmovision and Global Governanc,  TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.

Tim Rühlig (2016),  Is there a Chinese understanding of International Relations?, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.

Jochen Kleinschmidt (2016), Global IR and Academic Authorship in Latin America: Why Inclusion Is Not a Panacea, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.

Anna Grindle (2016), Global Learning in Northern Ireland: Challenges, Successes and Opportunities, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.

Study Abroad: You don’t always get what you paid for – Interview with Natalia Lombana, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.

Pinar Bilgin (2017), A Global International Relations Take on the ‘Immigrant Crisis’, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.

Felix Anderl (2017), How to open a panel on “Global IR“ at the ISA General Conference under the conditions of a “Muslim ban”?, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.

Srdjan Vicetic (2017), Global IR and Global White Ignorance, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.



Citation: Klaus Schlichte, Uganda’s Budget and Kampala’s Houses. On architecture as a sign of internationalized rule, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 11.07.2017,



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