In the 50s, 60s and 70s , it was the most happening place in Jinja. It was one of Idi Amin’s most popular hangouts in Jinja and it also once hosted Queen Elizabeth II.
Today, its but a shadow of its former self and a reminder of the greatness Jinja held. Ambercourt was home to Jinja’s first public swimming pool.
Ambercourt was built in the early 1950s as a recreational facility for British Construction workers building the Owen Falls Dam. When the dam was completed in 1954, most of the British expatriates left, those the remained gradually lost interest in the club and it was gradually taken over by the Jinja Asian community. It was exclusively a European Asians only hangout in the between the 1950s and 1960s.
Once it hosted the queen in 1960s and was a renown playground for rich and famous Europeans, Asians and Africans until the 70s when, after the expulsion of Asians, it collapsed.
On a red dirt road on the outskirts of Jinja, a once elegant hotel now sits in ruin, a playground for grazing cattle, birds and neighbourhood children.
When Asians left, they left with the splendour of this club. The club was left into new indigenous, inexperienced management that later brought it to its knees
The name of this edifice, Amber Court, is barely legible beneath crumbling roof tiles. Amber Court is where a young Queen Elizabeth stayed during her second visit to Uganda in the 1960s.
Yet many people today in Jinja have forgotten about Amber Court, because few know how to guide a visitor to this once-famous building.
Amber Court is synonymous with both what’s wrong with East Africa and a symbol of the region’s vast potential.
The short history of Jinja is that it was built by Indians. The tired, worn structures throughout the city reveal the Indian architecture. On the outskirts, there are mansions built for former Indian entrepreneurs. All are now in disrepair.
Godfrey Ssengendo was working at Amber Court Club when the Queen visited it in 1955. He recalls the hullaballoo:”I remember when Queen Elizabeth II first visited Uganda in 1955, there was great excitement among the people. It was the official opening of Owen Falls Dam. The memory is so vivid in my mind. I was a junior staff member at the dam and like everybody else I was extremely excited. I couldn’t believe that the Queen of England was coming to Uganda, let alone to the place where I worked”
Like Jinja Sailing club, Amber Court can be revived. Sailing Club had also gone to the dogs until the Madhvanis injected cash and revived it. It’s now a popular upmarket hangout.
Being located in one of Jinja’s most upscale area and having such a rich history, Amber Court Club can have a ready market, once revived. However, several attempts to take over the place by private developers have been thwarted. Its ownership is still contentious and not clear.
Team Leader & Tour Guide at SunTrack Adventures, a tours and safari company based in Uganda.
Operations Coordinator at GVA Foundation – Africa a non-government humanitarian service and rural development organization.
Blogger: Vacation Hunters – East Africa.
Photos/Content – Emily Ward , Jinja City Media.