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Owners Of Historical Buildings, Sites Urged To Repair & Reuse Rather Than Demolish

Ham Mukasa’s house called Kewerimidde located in Mengo, Kampala

Private owners and managers of historical buildings and sites in Uganda have been urged to adopt development methods that preserve the heritage of such facilities. Speaking at a workshop organized by the Cross-Cultural Foundation Uganda, Frederick Nsibambi, the organization’s Deputy Executive Director, recommended adaptive reuse of historical sites and buildings instead of demolition or leaving them redundant.

He cited examples such as Basiima House, which was constructed in the 1800s and is now a school, and the first railway station in Jinja, which now operates as a Railway Museum. The museum has made Shillings 18 million since it was opened in March 2022, sufficient to sustain it. Nsibambi emphasized that historical buildings should be repaired rather than replaced and alterations should be sympathetic to the existing structure, with new additions compatible with the character of the earlier building and its context.

“Keep as much of the fabric as possible. Heritage items are by definition authentic examples of the architecture and lifestyle of previous generations and should be respected as evidence of our past,” he said. He also suggested Facadism, where the front part of a building is maintained for historical heritage purposes, and any alterations preferably reversible.

Preservation of the contents of such buildings was recommended, with caution against destroying them, including replicating destroyed historical buildings. “Generally, new additions should be sympathetic to the existing building. In this context, sympathetic means that new work is compatible with the character of the earlier building and with its context,” he emphasized adding that any alterations should preferably be reversible.

James Galabuzi, a member of the Ham Mukasa family, which owns two historical houses in Mengo and Mukono, believes that it is crucial to cultivate an appreciation of Uganda’s history among the public and property owners if these historical sites are to be protected. Galabuzi stresses that it is important to preserve such history for the country to understand its past and project its future.

While some opponents view preservation as glorifying the ugly history of colonialism, Galabuzi disagrees, stating that the country cannot deny its past and the existence of certain people, including colonialists. “Kampala is not a new city. How should we preserve our heritage? Architects can design structures without changing our heritage,” said Galabuzi, urging fellow owners of historical buildings to preserve them.

Albert Kasozi, the Executive Director of Buganda Heritage and Tourism Board, believes that sensitization should be at the center of efforts to preserve historical buildings and sites. He argues that there is still a lack of appreciation for Uganda’s cultural heritage, which is evident in the way tourism is marketed. He notes that while Uganda has rich potential in cultural tourism, it is primarily marketed as a nature-based tourism destination by agents and the government itself.

Barbara Babweteera, the Executive Director of CCFU, believes that while efforts are being made to sensitize owners, managers, and the public, the government has a crucial role to play through legislation. Last year, Parliament passed the Historical Sites and Monuments Bill, but President Yoweri Museveni returned it with a request to remove some sites with mineral deposits.

There is also an ordinance in the works at KCCA, but according to Dan Muhumuza, one of the clerks charged with its development, they were advised to wait for the bill to be signed into law before moving forward with the ordinance. Babweteera called upon the government to fast-track the bill and ordinance, as these could provide a solid basis for the protection of historical buildings in private hands.

Anita Kusiima, the Acting Deputy Director of Physical Planning, says that KCCA is working with its legal department to ensure that historical buildings and sites are not lost. She notes that preservation is considered before approval for redevelopment is issued. Kusiima says that they often engage with developers and plan, through the ordinance, to provide incentives to property owners to preserve historical buildings and sites in their care.

The current Historical Monuments Act of 1967 grants the Minister the power to declare a site as historical and therefore preserved. However, numerous buildings are not listed as preserved and are therefore at risk. For example, the Pioneer Mall, Kampala’s first mall, was recently demolished and replaced by a multi-story building, while the first cinema building, Norman Gordihno (commonly known as Watoto Church), is also under threat as owners seek to redevelop the land.

-URN

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