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Published on 13 February 2011
The Museum, the oldest in Eastern Africa, needs preserving and strengthening
As a Ugandan, I am extremely saddened at the trend in Uganda where buildings are randomly and rampantly destroyed without any thought to the historical and cultural significance. The Uganda National Museum founded in 1908 was first built at Fort Lugard in Old Kampala, where it stayed until 1942 when it was transferred to Makerere University and Margret Trowel took over as curator. It was from Makerere that it moved to Kiira Road in 1945.
The Museum is appreciated by many and should be preserved for its historical and architectural value; as a point of reference for research and education, heritage education and ethnographic research; and most importantly, as a source of foreign exchange.
I was very disappointed that the centenary of the Museum 1908-2008 was allowed to pass without any celebration. The Museum, the oldest in Eastern Africa, needs preserving and strengthening. It has a remarkable collection including many of the items that were in the original collection housed in the old building on Lugards Fort. Demolishing the ONLY Uganda National Museum is a shortsighted move and of little lasting value.
My observation is that when the NRM government wants to sell any public property, it will neglect it first until it is in a state of disrepair in order to justify its disposal. The Uganda National Museum is in this particular situation.
What annoys me most is that many Ugandan government officials travel to the developed world (Europe and America) and marvel at the heritage they visit, historical sites and buildings that are ‘restored’ rather than ‘destroyed’ for posterity.
In Egypt, in the midst of crisis, government was concerned about protecting the museum and its contents from destruction. Cities like Turin in Italy have about 158 museums; they treasure them all. Am therefore wondering why Uganda would destroy its only museum in the country.
Museums by their nature require special facilities that may not be in line with the broad requirement of offices. The conservation policies and ethics of museums are different from those of ordinary offices and so combining the Uganda National Museum with the East African Trade Centre is a step in the wrong direction.
The Uganda National Museum is not a historical piece to be kept in a backyard. Destroying it therefore is a cultural crime and tantamount to destroying a Ugandan soul. Am wondering how the government can go on preaching patriotism and nationalism while at the same time destroying its history. Is this the fundamental change the NRM government promised?
The government of Uganda should rethink and construct the East African Trade Centre else where. For instance, the Century City is located about 50km from Cape Town city but it is still a business hub. Government should not focus only on the monetary values of the Uganda National Museum because there are intrinsic values which are not known.
The Uganda National Museum should be relocated from the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry (MTTI) and a National Heritage Resources Authority should be adopted to take charge of all heritage resources in the country.
When Winston Churchill christened Uganda "the Pearl of Africa", it is no idle boast. It is a country blessed with unique history and cultures. Symbolically , the Uganda National Museum brings all Ugandans together. Its impending demolition therefore is a good wake up call for all Ugandans to start valuing what belongs to them.
Historic Resources Conservation Initiatives (HRCI)
Plot 125 Bombo Road, Kawempe Centre
P.O Box 34407 Kampala, Uganda
See also on this website Uganda: What Next for National Museum?
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