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Uganda: Why Nation's Museum is Not Transferrable

Demolishing museum building confirmes by ministers

Published on 1 May 2011

Author(s): The Independent/Ellady Nuyambi

Type:  News Published 1 April 2011

The museum was commended by the UNESCO Journal on Museums in Africa in 1962 as one of the best-conceived museum buildings in Africa.

Ambassador Julius Onen, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, the Minister Kahinda Otafiire and official document on the ministry's website at confirm that the museum building will be demolished and the artifacts therein will be stored for up to 10 years until construction of the 60-storey "East African Trade Centre" is completed. And that after completion of this Trade Centre, the artifacts will be housed on one or two floors. The two men seem not to be aware of what a museum is. A museum is not only artifacts but also the building where the artifacts are stored.

It was commended by the UNESCO Journal on Museums in Africa in 1962 as one of the best-conceived museum buildings in Africa. With its brise soleil walls, it is ideally suited to the climatic conditions of Uganda. There are many other reasons why the Uganda Museum should not be demolished.

Most of the ethnographic items that make up the bulk of the Museum's treasures are extremely fragile and need to be kept at temperatures a little over 70oF and at lower humidity. The destruction of the current building will lead to variations of humidity and temperatures and hence the deterioration of the ethnographic materials.

If Uganda loses the museum building, it will have lost its past. The walls of the Uganda National Museum building and its ventilation were purposely built with a lot of conservation measures to protect artifacts especially those made in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The walls were made with a component known as film that filters the ultraviolet rays which are dangerous to the artifacts, especially those made with organic material such as grass, leaves, feathers and others.

According to the Commissioner for Museums and Antiquities, Ms Rosemary Nkaale Mwanja, of the total artifacts collected for the museum, only 1/8 is exhibited or displayed. That means that, there are thousands of artifacts which have been lying in the underground of the museum for more than 50 years now and have survived because of the environment in which they are kept. The proposed construction of a 60-storey building will necessitate digging very deep for a strong foundation and this will lead to the cracks on the two floors of the current museum building and thus the destruction of the artifacts.

Besides, removing the fragile materials from the current Uganda National Museum building and storing them until the proposed East African Trade Centre is completed (in 10 years) will make most of them broken and others may be eaten by insects or even stolen. Currently, we do not have people in Uganda with the old craft skills to repair or replace such items. This will lead to the loss of old technologies. In addition, hiding the artifacts for such a long period will limit the traditional transfer of knowledge.

The proposed structure has no elements associated with Ugandan culture or history. Besides, the proposed 60-storey structure poses construction risks because the land on which it is to be built is near a wetland.

The East African Trade Centre will keep away certain groups of visitors who don't like the congestion that the sky-scrapper will breed since it's built for commercial purposes. Kampala is already too congested. It is high time the government moved some of the big developments outside the city centre.

The demolition of the National Museum will be a historical set back. The country will lose its only archival place. Universities which use the museum for research will not have any other place of reference. The rarest species of snakes which had since disappeared can be found in the museum. The fish species which were once found in Lake Victoria but have since become extinct can be found in the Uganda National Museum and this is the only place in Uganda where researchers and students find them.

Besides, Museums by their nature require special facilities that may not be in line with the general requirement of offices. The conservation policies and ethics of museums are different from those of ordinary offices. So combining the museum with the East African Trade Centre is a blunder.

There are other reasons why the museum should be preserved.

The Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry has gone ahead to call for bids for this project before an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been done neither has any Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) been conducted. It is strange for government to go ahead with public bidding before getting feedback on such assessments. In case the impact assessments recommend that the project cannot continue, what will government do?

The bidding suggests conflict of interest and influence peddling. The government states in the Blue Print ( that "they already have a cordial relationship with the intended investor..." Why then, did they go ahead to advertise for bids when they seem to have already selected their "investor, contrary to the PPDA rules?

Demolishing the museum building violates the World Bank July 2006 Policy on Physical Cultural Resources. The World Bank therefore should not dare fund this unpopular project unless the investment is transferred to another suitable site.

Ellady Muyambi is Executive Director of Historic Resources Conservation Initiatives (HRCI)

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