(Image courtesy of www.ugandaninsomniac.wordpress.com)
Local groups promoting the protection of Ugandas heritage and in particular of buildings associated with Ugandas history received a boost yesterday, when the Public Accounts Committee in parliament threw out plans to build a 60 storey Trade Centre in place of the historic building. The megalomaniac idea was first made public under the controversial former tourism and trade minister Kahinda Otafire, aka minister for crocodiles, immediately raising opposition amongst wide sections of Kampaleans. A court order had to be obtained though to stop government from interfering with the building and when Otafire was moved from the ministry and a standalone ministry of tourism formed after the elections in February 2011, the plans initially took a back seat.
Pleas by the present tourism minister Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu, that the plans would only modernize the museum were squarely rejected when the committee reportedly instructed the permanent secretary in the ministry of trade to formally communicate their decision to the Solicitor General to ensure that no further action should be taken by government to interfere with the museum and the site.
One former member of the PAC had some time ago made his personal opinion clear when saying: and the moment that deal became public knowledge we suspected there could be another corrupt project brewing. The way Otafire pushed for it raised suspicions and when the public and groups protested loudly, it was clear something was not right.
The campaign Save the Uganda Museum gathered fresh pace a few weeks ago when a new campaign was launched to protect Ugandas heritage, monuments and historically important buildings from further destruction under the pretense of development, a key word often used when riding roughshod over wetlands, forests, protected areas and historical buildings representing cultural values for the Ugandan society.
One of the promoters of the campaign, preferring anonymity, at the time said to this correspondent: We will be using our Golden Jubilee of Independence to campaign for the protection of our cultural heritage. It is not just the museum itself, some years ago we lost Lugards Fort when it was first destroyed and then after protests moved from the original location. Kampala lost a lot of important buildings over the past 20 years. Traditional architecture of pre and post independence Uganda were razed to make way for high rise office buildings which look ugly and lack creative features. At least some of the old buildings must be preserved for posterity sake and to show future generations what Kampala looked like, what some of our up country towns looked like in the past. We need stronger protection for our heritage and we will promote this agenda on the back of the 50th anniversary of our independence.
Well, the PAC has just thrown their support behind the campaign to save the Uganda Museum and this may be the time to build a broader alliance in support of not just the protection of cultural and architectural marvels but also the increased protection for our wetlands, forests, lakes, rivers and protected areas. Watch this space.