Kampala now mapping its historical buildings

Friday January 29 2016

The Uganda Railway Station was built in 1940. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI

Both the Chwa building and Muteesa I dormitory at Mengo Primary School in Kampala have cracked walls, crumbling plaster and rough old timber, doors and paint, and verandas damaged by rainwater.

The lower end of the dormitory has been reinforced with stones to support the walls. “The gutters are rusting; the original timber and doors are old and need replacing, which is going to be our next project,” headteacher Festus Kirumira said.

The original timber and iron sheets on the Chwa building are still strong, but the soft ceiling boards need to be replaced. 

Kirumira said termites are destroying the timber and soft board on the walls. “We fumigate to control the termites.

“Our biggest challenge is lack of funds to maintain these historic buildings. The best we can do is repaint, but we need to work on the verandas and general maintenance. We should appreciate such buildings, technology and architecture of the people who lived before us. We should thank Kabaka Chwa for his initiative to promote education in the Buganda Kingdom,” he added.

Christian missionaries established Kayanja Elementary School (later renamed Mengo Primary School) in 1895. The Chwa building was the first formal school building in Uganda, financed by the Buganda Kingdom and donations from the British. The muvule tree that Kabaka Chwa planted at the school’s inauguration still stands in the yard.


The school’s buildings are among 51 sites in Kampala that were constructed before 1969, reflecting Uganda’s socio-cultural, religious, political and economic history, which have been identified by the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda, in partnership with the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), the Buganda Heritage and Tourism Board, the Uganda National Museum and the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) for preservation.

Heritage preservation efforts in Uganda have some challenges, the deputy commissioner for tourism development in the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Rosemary Kobutagi said.

“In Uganda, rapid population growth causes intense demand for space and resources for development. This, coupled with a lack of awareness of the significance of cultural and historical assets, places buildings and monuments at risk of being modified or demolished,” she added.

A map of the historical sites was launched on November 19, 2015 by the chair of UTB, James Tumusiime; the map includes photo documentation of these buildings and highlights their architectural merit, aesthetic quality, and unique design.

“They are our history, they are our culture, they tell the story, they tell where we’ve been, they tell where we came from. But there is no real effort to preserve them,” KCCA executive director Jennifer Musisi said.

“Unfortunately, our laws are not very strong. In some jurisdictions, you can change the inside as much you want, but you cannot touch the exterior. So you have all these buildings that are like facades — very old, historical, well-preserved, but the inside has been remodelled to suit the needs of the current generation,” Musisi said.

“We need to strengthen our laws; we need to increase awareness so that as you walk into a building or down a street you will be able to identify parts of our history,” she added.

Speaking at the launch, Irish ambassador Donal Cronin said: “My own capital, Dublin city, has many wonderful historical buildings and areas. Like Kampala, it has been shaped by its colonial past. It was not until the 1970s or so that Ireland began opening up to the world and modernising.”

Musisi said KCCA has started guided tours of Kampala and identified historical buildings where the buses will stop.

The historical buildings include St Mary’s Cathedral Lubaga constructed by the White Fathers between 1914 and 1925, following the 1888 religious wars. The Romanesque cathedral contains the remains of Archbishop Kiwanuka, Uganda’s first native archbishop. Images of the 22 Catholic martyrs are displayed in the stained glass windows.

The Kasubi Muteesa I Royal Mosque built in 1856 was the first mosque in Uganda, originally built with earth and bamboo, until completely reconstructed in 1967.

The Makerere main building was constructed from 1939 to 1942. It is the administrative building for East Africa’s oldest university (established in 1922). Builtwith funding from the Colonial Development Fund, the building was designed to resemble the Senate at the University of London, to which Makerere College was then affiliated.

The monuments include the World Wars’ Memorial Monument (1945). It is Kampala’s oldest monument, built by the Protectorate Government in memory of Ugandans who died during the two World Wars.

The Independence Monument was built in 1962 by Gregory Magoba, one of Uganda’s first professional sculptors.