By Ellady Muyambi
Proposed construct of mini-airport in the Kabaka’s Mengo palace threatens historical treasures
I am compelled to write this article after reading the New Vision newspaper article of Aug. 11 about the proposed construction of a mini-airport at the Kabaka’s palace grounds at Lubiri, Mengo in Kampala.
The article said Dr Wanceslaus Rama Makuza, the Managing Director of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is in advanced talks with the Kabaka of Buganda, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, in order to pay billions to the kingdom to be allowed to develop the Mengo Palace into an airport. The move is expected to help investors beat the traffic jam from Entebbe by flying directly to Kampala.
The kabaka’s palace or Mengo Palace and or “Olubiri” as it is commonly known in Luganda is the official residence for the ruling King of Buganda which was constructed by Ssekabaka Mwanga II in 1885.
When he took over the throne in 1884 at the age of 18, Ssekabaka Mwanga II first put his palace at Masaja. While at Masaja, he had always admired Nkaawo hill on which members of the Nvubu clan kept their grinding stones (Emmengo) which were used to grind herbal medicine.
He, therefore, decided to construct his palace at Nkaawo hill and the grinding stones were shifted. It is from these grinding stones (Emmengo) that the name “Mengo” was adopted. The Palace became Mengo Palace and Nkaawo hill changed to Mengo hill.
Buganda kingdom has other palaces, such as the Bamunanika palace in Bulemeezi, Nkoni palace in Buddu which were built by King Sir Edward Muteesa II, Salama palace and Kikeera palace which were built by Sir Daudi Chwa, Banda and Kireka Palaces which were built by Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II.
But Mengo palace is the capital of Buganda Kingdom and it is hereditary. All the official functions of the Kingdom are performed at Mengo palace. This palace also houses the Kabaka`s official house called the Twekobe.
The Palace is constructed on a very wide area of about four square miles inside a vast walled enclosure (six-foot tall brick fence) in order to accommodate many houses and a large number of people.
It commands access on all the major roads to all parts of the Kingdom. The Mengo Palace is extremely important in the history of Buganda and Uganda in the sense that it is exactly the place where the Buganda Agreement of 1900 was signed between the British and the Kabaka of Buganda.
As a person who loves heritage, I strongly advice the Kabaka and the entire Baganda population to resist any attempts to construct an airport at the Kabaka’s palace at Mengo. Although some people view the Mengo palace as a waste of prime land in the middle of the city, I am of the view that, the palace land should be developed for cultural purposes but not as a money making enterprise. There are other spaces where the CAA can construct their mini-airport. For instance, why don’t they utilise Kololo Air Strip? They can as well relocate some slum areas such as Bwaise if they indeed, have the money.
It is only in Uganda where people and their leaders have no respect for heritage. Mengo palace land should not only be looked at for economic values. It has other values for instance, cultural and intrinsic values. It is the only place where the people of Buganda can freely assemble and appreciate Buganda’s culture. Putting an airport at this Palace will limit this freedom and as such, detach the people of Buganda from their heritage.
The Writer is the Executive Director for Historic Resources Conservation Initiatives (HRCI) Email: [email protected] and Tel: +256 (0) 712 213 888