COMMENT: By Peter Nyanzi
National Theater – In many other countries, galleries, theaters, museums are supported as tourist attractions
Sections of the population and more so the artistes have been angered by reports that the government is planning to give away to investors part of the land on which the Uganda National Cultural Centre (National Theater) sits in the heart of Kampala City. They have rejected State Minister for Gender, Labour and Social Development Peace Mutuuzo’s explanation that the development was part of the government’s vision to achieve middle income status by 2020. Personally, I think there are six wrong things about the proposed plan.
- Placed in the wrong ministry (Gender, Labour and Social Development) instead of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities: In many other countries, facilities such as galleries, theaters and museums are important tourist attractions and are thus placed in the appropriate ministry to promote them as such. What the situation in Uganda shows is that these facilities are not getting the requisite support yet they have huge potential as tourist attractions. There’s no doubt that under the ministry of gender and social development, the UNCC gets meager support. For example, in 2015/2016, the ministry disbursed a miserable Shs 7 million (seven million only) for wage subvention to the UNCC, a clear sign that it is grossly marginalised.
Consequently, the facility is tempted to look elsewhere for funds yet it has all the potential to generate so much money internally. Worldwide, such facilities are cash cows. With proper planning and management, a facility such as the National Theater can be self-sustaining without any external support. This definitely points to inept management and lack of proper supervision and failure to market the facility properly. Also, and this is the most painful part, it points to the fact that the government does not look at culture as an important component of the country’s development agenda.
- Absence of a central unifying facility for the diverse cultures and traditions: The colonial framers of the UNCC Act envisaged a situation whereby there would be a need for a facility that would provide “a home to societies, groups and organisations that deal in art, culture and entertainment.” They knew that given the huge cultural diversity in Uganda, UNCC needed sufficient space in the heart of the city where everyone would have easy access. What the government and the board of trustees should be doing now is to allocate space to the numerous cultural institutions to set up facilities where they can showcase the various aspects of their culture. For example, where do you go in Kampala if you want to get cultural items such as food, dress, books, games, music etc for the various cultural groups? Now, if each of the 11 official cultural institutions were asked to raise money to put up a structure where each would get space to showcase the various aspects of its culture, the funds would be raised in a matter of months as the Buganda Kingdom’s Tofaali initiative has shown in the last few years.
- Unconstitutional: According to the Constitution of Uganda, “cultural and customary values, which are consistent with fundamental rights and freedoms, human dignity, democracy and with the Constitution may be developed and incorporated in aspects of Ugandan life.” National Objective XXV specifically refers to the “preservation of public property and heritage.” It says, “The State and citizens shall endeavour to preserve and protect and generally promote the culture of preservation of public property and Uganda’s heritage.” The plan to give away this public land goes right in the face of this objective. Additionally, the Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC), under which the Nommo Gallery and National Theater fall, is a statutory body that was established by the Uganda National Cultural Centre Act of 1959 – several years before Independence. Is it not a shame that the colonialists were so concerned about our cultural heritage and allocated land to institutions that preserve it while those mandated to take care of it are only desperate to give it away to so-called investors? Today, the objectives of “encouraging and developing cultural and artistic activities and providing a home to societies, groups and organisations that deal in art, culture and entertainment” are more urgent than ever before. What is urgently needed and what the government should be doing is to amend the UNCC Act in a bid to strengthen it and bring it in tandem with the current situation.
- Loss of employment to craft sellers and makers: There are hundreds of people who earn their livelihood by selling crafts and artifacts at the National Theater. Many others from various parts of the country earn a living frommaking those crafts. Telling those people to leave would make them lose their only source of livelihood.
- Wrong place for parking infrastructure: Reports indicate that the investors are keen to set up a high-rise parking lot – a project that one would imagine is not in line with KCCA’s master plan for the city. In the next few years, KCCA wants to get private vehicles out of the central business district. This means that locating a huge parking lot in such a busy area of the city is bound to cause more congestion. The proper place for such a facility would be way outside the CBD where people will be able to leave their vehicles and be picked or dropped by buses/trains.
- Not consulting all stakeholders: What the public outcry shows is that sufficient consultations were not made with the key stakeholders. That is bound to create resistance. The UNCCmanagers and the government must know that they are trustees of public property, which they are mandated to keep for the present and future generations.
The author is a journalist. Contact: pnyanzi@ independent.co.ug