Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Conservationists are calling for the preservation of Watoto church building, a cultural heritage as plans for its redevelopment take shape. The conservatives include Cross-Cultural Heritage Center (CCFU), Historic Resource Conservation Initiatives (HRCI) and Perfect Events Ltd.
They want the management of Watoto church to develop the area without demolishing the historic building. Watoto church building was established in the 1940’s by Indian businessman Norman Godinho and housed Norman, the first Cinema hall in Kampala.
It was famous as a movie area and performance hall that it was referred to in a song titled “Ebinyumo” by the legendary Kadongo Kamu artist Elly Wamala. It was renamed “The Center of Creative Arts” alias The Center” following the overthrow of President Idi Amin Dada. It attracted famous artists such as Jimmy Katumba and his drama group The Ebonies, Singer Peterson Mutebi and his band The Thames.
It would also later host the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) delegates conference of 1980 that saw Dr. Milton Obote elected unopposed as the party president. In October last year, Watoto Church Limited through Symbion Uganda Limited, a multinational architectural firm submitted an architectural design to the Directorate of Physical Planning at Kampala Capital City Authority-KCCA for redevelopment of Watoto Church.
Information obtained from the website of Symbion shows that the new building will comprise a conference center to sit over 2100 people, ample institutional space, youth related function’s space, retail space and a fully dealt in 50 key, 3-star hotel with all functions for business and recreation.
In a letter signed by the then Acting Deputy Director of Physical Planning Directorate, Mark Bwambale shows that the redevelopment involves demolition of the current structure. This has prompted Emily Drani, the Executive Director Cross-Cultural Heritage Center to run a campaign dubbed “Don’t Demolish Our Heritage” and #SaveWatotoChurch”.
She asks Watoto Church to review its development plan to preserve the architectural uniqueness of the site. Drani says the interior of the building can be modified to accommodate adaptive re-use of the building but the outside should be left intact and that any new structure can be accommodated elsewhere on the site.
Drani says government should list the building as one of the important historical monuments in Uganda reflecting the evolution of social life and performing arts. She says the building has cultural heritage significance and tells part of Uganda’s political history and as such should be developed as one of the unique features of Kampala that can even attract tourists.
Ellady Muyambi, the Executive Director Historic Resource Conservation Initiatives expressed disappointment in the seeming laxity by government to protect Uganda’s cultural heritage.
He says the first storied building in Buganda that was at Kubbiri on Bombo road was demolished, adding that National Theater was only saved by continued criticism from conservatives and artists.
Muyambi says Uganda shouldn’t look at the economic value while ignoring the cultural and historical value of such sites.
Moses Serugo, an Arts journalist has a sentimental attachment to the premises. Having studied at Buganda Road Primary School formally known as Norman Godinho Junior School, he would visit the then Center for Creative Initiative Arts for music, dance and drama events. Serugo remembers the flipping chairs and big screen that were then unique to the cinema and calls for its preservation.
Rose Mwanja Nkaale, the Commissioner Museum and Monuments at the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, also says the building shouldn’t be demolished. She says they are engaging Watoto to see how they can redevelop the premises but at the same time maintain its cultural heritage.
Nkaale also says government is planning to provide incentives to people running such historical sites such that they can preserve them rather than redevelop them while completely erasing its history. Watoto church had not yet responded to our request for a comment by the time of publishing this story.