Rebuilding Buganda’s mausoleum

Saturday August 13 2011

Rebuilding Buganda’s mausoleum


By Sarah Tumwebaze

Kasubi tombs were enlisted as a world heritage site in 2001. This was because of their significance as a heritage site to not only Uganda but the world. However, in July 2010, they were added on the list of those heritage sites in danger.

This resulted from the incidence in which the tombs were gutted by fire at 8p.m on March 16 2010. These tombs that were turned into a mausoleum for Muteesa I when he died in 1884 and the subsequent Kabakas: Mwanga II, Daudi Chwa II, and Edward Muteesa II, were originally constructed in 1882 as a palace for Kabaka Muteesa I.

The structure of the great hut, Muzibu-Azaala-Mpanga represented one of the most remarkable buildings using vegetal materials in the entire region of Sub-Saharan Africa. The fact that four great Kings were buried in the same mausoleum made Kasubi Tombs a unique site and thus a tourist attraction. According to a report on the reconstruction strategy of the tombs by Buganda Kingdom, Government of Uganda and The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), “the whole roof collapsed, many objects that were kept within were destroyed. However, some objects were saved though some of them were severely damaged. These have been kept in a safe place at the Site.”

The report indicates that despite the destruction by fire, the Site can be reconstructed and the Outstanding Universal Value can be restored because the materials and the traditional practices, knowledge and skills are available. It’s been one year and approximately five months since Muzibu-Azaala-Mpanga was gutted by fire. The following day after the gruesome incident, the Government constituted a Cabinet Committee of Kasubi Tombs. A National Technical Committee on the Reconstruction of Kasubi was also put in place in June 2010.

By March 2011, Shs2,600b had been collected by the committee to ensure that emergency activities in preparation of the reconstruction of the tombs.

According to Mr Daniel Kaweesi, the Principal Programme Officer in charge of culture and communication at UNESCO, UNESCO contributed Shs200m towards the reconstruction of the tombs. He explains that the committee has now started implementing the emergency activities in preparation for the reconstruction of the tombs.

“The money that was collected has been used to start the emergency reconstruction of tombs. These include creating awareness of the reconstruction, putting in place an exhibition at the tombs so that people still go to the site, building a reed wall fence around the tombs, to inventory the artifacts that were in the tombs, the damage inflicted on the artifacts and to put in place an emergency fire fighting system so that as the reconstruction process goes on, no fire incidences happen again.”

According to the reconstruction strategy, the tombs have been reconstructed twice. “The design for the Kasubi Palace which later became Kasubi Tombs has been changed on several occasions. The scale of the 1882 model was reduced in 1905, on account of the non- sustainability of its huge proportions, with the diametre reduced to 31m. The 1905 model featured an interior space dominated by a large quantity of wooden columns that held up the steep roof which was approximately 16m high. Further remodelling of the building took place in 1938, also introducing non-vernacular structural materials.”

These two models were considered in selecting the reconstruction option. The final decision for the reconstruction is based on the 1938 model though with some changes in the roof.

Mr Kaweesi says that the reconstruction will be complete by 2012 and Mr Kyagulanyi Ntwatwa, a Chartered Quantity Survey and Building Economist, says that it is expected to cost approximately Shs3.2b ($1,154,625).

The most recent contribution is from the government through the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry. It has pledged to offer Shs2b towards the reconstruction of the tombs.

On August 22, representatives from the government of Japan will be in Uganda to discuss with the government and also agree on what their government will offer towards the reconstruction of the tombs.