Fund efforts to preserve our museums-players say

Children hold Shs1,000  currency note during their visit to C.N. Kikonyogo Money Museum at Bank of Uganda. PHOTO/COURTESY

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Stakeholders say museums struggle to attract local tourists because they have meagre resources to steer promotion and communication. They want government to support them with resources to document and preserve historic buildings across the country and culture through publications. 

Diana Ayiro, a customer care agent working with one of the telecommunication companies, has attended numerous events and festivals hosted in the Museum gardens this year, albeit she has never set foot inside the exhibit area.

 “I only visited to see the prestigious BET Award that Eddie Musuuza, aka, Eddy Kenzo, a Uganda artiste, who handed over his award to be kept in the museum in 2018. Otherwise, I do not know why I do not often step into the museum,” Ayiro says.

It is public knowledge that the Uganda Museum situated on Kitante Hill on Kira road in Kampala, is the only museum known by the majority of residents of the Greater Kampala Metropolitan area. 

Yet, many Ugandans born and bred in and around the capital, have never bothered to explore the exhibits of traditional culture, archaeology, history, science, and natural history that have been preserved in the landmark, whose history can be traced to 1908.

Nnabagereka during her visit to the Ssemagulu Museum.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities (MTWA), Uganda was the first to develop Museums and Monuments or cultural heritage sites in East Africa. At the moment, the Pearl of Africa has the lowest number of museums and heritage sites compared to Kenya and Tanzania.

Struggle to attract local tourists

Kenya boasts eight regional museums, while Tanzania has 10 regional museums and eight cultural heritage sites listed on the World Heritage List. Uganda has one developed National Museum and two regional museums, which do not meet international standards.

John Ssempebwa, proprietor and lead curator at Ssemagulu Museum, says museums struggle to attract a local tourists because they have meager budgets for promotion and communication.

“An average Ugandan tourist is looking for an experience characterised by multi-sensory learning. Rather than listen to legends or stories, they want to engage in backcloth and iron making, which is participatory,” he explains.

Sempebwa adds: “For instance, after explaining to them about our local dances, I play the music and we go through Bakisimba dances.” He is also quick to note that marketing tactics of museums seem to be generic. Over the past few years, he has learnt to segment the market for his Mutundwe-based museum. “It is costly for me to host walk-ins. I, therefore, primarily focus on schools, corporate groups and clubs. On the Ugandan calendar, my low season is the first and third term. The second term is my peak,” he adds.

In a bid to preserve and present the diversity of Uganda’s cultural heritage by providing spaces for accessing, enjoying, and expressing Uganda’s diverse cultures, Uganda Community Museums Association (UCOMA) was established in 2010. 

A visitor admires Uganda’s old currency at the C.N. Kikonyogo Money Museum. PHOTO/COURTESY

Community, institutional museums

Kitaulwa Abraham, the chairperson of UCOMA and manager Kigulu Museum in Iganga District, says community museums are initiatives of individuals or groups of people, who are passionate about documenting and preserving their culture.

He says Uganda has 36 registered community museums. He notes that besides the popular Uganda museum, there are community, private and institutional museums spread across the country.

He cites examples of institutional museums such as the C.N. Kikonyongo Money Museum operated by the Bank of Uganda, Uganda Revenue Authority Museum, and Parliament Museum.

The community museums on the other hand include Mt Elgon History and Cultural Museum, Ik House of Memory, Ham Mukasa Museum, and Uganda Martyrs’ University Museum, whereas the Ssemagulu museum is an ideal example of a private museum.

  “Private museums are profit-oriented, whereas community museums are driven by the purpose to preserve our heritage,” explains Kitaulwa.  The International Council of Museums (ICOM) describes a museum as a non-profit making, permanent institution in the service of society and of its development.

It is open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates, and exhibits, for purposes of study, education, and enjoyment, material evidence of people and their environment. 

At the ICOM 2019 conference in Kyoto, there was a heated debate on the definition, which pushed ICOM to propose a new museum definition. Early this month, ICOM published two alternative proposals for its updated definition of a museum. The chairs of the ICOM committees are currently voting in a poll, following an 18-month global consultation.

UCOMA supported by the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) plays an advocacy role and enforces quality standards. UCOMA chair says at the moment, 16 members of UCOMA are undertaking different projects.

Five of them are undertaking a UNSECO-sponsored project to promote the intangible heritage. Uganda has six inscribed intangible cultural elements; skill of backcloth making among the Baganda, Bigwala music and dance of the Busoga, the male child cleansing of the Langi, the Ma’di Bowl Lyre music and dance, Empaako naming ceremony of the Bunyoro and Koogere Oral tradition in Tooro.

“These were inscribed by UNESCO. Through UCOMA, UNESCO funds museums to promote the works of the intangible heritage,” he explains.

Simon Musasizi, the Heritage Trust programme manager at CCFU, acknowledges the role of museums in national development. CCFU is working closely with UCOMA to spearhead heritage education.

“Heritage clubs have been established in 150 secondary schools in Uganda coordinated by UCOMA. Heritage studies have been incorporated in primary schools, where pupils have to visit a heritage site for studies and earn marks for that. This encourages people from childhood to visit museums. We need to begin to nurture interests from a young age,” Musasizi adds.

He reveals that through their partnerships, a Bachelor of Archaeology and Heritage has been introduced in four Ugandan universities. “Kyambogo University has an enrolment of 15 students in this inaugural academic year, Islamic University in Uganda (UIU) in Mbale, Kabale and Nkozi University are yet to receive students,” he explains.  

For tourism to remain competitive and one of the fastest-growing sectors in Uganda, concerted efforts from all private, non-government, and government parties are required in equal measure.

Elders display the Bigwala music instrument for Busoga Royal Music.   PHOTO/UCOMA

Need for resources

Musasizi appeals to government to support the museums.  “For a country to have one national museum is absurd. Since they are not spread across the country, the idea of establishing community museums fills the gaps. But government needs to support them with the necessary resources,” he says.

 Another critical thing that Musasizi highlights, is the need for a law to preserve the historical buildings in Kampala. “This ordinance will give incentives to property owners to safe guard their buildings because of the strenuous licenses and taxes. It should also promote zoning for heritage purposes,” he adds.

Musasizi argues that CCFU and its partners are advocating for the revision of the amendment of the 1967 Historical Monument Bill. In 2020, UCOMA petitioned the then Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, to expedite the amendment of the 1967, which he says is outdated.

 One of the suggestions put forward by the chairperson Kitaulwa was that “The 1967 Act is outdated and keeps referring to only the Uganda Museum. We are not under the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities neither are we under the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development,” he adds.

 Musasizi explains that it is baby steps to have the intangible and tangible elements under one roof. “We cannot disintegrate the two. It is the intangible story that attracts a tourist to a tangible museum,” he adds.

Developing countries make every effort to support dynamic heritage sites of regional development attracting cultural tourism and preserving tangible and cultural heritage.

Musasizi says, CCFU has documented historic buildings in Kampala, Jinja, Entebbe and Fort Portal, which are already on their App. CCFU is now in Mbale, where it is documenting North Road Primary School built in 1932, the first administrative building in Mbale at the time when Bugisu and Bukedi was one district under Semei Kakungulu.”

 He adds that 44 buildings have been documented in Kampala including the Ham Mukasa house in Mengo and the first council hall preserved by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).

A costly venture

Meanwhile, the preservation of cultural heritage sites is costly and needs support from the government and other cultural heritage funding organisations. UCOMA chairperson Abraham Kitaulwa implores the government to support their efforts in documenting culture through publications. “We are struggling to document our unrecognised culture and resources which are a tourist attraction. Government should at least contribute Shs500 million to enable us to compile our culture and disseminate it to the public,” he says.

 During the vintage drive dubbed Vintage on the Wheels to mark the International Museum Day 2022, the Vintage car owners petitioned the Speaker of Parliament to stop Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) from taking their big six digit number plates in exchange for the newer plates.

“Our cars lose their identity. Imagine a 1958 car with the UBK series. It is disheartening that URA refused to include the big number plates in their system,” lamented Mackay Mwebingwa, a Vintage car owner. Museum in the offing

Racheal Nansubuga Kakungulu, the great-grand daughter of Ugandan statesman Semei Kakungulu is spearheading the establishment of his museum in Mbale.  “We want to preserve artifacts of Semei Kakungulu and African civilisation for Geography and History tours. The museum will have a library and recreational gardens,” she says.

 Nansubuga says Kakungulu’s diaries, paintings and artifacts of African heritage such as spears, drums and books have attracted researchers and leisure tourists.

Government’s position

At the launch of the International Museum Day (IMD) 2022 held at the Media Centre, Tom Butime, the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities echoed government’s efforts to promote the hidden potential of museums. He said there are plans to place to take museums closer and equip regional museums with artifacts.