On Sunday, September 20, the country woke up to the disturbing news of fire gutting Makerere University’s iconic building –the Main building (also known as the Ivory Tower). Since then, several dignitaries have visited the university; notably the Minister of Education and Sports, Ms Janet Museveni.
In her statement carried by the Daily Monitor, Ms. Museveni said: “For us who believe in God, we know that everything works out for our good. This is a chance for Makerere to be rebuilt, not just buildings but the culture, the morals of the people and everything that pertains to our prestigious university.”
We hope this statement will not be misinterpreted to mean constructing a totally new building that changes the face of the university. We call upon the university authority and government to restore the Ivory Tower to its original state because of its significance as a landmark building, not only for the university, but for Kampala City and the country at large.
The administrative building for East Africa’s oldest university (established 1922) is one of 44 documented properties as Kampala’s historic buildings. Constructed with funding from the Colonial Development Fund, the building, with its unique 20th Century British architecture, was designed to partly resemble the Senate Building at the University of London, to which Makerere College was then affiliated.
It was completed in 1941 under the leadership of Mr George C. Turner, the then Principal of Makerere College. Earlier in 1938, the Duke of Gloucester, representing His Majesty King George VI, had cut the first sod for the construction of the building.
The Makerere fire comes on the back of several controversial fires that have razed properties: Owino Market, Kasubi Tombs, the Budo fire, etc. In the case of Owino Market, the traders blamed some rich individuals interested in their land. And indeed, a few years down the road, this space is now dotted with shopping arcades.
According to The New Vision of January 8, Makerere University has lost much of its property to fraudsters. They include land in Kololo and on Sir Apollo Kaggwa Road (1.6 acres).
Even within the main campus, the article reported in April that the Buganda Land Board was yet to renew the lease for the land on which the Faculty of Law and the Makerere Institute of Social Research are located, demanding a swap with the university land in Makindye, which houses the birth place of the first Ugandan president Sir Edward Muteesa.
There have been suspicions over the Ivory Tower fire and we hope this time round, the Uganda Police Force will do due diligence and report to the public the cause of this disaster.
Uganda’s built heritage is under threat and will remain so if efforts are not made to protect and preserve it. In a rush to ‘modernise,’ many iconic buildings are fast disappearing, while surviving ones are dwarfed by newly constructed high rise structures. This means a lost connection with our past and abandoning the unique features that prevent our cities from becoming indistinguishable from each other.
In light of this, the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU), with support from the European Union and Embassy of Ireland, has documented and produced maps of historic buildings in Kampala, Entebbe, Jinja and Fort Portal. These maps and profiles of the buildings can also be found on a mobile App called “Uganda’s Built Heritage”. CCFU has also been actively involved in drafting of the Kampala Historic Buildings Ordinance, which is currently before Council.