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.
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 1940s 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 website 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.
A December 12, 2019,
letter signed by the then Acting Deputy Director
of Physical Planning Directorate, Mark Bwambale show 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.
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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
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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
Muyambi says Uganda shouldn't look at the economic value
while ignoring the cultural and historical value of such sites.
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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.
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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