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Don't Delete our Heritage, Gov't Tells Watoto Church

In October 2019, 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.
Watoto Church on Kampala Road shining bright through the night ahead of Christmas.


The National Physical Planning Board has asked Watoto Church limited to follow guidance from Kampala Capital City Authority-KCCA to preserve some historical aspects of the church formerly known as Norman Gordhino Cinema.

In October 2019, 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 the 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 functions space, retail space and a 3-star hotel with all functions for business and recreation.

However, KCCA's physical Planning committee declined to issue a permit for redevelopment of the land demanding that Watoto submit a plan on how they would preserve some historical aspects of the structure.

This prompted Watoto, in March this year, to petition the National Physical Planning Board appealing against KCCA's decision.

Watoto has always held that they have a right to redevelop their private property, that Watoto is not listed as a historical structure for government to have a say over its continued existence.

The Historical Monuments Act 1968 gives the Minister powers to publish lists of the preserved or protected objects. Watoto isn't one of those so far preserved and or protected.

But KCCA insists that although the property isn't listed as per the Act, it is listed under the Kampala Physical Planning Development Plan which considers structures set up in the 1960s as historical.

Now, the Ag. Executive Director of the National Physical Planning Board David Wamai says the Kampala Physical Planning Development Plan is a legal document and that a mention that any structure of 1960s should be reserved for historical reasons needed to be adhered to.

Wamai has asked KCCA to provide details of what they think should be retained of the Church. Also that a multi-sectoral and multi-professional team be constituted by KCCA and Watoto to oversee that heritage aspects of the existing structure is not compromised.

"Watoto Church Ltd should resubmit the development requests and KCCA should strictly follow the due process including guidance from the Ministry of Tourism to consider the request," writes Wamai in a letter addressed to Watoto Church Associate Team Leader Julius Rwotlonyo and copied to KCCA among other government agencies.

But Rwotlonyo has told URN that Watoto is a private property and someone can't come and dictate what the owner does with it. One can suggest, but they can't expect, said Rwotlonyo before adding that while KCCA talks about the physical Planning Development Plan, there is a law on right to property. 

Rwotlonyo says the documents contradict each other and that's why they need to continue talking to establish a win-win situation.

"There is a lot of things behind it. Places that have been gazetted are known,"  said Rwotlonyo in a phone interview with the URN. "And if you want to gazette new places there's a whole process. So, everyone knows that you can't just jump on somebody and do, so that is why we are having a conversation. It was all new information for us and we are saying, let us have a conversation."

Late last year, Rose Mwanja Nkaale, the Commissioner Museum and Monuments at the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities told URN that Watoto was not a listed building under historical Structures.

She however noted that the building shouldn’t be demolished because of its historical heritage. She concurred with KCCA that Watoto needs to redevelop the premises but at the same time maintain its cultural heritage.

Nkaale says government is planning to provide incentives to people running such historical sites so they can preserve them rather than redevelop them while completely erasing its history. 

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 so famous as a movie area and performance hall that it was referred to in a classic song titled “Ebinyumo” by the legendary artiste Elly Wamala. 

It was renamed “The Center of Creative Arts” alias The Center” following the overthrow of President Idi Amin Dada. It attracted famous artistes of the eighties such as Jimmy Katumba & The Ebonies as well as Peterson Mutebi & 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. 

The plan to redevelop Watoto was brought to the limelight in 2020 by Conservationists who campaigned against its demolition saying the move would undermine Uganda's Historical Heritage. They found a campaign dubbed “Don’t Demolish Our Heritage” and #SaveWatotoChurch”.

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