The Observer (Kampala)

23 January 2013

Uganda: Museum Fight Goes to Court

Advocates of the conservation of the Uganda museum have sued government.

A group of civil society organisations led by Pro-Biodiversity Conservationist in Uganda (PROBICOU) want the government to state explicitly that it will not demolish the museum to construct a multi-storey East Africa trade centre as initially planned.

The Observer reported last year that the government had abandoned plans to construct the centre where the museum is located currently.

Aggrey Kibenge, the undersecretary in the ministry of Tourism, said then that the decision was made after the ministry of Trade, Tourism and Industry (MTTI) was split into two (Trade, Industry and Cooperatives; and Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities).

Since the project had been conceived by the ministry of Trade and yet it would have to be executed on a piece of land (Plot 5, Old Kira road) which belongs to the ministry of Tourism, Kibenge said, the project had become untenable. However, activists are not convinced that the government has given up on the plan because it has not formally pronounced itself on the matter.

The NGOs lodged their case at the Chief Magistrate's court in Mengo on September 14, 2012. Hearing is expected to start in due course. PROBICOU argues that government's refusal to release information is contrary to articles 41 and 50 of the constitution, besides breaching sections 2,5,6,37,41 &42 of the Access to Information Act, among other laws.

Through its lawyers, Pearl Advocates and Solicitors, PROBICU also accuses Amelia Kyambadde, the minister of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, of failing to compel technocrats at her ministry to release information concerning the project.

"The whole affair surrounding the construction of the East African Trade Centre has been kept a top secret and yet there is reasonable belief that government has not sufficiently addressed crucial archeological concerns, environmental risks, let alone the laws relating to the procurement of government services and works," reads part of an affidavit sworn by Paul Twebaze, the executive director of PROBICU.

Ellady Muyambi, the executive director of Historic Resources Conservation Initiatives (HRCI), one of the NGOs at the forefront of opposing the project, told The Observer yesterday that the struggle was far from over.

"We cannot give up the fight until government tells the people of Uganda that it has no plans of relocating the museum," Muyambi said.

Background:

The Uganda Museum was founded in 1908 and has exhibits and artifacts of traditional culture, archeology, history and science. It has various interesting sections strewn with artifacts that bring to life the different historical aspects of our society. One is also able to see how apes evolved into humans.

The story is told by the displayed pictures, as well as real tools and bones or skulls that make the history taught in schools seem real. In April 2011 when government plans became public, Merrick Posnansky who was curator of the museum between 1958 and 1962 wrote in The Independent, a Ugandan news magazine, that incorporating the museum in the trade centre, as proposed, would not work.

"I have seen museums restricted to floors of multi-storey buildings. They do not work. A museum needs different rooms for different exhibitions, two floors would restrict some movement," Posnansky wrote.

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