12 May 2017

Uganda: Seven Years Later, Kasubi Tombs Reconstruction Stalls

Kampala — Reconstruction of Mengo Kingdom's Kasubi cultural tombs (masiro) has slowed down, seven years after they burnt in a strange fire, Daily Monitor has established.

Kasubi tombs are a cultural site that house Buganda's heritage and because of their importance, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in 2001, listed them among the world heritage sites to be redeveloped. Unesco pledged Shs2 billion contribution towards the reconstruction of the tombs.

Then Buganda Kingdom information minister and now (prime minister) Katikkiro, Mr Charles Peter Mayiga, guaranteed that the reconstruction of the tombs would last at least six months and the project was estimated to cost about Shs10 billion. However, this was not to be.

There is growing discomfort in the hearts of the admirers of the site due to the slow reconstruction pace.

The site, located four kilometres west of the city, sits on 64 hectares.

Before the tombs were torched, they would attract more than 30,000 tourists annually, who flocked in from various parts of the world to have a view of Buganda's cultural heritage.

When Mr Mayiga was named the Katikkiro in May 2013, he launched and spearheaded Ettoffaali project (fundraising project aimed at raising money for the tombs' reconstruction).

The project received positive response from Kabaka's subjects and well-wishers, who contributed generously.

Between October 20 and October 30, 2013, Mr Mayiga pitched camp at Kasubi overseeing the works on the project. He foresaw the construction of a perimeter wall in November the same year.

Billions of Shillings were raised from within and around the globe, including contributions from the government of Japan, Unesco and the central government.

At least Shs3b was raised from Buganda to reconstruct the site, while government and foreign donors also contributed Shs5b. President Museveni contributed Shs2b.

The anticipated speed slowly faded and in late 2015, Mr Mayiga instead announced new projects such completion of Masengere Plaza, setting up a television station - the Buganda Broadcasting Service (BBS tv), the redeveloping of Kabaka's lake and Mengo Palace. Masengere House was successfully completed and the BBS Terefayina put on air.

Mr Mayiga severally blamed the delay on radical kingdom traditionalists for frustrating the reconstruction of the royal tombs.

"I am passionate about safeguarding our norms and culture, but I don't want anyone to hide under this to fail our efforts to reconstruct the tombs," he said in 2013 during a tour of the tombs with his cabinet.

Infighting and failure to account for the collected cash are partly blamed for the delayed completion of the tombs, according to a highly-placed source at Kasubi tombs.

"We think there is misappropriation of funds. When we talked about this, they decided to sideline us and they told the Kabaka we were bad people. As far as I know, money collected in the Ettofaali drive has never been put to proper use," the source says.

The kingdom information minister and spokesperson, Mr Noah Kiyimba, however, refutes the statements, describing them as unfounded.

He says most of the technical work by engineers has already been completed and what remains is the roofing of the main cultural house, Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, [mausoleum], where the remains of four Buganda kings were buried.

"Specific clans undertake special duties during the roofing of the mausoleum. We have secured them," Mr Kiyimba said in an interview with this newspaper recently.

Nnalinya Beatrice Namikka, the caretaker of the tombs, declined to comment on the progress of the project.

In January 2014, Ms Namikka expressed concern over the slow pace of construction works, saying the project had taken longer than anticipated and that this had stimulated anxiety.

While inspecting construction works during the same period, Mr Mayiga also expressed displeasure, saying: "Sometimes when I reach here, I feel saddened by the slow pace of engineers. I hope their delay is intended to deliver quality work and we shall wait," he said.

Omega Construction Company Ltd was awarded the Shs2.3b contract to erect the a perimeter wall around the 64acres, installing security gadgets, among others things.

The roofing was sub-contracted to the Engo (Leopard) and Engeye (white monkey) clans, which are culturally charged with thatching and decorating royal palaces and tombs.

Mr Pius Mugalasi, one of the directors of Omega Construction Company Limited, declined to speak about the project.

"It is only the office of the Katikkiro that is authorised to comment about the tomb's reconstruction," he said by telephone on last Monday.

Last Monday, Mr Mayiga reported to the Lukiiko (kingdom parliament) that works on Kasubi tombs were on-going, with two thirds of the ceiling done.

"It is a very hectic job, but we are moving and I will take journalists there soon," Mayiga told the Lukiiko.

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