On Sunday, September 20, 2020, 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 Kataha 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
We hope that 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 Buddo 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, 2020, Makerere University has lost much of its property
to fraudsters in the different parts of the country. This includes land in Kololo and on Sir Apollo
Kaggwa road (1.6 acres). Even within the main campus, The New Vision article reported in April
2020 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 for the first Ugandan president Sir
There have been media report of unclear motives behind the fire at the Ivory Tower and we hope
that 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”, most iconic buildings are fast disappearing, whilst surviving
ones are dwarfed by newly constructed structures. This means a lost connection with our shared
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 engaged
in the process of drafting of the Kampala Historic Buildings Ordinance, which is currently before
Council. We call upon Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) to expedite its promulgation in
order to facilitate efforts to safeguard historic buildings in Kampala.