Save Watoto Building

Symbion Uganda Limited, acting on behalf of Watoto Church, has submitted a new architectural plan to Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), proposing the demolition of a historic building that houses Watoto Church Central, along Kampala road and replaced with what they have called a ‘modern’ building. The proposed 12-storeyed building will comprise of a 3-star hotel, 3,000-seater auditorium, shopping centre and youth centre.

If this is allowed to happen, Kampala will lose yet another significant building. In a rush to “modernise”, Uganda’s historic buildings, sites and monuments are under immense threat. Most iconic buildings are fast disappearing, whilst surviving ones are dwarfed by newly constructed buildings. This means a lost connection with our shared past, posing a risk of losing unique features that prevent our cities from becoming indistinguishable from each other.

Because of this, CCFU in 2015 collaborated with KCCA, Uganda National Museum, Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and Buganda Kingdom to document built-heritage in Kampala. This resulted in the production of a map of Kampala’s historical buildings and sites. In 2019, with the support of the European Union (EU), training was provided to photographers and researchers. Hence, an updated Kampala map (with 44 buildings and sites) and new maps for Jinja (12 buildings and sites) and Entebbe (with 14 buildings and sites) were produced.

Why Watoto should be preserved?

This building is one of the 44 buildings and sites in Kampala documented as historic buildings. You can find it on the mobile app, “Uganda’s Built Heritage”, which was designed by CCFU with support from EU, or in the recently published a hard-backed book, ‟Beyond the Reeds and Bricks –Historical Sites and Buildings in Kampala, Jinja and Entebbe”, containing beautiful photographs and interesting facts about Uganda’s built history. The book is currently available at Aristoc Bookshop, Kardamom & Koffee Restaurant in Kampala, at the Entebbe Airport Bookshop, and at CCFU offices.

Formerly known as Norman cinema, The Centre and now Watoto church, this building is so significant to our city, given its historical, social and architectural merits. It is designed in a unique modernist and post-art-deco architecture, the only one of its kind in Uganda. Built in the early 50s by Norman Godinho, a Goan Indian, it was the first large, lavish movie palace in Kampala, which became a prototype for all the others that were built in 60s. The building reflects how Ugandans spent their leisure time in the early 50s and 60s, an era that had no internet, no DVDs players, no computers nor mobile telephones to watch any entertainment. It had a bar and nightclub called Tabloid, which was later renamed Láquinta in the 1960s. Fallen veteran singer Elly Wamala in his single Ebinyumo Byaffe sings about Láquinta as one of those nightclubs that were for the well-to-do.

With the fall of Amin in 1979, the new management renamed the building “The Centre of Creative Arts”, which was commonly known as The Centre. This attracted artists such as Jimmy Katumba and his drama group The Ebonies, and singer Peterson Mutebi and his band The Tames, who made The Centre their home. The Centre also hosted the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) delegates’ conference in 1980 where Obote was elected unopposed as party president.

According to the 2012 Kampala Physical Development Plan, “a development permission is required for all new construction and development, earthworks for development purposes, demolition of or changes to historic structures (constructed prior to 1960) or addition or extension to pre-existing structures. In order to be granted Development Permission the development plans and PPDPs.”

The Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) together with its partners and lovers of built heritage, therefore, condemn in the strongest terms plans aimed at demolishing one of Kampala’s iconic buildings. We demand that given the above historical, social and architectural significance of the building, it needs to be preserved for the current and future generation.

Are historic buildings protected by the law?

Whether directly or indirectly, historic buildings are protected under the following provisions:

  1. The 1995 Constitution of Uganda, objective XXV stresses the need to preserve any property and heritage of public interest. “The State and citizens shall endeavor to preserve and protect and generally promote the culture of preservation of public property and Uganda’s heritage”
  2. The Historical Monuments Act, 1967 provides for the preservation, protection, and promotion of historical monuments and objects of archaeological, palaeontological, ethnographical and traditional interest. The Watoto church building is a monumental building that can be listed and protected under the Act.  Section 1 (1) which states that “The Minister may, by statutory instrument, declare any object of archaeological, palaeontological, ethnographical, traditional or historical interest to be a preserved object for the purposes of this Act” Section 8 of the Act also provides for the maintenance of the objects (including sites, places, fortification etc)
  3. The Physical Planning Act of 2010 emphasizes the need to preserve buildings of special architectural value or historic interest. Section 56 states that “Subject to the Historical Monuments Act Cap. 46 the Board may, after consultation with the Commissioner in charge of antiquities, serve the owner or occupier of a building which in the opinion of the Board is of special architectural value or historic interest, an order prohibiting the demolition, alteration or extension of that building”
  4. The Lease agreement between the Kampala District Land Board (KDLB) and the Watoto Church Management terms and conditions in part state that the Watoto Church should not alter, modify or demolish the said building without the prior consent of the KDLB.
  5. The 2012 Kampala Physical Development Plan provides for “A Development Permission is required for all new construction and development, earthworks for development purposes, demolition of or changes to historic structures (constructed prior to 1960) or addition or extension to pre-existing In order to be granted Development Permission the development plans and PPDPs.”

According to KCCA, the Kampala Physical Development Plan is a document that was shared to all architects within Kampala. It is therefore surprising that Symbion couldn’t bring this to the attention of their clients. Whereas the company claims that there is a “Symbion that is an integral part of the preservation of the eco-system that is about caring for the environment…one that utilizes the best in renewable materials that nature has to offer, one that innocently blends into the unspoilt landscape, preserving it while enhancing its beauty and utility”, it is surprising that their plan doesn’t reflect any mitigation measures aimed at preserving this historic building.

Our proposals

  1. The Management of Watoto Church should revitalize architectural uniqueness of the current building and integrate or blend it with the new proposed structure. Whereas the interior of the building can be modified to accommodate adaptive re-use of the building, the outside should be left intact to the extent possible.
  2. In the proposed redevelopment of site, the management of Watoto Church should apply the relevant principles of conservation management of historical or heritage properties, including safeguarding the authenticity and the integrity of the current Watoto church building and its environs
  3. The Department of Museums and Monuments should urgently list the Watoto Church as one of the important historical monuments in Uganda, reflecting the evolution of social life and performing arts in Uganda.
  4. KCCA should expedite the promulgation of an Ordinance to safeguard historical buildings in Kampala
  5. Relevant stakeholders such as KCCA, Uganda Museum, Uganda National Commission for UNESCO and Tourism agencies should combine efforts to safeguard tourist attractions such as Historical buildings in Kampala and other urban centres in Uganda.
  6. The heritage tourism potential of the Watoto church should be developed and exploited to provide income to the Church.

 About CCFU

CCFU is a local NGO promoting the recognition of the role of culture in development that responds to our national identity and diversity. Since its inception, the Foundation has been involved in the preservation of Uganda’s cultural heritage resources (both built and intangible) through different ways such as publicizing the importance of historical/heritage properties in Uganda, building the capacity of historic building owners or managers to maintain their properties and advocating for their safeguarding. To this effect, a map of Kampala’s Historical buildings and Sites and a publication profiling the important historical buildings in Kampala, Jinja, and Entebbe which include the Watoto Church building have been produced and launched in 2019 by the EU Had of Delegation in Uganda.