UN to rebuild royal tombs
Publish Date: Mar 18, 2010
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By Josephine Maseruka
and Brian Mayanja

EXPERTS from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) will soon arrive in the country to help the Government re-build the Kasubi royal tombs.

Irina Bokova, the director general, said in a statement: “I would like to assure the people of Uganda that UNESCO stands ready to mobilise its experts to help local authorities assess the damage and plan remedial action at Kasubi.”

“The tombs of Buganda kings at Kasubi is a world heritage site of great cultural and spiritual significance. The destruction of this site is a tragic loss for the whole world.”

The grass-thatched mausoleum housing the remains of four kings was gutted by fire on Tuesday night. It was built in 1882 by Kabaka Muteesa I. UNESCO listed the tombs as a world heritage site in 2001.

“We hope to be in Uganda soon. A mission is under preparation and coordinating with Ugandan authorities. Technically, the traditional materials and conservation practices which exist until today and have been kept alive will allow such restoration,” said Nada Al Hassan, the programme specialist on Africa at the World Heritage Centre.

Nada added yesterday that UNESCO had over the years contributed $73,850 (about sh154m) to refurbish the shrine, where king Muteesa I, Mwanga Ssamula, Daudi Chwa and Muteesa II are buried.

Bakova said the tombs were recognised as a masterpiece of human creativity, bearing eloquent witness to the living cultural traditions of the Baganda people, Uganda’s largest ethnic group.

The site has been an important centre of religious activity for the Baganda for about 130 years.

In 2005, UNESCO funded a research on the conservation of thatched roofs after realising that the tomb’s roof, which used to last for 25 years, was rotting faster. It also funded the restoration of a smaller grass-thatched house, where royal drums are kept.

Officials on the Mengo technical team yesterday confirmed that they were coordinating with the UNESCO experts.
By press time, construction of a reed fence around other royal graves outside the mausoleum had started. An orange tarpaulin was used to seal off the ruins.

Mengo’s information minister Peter Mayiga said a cabinet meeting had ordered the remaining regalia and the remains of the kings be protected. Sources said much of the regalia was not destroyed.

It included spears and the sacred umbilical codes of the late kings, which are preserved in decorated beads.

The spears were saved by rescuers but returned soon after the inferno, the caretaker of the tombs, Nalinnya Beatrice Namikka, said.

Meanwhile, the Minister of State for Culture, Gabriel Opio, declined to comment on the shooting during the riots at Kasubi, saying the Ministry of Internal Affairs would handle it.

“I was there during the shooting but I am not the commander. We would like to get to the crux of what caused the fire, the shooting, the killing and subsequent mood,” Opio said.

A Mengo cabinet meeting chaired by premier JB Walusimbi yesterday selected committees to handle the reconstruction and draw a programme for the week-long mourning which starts on Monday.
The main activities will be at the tombs. Prayers will be held on Friday.

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