The Government of Uganda returned the Kasubi Tombs Site and four other traditional and historical sites to Buganda Kingdom on the 28th January, 1997. They were handled over to the third Deputy Katikkiro of Buganda, Sheikh Ali Kulumba by the second Deputy Prime Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Brig, Moses Ali in accordance with The Traditional Rulers (Restitution of Assets and Properties) Statute, 8, 1993.
Kasubi Tombs Site is a place of tangible and intangible valves of beliefs, spiritually, continuity, convergence, pinnacle and identity to Buganda. The cultural and architectural sides complement each other i.e. they are sides of the same coin. In that way the reconstructed of a living tradition hence reflecting the spirit in which they were placed on the word list of cultural heritage.
It is troubling therefore that 5 years on and counting since reconstruction started, the spiritually of the Kasubi Tombs has yet to be addressed, in fact program as set by UNESCO has party been followed in those five years (see below). There appears to be uncoordinated approach to the rebuilding of the Kasubi Tombs. And it would appear that what is being reconstructed does not necessarily follow what UNESCO agreed to enjoy. Emphasis thus far has been laid on architecture which is not necessarily in conformity with criteria agreed by UNESCO when the Kasubi Tombs were recognized as a world heritage site.
As fate would have it, the Royal Tombs at Kasubi were gutted by a destructive fire on 16th March 2010, turning the main building inti ashes. Despite everything, the Baganda were resolved to rebuild the site because it represents more than a historical site. Indeed Baganda artisans and clansmen whose forefathers had taken part in building the site in 1911 and 1938 offered their service for free while others trekked in with building material as used in the original building as their contribution to rebuilding the site.
The stated intentions of both UNESCO and the Uganda Government notwithstanding the cultural leaders in Buganda continue to express concern that the nuances and norms of Baganda traditions seem to have been overlooked, instead greater focus has solely been on architecture and fencing of the site.
The bone of contention remains that not enough consultation has been granted to the key stakeholders that include the Great Lukiiko, the Council of Bannaalinnya, the council of the Royal, (Kigango); the Council of Clan Elders (Olukiiko lwa Bakulu B’e bika) and citizenry. Besides, there is no paper trail, organigram or agreed plans to inform a way forward, a point, reportedly taken to taken to great to length by the 39 Heritage Commission Meeting.
The fact that Uganda’s main interest in the Kasubi Tombs probably tourism, namely the architecture of the site, complicates matters because the site needs an advocate on spiritually and originality at the high table to champion those aspects of the site that have so far been overlooked.
Notably, the Kasubi Tombs house the last four Bassekabaka of Buganda, three of whom died before the country Uganda was born. It follows that the Baganda being the indigenous owners of the royal tombs at Kasubi are reserved rights set out under UN Declaration 61/295, 2007 The Rights of Indigenous People Articles, for example:
(a) 37(i) “ Indigenous people have the right to the recognition, observance and enforcement of treaties, agreement and other constructive arrangements concluded with States or their successors and to have States honour and respect such treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangement.”
(b) 34 “Indigenous people have the right to promote, develop and maintain their institutional structure and their distinctive customs, spiritually, traditions, procedures, practices and, in the cases where they exist, juridical systems or customs, in accordance with international human rights standards”
The Baganda therefore are the major stakeholders followed by UNESCO which undertook to preserve and protect the site for posterity as a world heritage site.
If we are to rely on the UNESCO timetable, why is it that the rules and procedures as laid down by the 2000 Nomination File and the subsequent World Heritage Committee decisions have not been fully followed? And why is it that the 2000 Nomination File made strict rules on the way, for example:
i. World Stage Level – that through a commission for Antiquities, the Kasubi Tombs should be linked to the World Heritage Sites. By so doing this would provide guidance and ensure proper legal protection of Kasubi Tombs
ii. The Baganda Advisory Heritage Commission – that this is a Buganda affairs commission, formed to serve as an umbrella commission for welfare and maintenance of all the royal tombs (32) in Buganda on an equal basis.
iii. Site Heritage Commission – under the Buganda Advisory Heritage Commission there would be a heritage commission for each of the royal tombs.
iv. Tomb Management Site Commission – each royal tomb would be run by a management site committee with specific responsibilities headed by the site Nnaalinnya.
The objectives of the management site committee include:
(a) Identifying and implementing changes that would benefit the site and ensure its sustainable conservation.
(b) Developing partnership and consensus to adopt the site to the contemporary socio-economic environment in respect of the living tradition;
(c) Implementing changes in an incremental way with continuous attitudes so that fully appropriate solutions can be defined along the process.
(d) Improving the conditions of the permanent caretakers of the tombs i.e. through Statute 8, 1993 Schedule item 7.
(e) Adopting partnership and transparency in management and monitoring of the activities to encourage all willing parties to confidently contribute to the positive changes.
The last World Heritage Commission Decision 39 COM as reported by Bukedde, a vernacular newspaper of 21th July, 2015 set out 11 guidelines, which the Committee /Commission for the Reconstruction of the Royal Tombs at Kasubi should have addressed by 1st February, 2016 at the latest. The 39th Commission noted, in particular, the following that.
My pleas is that let us resolve to respect the letter and spirit of Kasubi Tombs Nomination file and to address cultural aspects that have been missed out in the first phase. The project must be fully operational with a system of governance in place by 2018. To that end we welcome, as a first step, the intervention of the Kabaka when he stopped monthly public tour to the Kasubi Tombs, which were being conducted by the Katikkiro.
MEMBER, UGANDA HERITAGE GROUP