Why Ugandans should defend the national theatre space

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The piano-shaped National Theatre building is among 51 buildings and sites in Kampala

Greetings to you all friends! I had committed to provide some policy options on how we can create a local government system that serves Mr. Museveni politics while at the same time building our country. But this National Theatre give away has diverted me.

A nation that has no heritage can never claim to be a great nation. National heritage is supposed to be built in our landmark buildings, our national monuments and celebrating those who have made tremendous contributions to our nation building project.

Let’s ask ourselves – what do we see as our symbols of state authority?

1) State House Entebbe – none of us has access unless you are invited for some transaction there.

2) National parliament – built to accommodate some 50 members, it has turned into a crowed facility housing over 500 MPs and staffers. But we can still celebrate the preservation of its imposing architecture and the line of the national flags that fly arrogantly proclaiming our independence.

Victoria University

3) Judiciary institutions:

  1. i) Yes, we still have the High Court building with its imposing architecture. I hope some crazy person won’t come up with an idea of relocating it because it’s a good hotel or shopping mall space. A country keen to preserve its heritage will only modernize, but cannot destroy such heritage.
  2. ii) The Supreme Court – if there is one major failure of Mr. M7’s leadership of 32 years, it is the failure of his Govt to see the value of investing in building a Supreme Court building as the ultimate symbol of judicial authority in the country. That after 54 years of independence, we still have to rent office premises for our Supreme Court is an embarrassment to ourselves and our country.

iii) The Constitutional Court – our Nation’s constitutional court domiciled in some office building complex, the constitution square taken over by the military – where are our symbols of a nation that is supposed to have moved from military dictatorship to constitutionalism.

  1. iv) Kololo ceremonial ground – this and the constitution square were supposed to be our spaces as citizens. When you are happy, tired or angry, those are the places you were supposed to go and chill. Who decided that Kololo be changed from a ceremonial ground into a military installation?

I can go on and on! Which brings me to the National Theatre – the one remaining symbol of cultural heritage. I love modernity and modernization. So don’t accused me of being conservative. But any redevelopment of the National Theatre space can only make sense if the process of its redevelopment and the final product reflects our Nation’s heritage. And this is what I mean should have been done:

  1. i) Open and participatory process – the process of redevelopment of the space must epitomize the development of our participatory democracy. Participatory democracy is supposed to be the hallmark of NRM, lest they have forgotten. But besides that, participatory democracy and consensus building are the embodiment of our constitution. So, the only way you can think of redevelopment of the National Theatre space is to invite Ugandans to provide proposals on how a future National Theatre should look like, what should be included in the design, how would we optimize public access while at the same time making business sense. That process would get citizens involved in the redesign process.
  2. ii) Competitive business proposal process – the process of picking on who should develop the facility would have to be competitive. Picking and choosing who the developer is like we did with Shimon P/S land or UBC land with its famous Aya people, or Naguru Housing Estate with its current state of development – OMG! Why can’t we learn? Why have we as a people become so gullible?

iii) Linking the development with parliamentary – given the limitation of space at Parliament, any development of the National Theatre should be linked with the development of parliament – and that would increase the cultural significance of the facility.

  1. iv) Building our cultural village – redeveloping National Theatre should be the opportunity to build our cultural village. Imagine a village where there is the convergence of the Karimajong, Banyoro, Acholis, Ateso and Banyankole, and Bakiga and Basoga – all of us. You come to the new National Theatre and you have visited the whole of Uganda in one space.
  2. v) Get Ugandans involved – in fact, this is one project where we should plan to get Ugandans involved by establishing a national company where Ugandans can subscribe for shares – in other words, we should develop this cultural centre by ourselves. I would volunteer free legal services to be part of the team that develops a development and management model that makes Ugandan’s own a piece of this – our cultural heritage.

It is my humble appeal that whoever is behind this proposal should calm down, be humble and realize that National Theatre and the land where it stands has been bequeathed to us by the past generation and belongs to the present and future generation of Ugandans. Let’s reason prevail and we think of doing the right things. That’s what will make our country great. Why is our Government doing everything things that destroy our Nation’s heritage and make us regret being Ugandans?

As Ugandans, this is our time to stand up and claim our citizenship. Like we fought to defend Mabira Forest Reserve, we can still rise to our constitutional duty to say – National Theatre belongs to us and will be redeveloped on our terms, and we must be part of the redevelopment process.

Let’s so no to the continuing theft of public land and public property. It’s our constitutional duty. Will you stand up for the national theatre and be proud to be Ugandan.

Godber W. Tumushabe, the author, is a lawyer, advocate, policy analyst and social entrepreneur.

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