Watoto Church in Cache 22 over Delayed Resolution on KPC Building Demolition
The future of the historic Norman Cinema remains in balance as the government and the management of Watoto Church wait to reach an understanding on the redevelopment of the building.
Known to many as KPC located along Kampala Road in the heart of the Capital Kampala, Norman Cinema was established by an Indian businessman Norman Godinho in the 1940s’. It was famous as a movie place and performance hall, and the ideal dream destination for many revellers, as referenced in a song titled “Ebinyumu ebyaffe” by the legendary Kadongo Kamu artist Elly Wamala.
Following the overthrow of President Idi Amin Dada, it was renamed “The Centre of Creative Arts” alias The Center”. It attracted famous artists such as Jimmy Katumba and his drama group The Ebonies, and Singer Peterson Mutebi and his band The Thames. Later in 1980, The Centre hosted the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) delegates conference that saw Dr Apolo Milton Obote elected unopposed as the party president.
But with such history to its name, Watoto Church through a multinational architectural firm Symbion Uganda Limited, released a plan that would see the building demolished to pave way for the construction of a 2,000 seater conference centre, retail space and a 3-star hotel, among other business and recreation functions.
This sent shockwaves down the spine of preservationists who later launched a campaign dubbed “Don’t Demolish Our Heritage” and #SaveWatotoChurch”. Through the campaign, they asked Watoto Church to review its development plan to preserve the architectural uniqueness of the site and leave parts of it intact.
The Directorate of Physical Planning at Kampala Capital City Authority-KCCA also declined to approve the designs demanding that the developers submit a plan that caters for the preservation of some aspects of the historical building. It was not named what should be preserved but Watoto was asked to consider an inclusive design.
However, the Church insisted that theirs was private property which was not protected by the Historical Monuments Act of 1968, which gives the line Minister Powers to publish lists of the preserved or protected objects. After this, the Church petitioned against the decision by KCCA to the National Physical Planning Board but received the same guidance.
URN has learnt that Watoto petitioned the Attorney General’s office challenging the refusal by the government to approve its plans yet the contested building it’s a protected one. The matter is also said to have reached the State House.
Anita Kusiima, the acting Deputy Director of Physical Planning at KCCA was hesitant to share updates on the negotiations with Watoto Church management. She, however, reaffirmed that Watoto had submitted its redevelopment plans and that the matter of the preservation of the building was being handled by the authority’s legal Directorate.
Jackline Nyiracyiza Besigye, the Acting Commissioner for Museums and Monuments at the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities says that the government position remains that Watoto management should consider preserving part of the structure. She also hopes that the current bill on Historical Sites and Monuments, although returned to parliament by the president, shall help in their bid to preserve such sites.
In 2022, parliament passed the Museums and Monuments Bill which sought to provide for formalization, control and protection of tangible and associated intangible cultural heritage. Preservationists were hopeful that Watoto, which is listed as item 213 of part III which lists historical and Cultural in the new bill would be saved. However, the president, returned it questioning some of the listed sites.
Simon Musaasizi, the team leader of the Heritage Conversation Trust of Uganda, a project run by Cross Cultural Foundation Uganda-CCFU, a non-government organisation that promotes culture and advocates for the preservation of Uganda’s cultural heritage says the absence of a law leaves the future of the historic building in uncertainty.
He however says they shall continue engaging the leadership of Watoto Church and hopes, they shall appreciate the need to preserve important aspects of the Church.
Pastor Julius Rwotlonyo, the team leader at Watoto Church says not much progress has been made in resolving the matter. And although he commits the Church’s readiness to dialogue, he says they have more questions to put forth to the government. He says they wanted to redevelop their premises in a phased manner but have now been derailed.
“…But what we know and what we stand for, is if someone owns the property and wants to develop their property, they shouldn’t be hindered. But if something like this comes ups, let’s talk, you come and tell us why, what it means and all of that and why now, those kinds of questions. So we have more questions for this, and so we shall continue to engage,” Rwotlonyo told URN.
With both government and Watoto Church seemingly resolute on their decision to preserve and redevelop the contested premises, and no law to settle the haul between them, the future of Norman Cinema remains hanging. It could join the list of lost buildings such as the Ivory Tower of Makerere University and Kasubi Tombs in Kasubi which were brought down by the fire and Pioneer Mall, the first mall in Kampala which was demolished.
The KCCA bill which could cushion the situation is yet to be passed by the current council. The ordinance among others includes sections that require the government to acquire historical sites in private hands and where the property is not acquired by the government, a fund is set up for owners as motivation and also help them maintain the sites. Preservationists also propose incentives such as reduced or waived property rates on historical buildings and sites.