On 16 March 2010, a fire devastated the Muzibu Azaala Mpanga building, a major component of the World Heritage property. This building housed the four royal Buganda tombs. The large, circular thatched building, supported on wooden columns wrapped in bark cloth, was originally built in 1882 as a palace and then became a royal tomb. The building had been significantly repaired since its construction including the insertion of steel and concrete supports in 1938.
As a first response to this tragedy, the Director-General of UNESCO decided to dispatch a mission led by the World Heritage Centre and including experts from the African World Heritage Fund and CRATerre-ENSAG. The mission was undertaken from 7 to 9 April 2010. Its primary objective was to assess the extent of the damage, and discuss with the relevant authorities actions to be taken, including the possible reconstruction of the Muzibu Azaala Mpanga building. The mission observed that almost the entire building was destroyed. The entire vegetal structure (wooden poles, rings), the thatch, the bark clothes and part of the royal artefacts and kingdom symbols had been consumed by the fire. The steel roof structure introduced in 1938 bent completely due to the high temperatures, and the concrete poles which were supporting the steel structure were deformed. Only the peripheral and partition brick walls were still standing. The reed fence and trees all over the property have been also seriously damaged. The mission observed that many traditions and practices could no longer be performed as a result of this destruction. In addition, the royal tombs that are considered sacred were now exposed to outside elements such as rain, causing a traumatism amongst the people of Uganda.
The mission was informed that immediately after the incident, the State Party had established a Cabinet Committee, which has been requested to investigate the cause of the fire. The Buganda Kingdom which is the main site’s custodian also established a Technical and Building Committee to oversee the reconstruction process and organized a mourning ceremony and performed a series of traditional ceremonies in the tombs.
The mission supported the general agreement that the Muzibu Azaala Mpanga should be reconstructed.
The mission stressed the importance of not hastening the reconstruction. The mission considered that the overall reconstruction process should be seen as an educational and training opportunity. The mission particularly stressed the need for time to be taken with the reconstruction, in spite of pressure from the general public to see the place reconstructed as soon as possible, as an over-hastened reconstruction would be detrimental, because of the complexity of the structure, the intangible components associated with it, and the shortage of traditional skilled labour. It advised the State Party that reconstruction without proper studies could bring irreversible changes and might impair the remaining Outstanding Universal Value of the property. Therefore a reconstruction strategy, that clearly states how the building is to be constructed and the evidence base that is to be used would need to be agreed by both the Uganda Government and the Buganda Kingdom authorities.
The following recommendations were made by the mission team:
1) Emergency assistance request
The mission recommended that an Emergency assistance request be submitted by the State Party in order to allow implementation of the following activities:
§ Professional sifting of the wreckage ;
§ Construction of temporary shelters over the royal tombs to allow ritual ceremonies and practices to be maintained;
§ Mounting a temporary exhibition to present Muzibu Azaala Mpanga as it was before the fire incident;
§ National sensitization workshop on the reconstruction process and the implementation of the management plan;
§ Purchase of equipment required to ensure proper documentation of the reconstruction process;
§ Preparation of an overall conservation project document to be submitted to donors, including costs of international expertise to advise on the reconstruction strategy;
§ Reprinting a revised version of the 2006 booklet on Kasubi tombs with 2 pages on the fire incident included;
The State Party submitted the request at the end of May 2010 to the World Heritage Centre. The Advisory Bodies strongly support the principle of this property benefitting from Emergency Assistance along the lines set out by the April 2010 mission. They do however consider that the request needs to be reformulated so that it reflects the urgent work that is needed in the short-term to respond to the emergency. They consider that the workshop needs to be re-formulated to focus on the emergency. They also considers that some of the costs should be revisited and where possible reduced. They consider that the exhibition should be a short-term immediate production rather than a formal exhibition with formal opening.
2) Reconstruction of the Muzibu Azaala Mpanga
The mission, which proposed a short term action plan that foresees the complete reconstruction by December 2011, also recommended:
§ The production of complete documentation before the start of the works which should include:
- Architectural survey of the wreckage;
- Study of the traditional construction techniques and their associated intangible values
- Identification of skilled people and sourcing of materials (where and how they were traditionally sourced);
- Compilation of existing archives (plans, drawings and photographs);
§ Consideration of what constitutes the attributes that convey the Outstanding Universal Value of the property when undertaking reconstruction:
§ The preparation of a detailed reconstruction strategy which will have to be submitted for approval to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS before any action is undertaken;
§ An estimate of the overall cost of the reconstruction project to be undertaken (cost of the main structure, cost of the roof, cost of the internal finishes, management, etc.);
§ That reconstruction process should be used to train more thatchers who will also be able to maintain other Ganda thatched roofs on associated sites
§ That the reconstruction project integrates both a fire prevention system and a fire fighting strategy;
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that the Muzibu Azaala Mpanga building at Kasubi was an outstanding example of an architectural style developed by the Buganda Kingdom since the 13th Century.
With its complete destruction by the 16 March 2010 fire, they consider that the property’s Outstanding Universal Value is seriously threatened.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that the significance of the building lay partly in the way it reflected typical Bugandan traditions but also in its size, elaboration and sacred use which set it apart from other structures. Buildings such as this need constant maintenance and irregular renewal. Their fabric cannot all be maintained over time; the authenticity of their structures lies more in a reflection of traditional materials and practice than in the age of component parts. They consider that a case can thus be made for the reconstruction of the Muzibu Azaala Mpanga building provided that a clear reconstruction strategy is set out and agreed in advance that sets out the rational for the chosen approach, gives due consideration to the various options, such as re-building as in 2010, 1939, 1911 (for which photographic evidence exists) or as in the 1880s, and provides clear documentary evidence.
They also consider that the overall reconstruction process needs to be carefully managed, requires detailed documenting, and also needs close monitoring by the World Heritage Committee in order to ensure full recovery of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value. Finally, they consider that as the property face a serious deterioration of its architectural components, it therefore meets the criteria for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger as defined in Paragraph 179 of the Operational Guidelines.