Government has embarked on reconstruction of Mugaba Palace, the seat of defunct Ankole Kingdom in Kamukuzi Division, Mbarara District.
The palace sits on 12 acres of land but part of it has been encroached, with squatters establishing homes and private developments. The storeyed structure which used to be the palace and two houses that were residences for top kingdom officials constructed in 1930s and 1950s are now in a sorry state.
They are occupied by employees of Mbarara District Local Government, and what officials called ‘destitutes.’ The remaining land is used by the occupants of the buildings and residents for growing crops. Part of it has been excavated for murram.
Today, it is difficult to tell that this was once the seat of one of the powerful monarchies in Uganda. However, in the next four years, the image will have changed if government plans are anything to go by.
Why restoration now
The purpose of the reconstruction is not restoring the monarchy because the Ankole kingship question is far from being resolved. The palace is going to be a tourist site to showcase the cultural values of Banyankore.
“We are preserving the history of Banyankore so that the children will know that this was the king’s palace,” says Ms Nyira Kizza Besigye, the Principal Conservator in the ministry of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities.
“We are looking at how to promote cultural tourism in the whole country. This is just the beginning,” she adds.
The process to reconstruct the palace began in 2014. Following complaints of the palace neglect, the cabinet directed ministry of tourism, wildlife and antiquities to improve it.
“The renovation will be done such that the original architecture of the structures is maintained,” says Mr Gilbert Muhangi, Mbarara District Engineer.
He adds that they will not interfere with those who have encroached on the palace land but will protect what remains. After the fencing and internal works which will take a year, the next phase will be general renovation and reconstruction.
A welcome move
Kamukuzi Cell chairman Mr Chris Baguma welcomed the renovation. “This is long overdue. The palace portrays a bad image of Ankole Kingdom. We thank the ministry for the intervention,” he said.
Dr William Katatumba, chairman Nkore Cultural Trust (NCT) whose goal is restoration of Ankole Kingship welcomed the move saying it is what they have been requesting from government for many years. “That site has been in a sorry state for a long time. Anything to do with its rehabilitation is welcome. Even if the government does not recognise the kingship, it is better to rehabilitate the palace, and then time will tell,” Dr Katatumba said on Tuesday.
“We have told government to rehabilitate it and hand it over to the cultural institution (represented by NCT) for management. We can see big people in government eyeing it for their selfish gains,” he added.
The Ankole monarchy was abolished in 1967 together with other monarchies in Uganda. While the rest; Buganda, Toro and Bunyoro were reinstated in 1990s and new ones created, Ankole Kingship remains in limbo.