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Celebrating Uganda’s Rich Heritage on International Museum Day 2024

Yesterday, Uganda joined the global community in celebrating International Museum Day 2024 in Soroti City, emphasizing the pivotal role of museums in education and cultural preservation. This year’s theme, “Museums for Education and Research,” underscores the significance of museums as dynamic educational institutions fostering learning, discovery, and cultural understanding.

Mutundwe: A Historical Reflection

The history of Mutundwe, a region in Buganda, highlights the complex and often painful past of slavery in Uganda. Named “be sold” in Luganda, Mutundwe was a prominent slaveholding area in the 19th century, with high boundary walls built by slave masters to prevent escapes. Despite its historical significance, Mutundwe’s role in the history of slavery has received little attention until recently.

Uganda lacks a dedicated museum focusing solely on the role of the Buganda Kingdom and the nation in the history of slavery. However, the Ssemagulu Royal Museum provides insights into this dark chapter, serving as an educational resource for the public.

Educational Initiatives and Sustainable Development Goals

On a recent visit to the Ssemagulu Royal Museum, four school buses were seen, highlighting the museum’s role in educational activities. Students engaged in music, dance, drama, and traditional cooking, and explored historical artifacts like the car wreckage of Uganda’s first prime minister and chief justice, Benedict Kiwanuka.

John Ssempebwa, the museum’s proprietor, believes in the transformative power of museums in fostering critical thinking and empathy among students. This aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4 and 9, which emphasize inclusive and equitable quality education, and innovation and infrastructure, respectively.

Albert Kasozi, CEO of the Buganda Heritage and Tourism Board (BHTB), highlights the role of museums in teaching and preserving tradition. He stresses the need for innovation and preservation to keep cultural heritage alive for future generations.

New Museums in the Buganda Kingdom

The Buganda Kingdom and Makerere University have renovated Muteesa’s building, now housing the Sir Edward Muteesa II Museum, which celebrates the history of Buganda’s 35th King. Kyambogo University plans to erect a museum in honor of Ssekabaka Muteesa I Walugembe Kayiira, the 30th Kabaka, following the fall of a monumental tree significant to Buganda’s history.

A new heritage museum at Lubiri Mengo, set to open on July 1, 2024, will showcase rare collections and artifacts of the Buganda Kingdom. This Shs400m phased project includes a museum art gallery, music school, theatre, royal gardens, and more, partnering with institutions like the Smithsonian to ensure its success. Faziira Nassolo, head of marketing at BHTB, notes that the museum will offer authentic crafts and souvenirs made from indigenous materials.

Challenges and Innovations in the Museum Sector

Despite their contributions, private museums face funding challenges. Emmanuel Ssemwanga of Brims Heritage Resource Centre operates a mobile museum but emphasizes the need for stable infrastructure and government support. Abraham Kitaulwa, chairperson of the Uganda Community Museums Association (UCOMA), echoes this, stressing the need for funding to improve artifact preservation and increase public awareness.

Technological integration remains a challenge, with many museums lacking modern tools for virtual tours and interactive exhibits. Ssemwanga and Kitaulwa call for increased government and private sector support to address these gaps and enhance museum experiences.

Empowering Women through Cultural Heritage

Women in Uganda are leveraging cultural heritage to boost their socio-economic status. Gertrude Kabaganda, curator of the Koogere Community Museum, has successfully utilized cultural resources to sustain her museum. Through handicrafts and heritage education programs, Koogere has empowered women and engaged communities, aligning museum activities with school curricula and promoting cultural tourism.

Future Directions and Collaboration

The Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) urges museums to adopt sustainable practices and collaborate across the sector. Lilly Ajarova, UTB CEO, highlights the importance of environmental commitment in museum operations. The UTB is dedicated to providing marketing and promotion opportunities to enhance the visibility and impact of Ugandan museums globally.

As Uganda celebrates its rich heritage, the focus remains on preserving the past while innovating for the future, ensuring that museums continue to be vital centers for education and cultural preservation.

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