On 8th November, 2011, the Uganda National Museum court case heard in the High Court of Uganda for the second hearing. I was out of the country (in Burundi) by the time but my team and our lawyer were present. They briefed me as follows:
The hearing started at 2:30pm in the private chambers of Justice Eldad Mwangusya.
Dr. Ephraim Kamuhangire (the former Commissioner, Department of Museums and antiquities, Government of Uganda and currently, the senior presidential advisor on cultural affairs) was the first expert witness to be examined and cross-examined. His testimony was on the history and importance of the Uganda National Museum. He boldly told court that the EA Trade Centre should not be mentioned alongside the Museum as it will deny the people of Uganda their right not only to preserve and enjoy their cultural heritage which is within the museum building but it will also be irresponsible of those advocating for the destruction of the home of that heritage to pave way for the construction of the trade centre.
Dr Kamuhangire also said that denial of a people of their cultural heritage for the 30 years, a period that construction will take, is a denial of their human rights. He further argued that objects in the Uganda Museum since 1954, acquired a new environment which is scientifically managed, whereby, if removed from that environment; the objects will break or get damaged.
He said that the museum as an institution is not transferable though some of its functions can be transferred. According to Dr. Kamuhangire, the current museum space is indeed its befitting home unlike its previous locations at Lugard’s Fort and Makerere College School of Fine Art which were smaller and borrowed facilities respectively.
Dr. Kamuhangire concluded by saying that the museum building itself is in an excellent state-it only needs regular maintenance and repairs and not condemnation. He also said that EA Trade Centre can be built somewhere else and leave the museum to serve it purpose.
The second expert witness was Robert Baganda (from the environmental perspective). Robert was examined and cross-examined on the environmental dangers of the proposed EA Trade Centre.
Robert argued that the proposed building will affect the land use around the area and that it will also affect the persons enjoying and utilizing the green environment at and around the national museum.
Robert went ahead to argue that the proposed building will change the road network-(the judge was however, not convinced whether Robert, an environmentalist was the most competent person to talk about roads!!)
Robert suggested that: The EIA and the Heritage Impact assessment should be carried out before a project of the EA trade centre magnitude is undertaken. Thorough consultations with relevant stakeholders should be conducted.
After being briefed by my team, I realized the following errors which were committed in court.
· Robert was partly inside while Dr. Kamuhangire was giving his testimony and this annoyed the Judge.
· Robert’s testimony could imply that the project will be fine if an EIA or a Heritage Impact Assessment is done. Government might turn around and say that they will do all this since the project is still at proposal level.
· Some peoples’ mobile telephones were not in silence
· Very few journalists attended the hearing.
I therefore advised my team as follows;
· We should follow the court rules while in court-if one is going to be a witness, please stay out when someone else is giving testimony.
· We should also put our cell phones on silence!!
· We have to prepare ourselves well before giving our testimonies. We also need to focus on key issues especially those we have all agreed on.
· The right advice Robert should have given government is to relocate the E.A. Trade Centre since it will be unfit for the local environment around Uganda Museum. He should not have emphasized the need to carry out the EIA.
· We need proper briefing and preparation by our lawyer so that we do not contravene court procedures or give responses that might weaken our case.
· We need to involve as many journalists as possible.
Because the Judge is interested in disposing of the case before the year ends, the next hearing is scheduled for 1st December 2011. The next expert witness will be Kenneth Amunsimire, an architect from the Uganda Society of Architects. However, we should prepare an additional witness from the cultural dimension. We will try to work out this issue with Emily Drani from CCFU and see whether she will be available by the time of the hearing. We will also do whatever it takes to bring journalists on board. This requires some financing as well.
The Lawyer is demanding his legal fees from us. Any suggestions on how we can move forward on this is highly welcome.
Historic Resources Conservation Initiatives (HRCI)