MOROTO– Standing tall, the wooden building looks old-fashioned with its black-coloured wooden walls losing colour.
It is clear that the building has cracked ceiling, floor and partly the wooden walls, crumbling old wood, very old timber, doors and paint, and damaged verandas as a result of rainwater with broken door and window glasses.
But the sunlight streaming in through old glass windows and door illuminates books left open by children visiting and students seeking a quiet refuge.
But this venerable keeper of fairytales and stories of faraway lands has long been ahead of the times.
Moroto Public Library – the oldest public library still standing in Moroto municipality – became the first branch to be fully utilized in 1965.
According to records at Moroto municipal council, the building was constructed by the British colonial masters as a guest house for their stay whenever they visited Moroto in 1955.
But that in 1965 [ten years later], the wooden colonial building was turned into a library by the then Public Library Board of Uganda.
While talking to PML Daily in Moroto municipality Mr Stephen Okurut, the Librarian says the municipal authorities have endeavoured to maintain the Library.
The lower end of the Library has been reinforced with hardcore stones and concrete in order to protect the wooden walls from getting soaked in water.
“The gutters have rusted off; the original timber and doors are very old and need replacement, which the municipal authorities are thinking about,” Mr Okurut says.
On the other hand the original timber and iron sheets on the Library are still strong. However, soft ceiling boards have been lost and require urgent replacement and veranda repaired.
Mr Okurut says because the walls including the floor are made of wood throughout, termites find it easy to destroy the timber and soft boards on the walls.
“Although we have fumigated to control the termites all the time, this has not helped much.”
“Our biggest challenge is lack of funds to maintain these historic buildings. The situation is even made worse especially now when the ministry of Education sends funds for UPE and USE and does not send funds for the libraries. The best we have done is to keep re-painting the building to make it look good but we still need general maintenance so that the building can last for more years,” Mr Okurut adds.
“We should appreciate such buildings, technology, and architecture of the colonial masters and the people who lived before us serve as memory. We should thank them for their initiative to promote the reading culture in Karamoja even when there was Karimojong going to school at that time,” he says.
The British Colonial masters established Moroto guest house (later Moroto Public Library] in 1955. The Moroto Public library building was the first public library in 1965, shortly after independence.
The wooden building that accommodates 20 to 30 people is surrounded by shrubs that were seen visibly during its inauguration and still stand at the east yard of the public library to date.
Moroto public library building is among the old few buildings that were constructed before 1960 reflecting Uganda’s socio-cultural, religious, political and economic history.
According to the town clerk Mr Swaibu Balaba, the building has been identified by the municipality and district local government and the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), Uganda National Museum for preservation as a potential tourist attraction.
Mr Noah Ewaru, the mayor Moroto municipality said Karamoja and Moroto especially the municipality are fast expanding and becoming a modern, but they are also losing their historical and cultural identity, especially as historical buildings and sites get modified or even demolished.
He observed that heritage preservation efforts in Uganda and the world over are, however, confronted with a number of challenges.
“In Uganda particularly, rapid population growth causes intense demand for space and resources for development. This coupled with a lack of sufficient awareness of the significance of cultural and historical buildings and monuments put them at risk of being modified or demolished,” said Mr Ewaru.
According to Dr Fredrick Okalebo, a lecturer at the Department of Architecture and Physical Planning, Makerere University, the significant historic buildings are at risk because their owners or managers are unaware of their importance.
In his paper titled “Preserving Historical Buildings in Uganda,” Dr Okalebo, observes: many have been neglected and abandoned; some are being threatened or eyed for destruction, some have been altered, some destroyed, many have been destroyed (like Fort Lugard Historical Museum and the Nakawa African Housing Estate in Kampala); and a few are preserved or under conservation (like Parliament Building and Makerere Main Building).
“The levels of preservation and conservation also leave a lot to be desired,” Dr Okalebo notes in the paper that he presented at the launch of the map titled “Kampala’s Historical Buildings and Sites – Our Valuable but Vanishing Heritage” in Kampala in November last year.
Mrs Ewaru says photo documentation of some of these buildings also highlight their aesthetic quality and unique design.
Mr Ewaru adds that through this initiative, it is anticipated that buildings and sites of cultural and historical significance in Karamoja will be better known and preserved by policymakers and the general public.
He said it is hoped that Uganda will be able to offer an enhanced tourism experience, for local and international tourists, who will discover the history of religions, cultures, education, health and political systems in Uganda.
Call to authorities
“First, the district authorities and the government have a duty and responsibility to enforce the protection of historic buildings. Without this, no one will preserve them for future generations,” Mr Ewaru said.
The LCV chairman for Moroto Mr Andrew Napaja said UTB has pledged to support the promotion of cultural tourism by ensuring that Moroto district passes a policy framework to identify and protect historical and cultural buildings.
He added that the region was thrown into international limelight in 2011 when Ugandan and French scientists discovered a 20 million-year-old fossil skull of an ancient primate, more specifically a tree-climbing ape in Napak Mountain.
He said other attractions in this region they are planning to preserve are Karamoja’s rocks as they stand out of the landscape and include Kadam Rock in Nakapiripirit, Napak Rock in Napak District and Mount Moroto.
“And do you know that in 2010, ancient paintings were discovered on Kobebe hills in Moroto District, Nakapeliet rock, Loteleit rock, Mogoth rock, and Nakadanya rock, all these we must preserve for tourism,” said Mr Napaja.
The deputy commissioner Uganda Tourism Board Ms Rosemary Kobutagi said through the Department of Museums and Monuments, provision shall be made to develop these national assets into viable tourism products that will be used to promote respect for Uganda’s cultural diversity and history.