The High Court in Kampala has ruled as illegal the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) decision to reject the approval of Watoto Church Ministries redevelopment plans.
In a ruling delivered on Friday by Acting Judge Douglas Karekana Singiza, court decided that the decision by KCCA and the National Physical Planning Board (NPPB) to reject the mixed-use by Watoto Church and Kampala Playhouse Limited is “illegal and improper.”
It adds that, “A writ of mandamus is issued against the respondents (KCCA and NPPB) to reconsider the Watoto Church mixed-use development plans …3 months from the date of the ruling.”
Both Watoto Church and KCCA are yet to react to court’s decision.
Watoto Church Ministries together with Kampala Plyahouse Limited had gone to court seeking a review of the decision by KCCA and NPPB to reject approval of the mixed-use development plans on plots No. 87 & 89 Kampala Road, and plots 28, 30, 32, 34 & 36 Buganda Road.
Previously known as Kampala Pentecostal Church, the building housing Watoto Church, used to host Norman Cinema.
Watoto Church through a multinational architectural firm Symbion Uganda Limited, released a plan that would see the building demolished to pave way for the construction of a 2,000 seater conference centre, retail space and a 3-star hotel, among other business and recreation functions, a plan KCCA and NPPB rejected.
Norman Cinema was established by an Indian businessman Norman Godinho in the 1940s’. It was famous as a movie place and performance hall, and the ideal dream destination for many revellers.
Following the overthrow of President Idi Amin Dada, it was renamed “The Centre of Creative Arts” alias The Center”. In 1980, The Centre hosted the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) delegates conference that saw Dr Apolo Milton Obote elected unopposed as the party president.
After Watoto Church released its redevelopment plans in 2020, preservationists launched a campaign dubbed “Don’t Demolish Our Heritage” and #SaveWatotoChurch”. Through the campaign, they asked Watoto Church to review its development plan to preserve the architectural uniqueness of the site and leave parts of it intact.
In response, the Church insisted that theirs was private property which was not protected by the Historical Monuments Act of 1968, which gives the line Minister Powers to publish lists of the preserved or protected objects. After this, the Church petitioned against the decision by KCCA to the National Physical Planning Board but received the same guidance.
At the time, Jackline Nyiracyiza Besigye, the Acting Commissioner for Museums and Monuments at the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities said that the government position was that Watoto management should consider preserving part of the structure.
In 2022, parliament passed the Museums and Monuments Bill which sought to provide for formalization, control and protection of tangible and associated intangible cultural heritage.
Lat month, President Yoweri Museveni assented to the bill. It waits to be seen how developments will pan out considering the court ruling vis-a-vis the recently passed law