Kasubi Tombs:
Reconstruction of a World Heritage Site in Uganda[1]

Clara Himmelheber

Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum Cologne, Germany




The theme of this article is the negotiations between different actors which took place during the course of the reconstruction of the world heritage site of Kasubi Tombs after the tombs had been destroyed by fire in 2010. It shows the overlapping as well as competing interests of the stakeholders and touches on currently much debated and highly contested concepts such as authenticity and heritage.


In 2001, Kasubi Tombs in Buganda[2] were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to the homepage of the UNESCO, the tombs are both ‘the major spiritual centre’, and ‘the most active religious place’ in the Buganda kingdom (UNESCO 2015a).

On 16 March 2010 Kasubi was destroyed by fire. The fire and the subsequent reconstruction of the tombs led to new dynamics between the following actors, who are – in one way or another – involved in the reconstruction of Kasubi:

  • The monarchists under Kabaka Mutebi are split into two parties: the ‘custodians of tradition’ who stay and/or work in the royal tombs and the ‘modern monarchists’ who are entrusted with the organisation of the reconstruction of Kasubi.
  • The UNESCO administers the international World Heritage Programme through the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. It not only follows the reconstruction through expert delegations, but also finances major parts of the project.
  • The Ugandan Government under President Museveni has a difficult relationship to the monarchists, but as a state party it is the official negotiating partner of the UNESCO for the reconstruction.
  • Further donors such as the Baganda in the diaspora, the tourism industry and the Asian Community of Uganda each have different motives for supporting the kingdom.
  • Born Again Christians (Balokole) are betwixt and between condemning and supporting the kingdom.

The following pages give an insight into the different motives and strategies of these various actors in the process of negotiating the reconstruction of Kasubi and the different problems occurring in the course of the reconstruction.

[1] The field research in January 2013 for this article was kindly supported by the Museumsgesellschaft RJM. I would also like to thank the Director of the Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies at Gulu University for accepting me as an affiliate researcher.

[2] Nomenclature: The region is called Buganda, the people are called Baganda (singular Muganda), the language is Luganda and in English texts the form for adjectives and adverbs is Bugandan, even if this is grammatically incorrect. 

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