The Uganda Museum: this is where you can find Uganda’s historical heritage in one place. Previously, there were other museums and collections situated in different parts of the country but they have all since been closed or run down. The museum was started at the behest of colonial secretary, George Wilson in 1902 to collect all items that were of interest in Uganda in one place. By 1908, a number of artifacts had been collected and they were stored at the first museum at Fort Lugard in Old Kampala. Later, in 1957, the collection was moved to the current location on Kiira Road.
Welcome to Uganda’s main museum. The building is located at Plot 5, Kiira Road and was designed by Ernst May, a German architect, over 60 years ago. It sits in an expansive grassy compound with stalls selling crafts and snacks at the back.
You might be initially struck by the numbers of police officers on the premises around the museum but this is only because it is a government institution and must be guarded. Visitors begin to arrive around midday and, even though the place is rarely packed, guests that do visit are rewarded with being amongst some of Uganda’s most interesting historical moments.
From Monday to Saturday, the museum is open from 10am to 6pm and on Sundays, and public holidays, you can visit from 12pm to 6pm. At the entrance, as you go through the security checks, the receptionist will offer brochures about locations of exhibition but it is not clear if there is an option for a guided tour.
Entry is 2,000 UGX for Ugandans and 5,000 UGX for non-Ugandans. Visiting children pay 1,500 UGX and Ugandan children are charged 500 UGX. Bringing in a camera costs 5,000 UGX and a video device costs 20,000 UGX. Eating and drinking inside is forbidden and you will have to declare the items in your bag and proceed through the metal detectors.
Immediately after entry, you find yourself in the foyer with different options of museum exhibits to visit. These include: traditional musical instruments, history, iron-age, traditional life, natural history and the paleontology gallery, stone age era…all you have to do is head in the direction you feel you want.
In the exhibitions, you will see Uganda’s peoples represented in Stone Age art, with primitive tools and descriptions of economic activity from the earliest times. One of the strengths of the Uganda Museum is its broad range of artifacts through time collected from the communities in the area that would come to be called Uganda.
Some of the display areas are dilapidated and aging as the museum was largely ignored during the country’s period of civil war. During this time the museum was ill-maintained leading to some artifacts deterioration. Activists have recently been fighting a government decision to reconstruct the museum. The plan has been placed on hold for the time being. Despite this, artifacts like, the Ford Model T 1925, owned by Uganda’s first president, Edward Mutesa, remain a big draw.
Walking through the uncrowded galleries inspire a reverence in the quiet, cool air around the exhibits. Richard Mukasa, an early visitor is studying a huge figure of a snake. “I have been here many times in my life but I always come back to this exhibit,” he explains. “The museum holds Uganda’s history and I think many people might not realize it.”
While the museum attendants offer little explanation or assistance this should not deter the interested visitor. The exhibits all have reference cards enabling you to glean information and history about Ugandan from them. Interesting exhibits on Uganda’s Olympic figures and musical instruments are extremely popular.