On 28th January 2020, Prof. Derek Peterson from the University of Michigan delivered a mind-intriguing lecture to Makerere University staff and students on the history Uganda’s cultural heritage and development.
The lecture titled “Renovating History in Idi Amin’s Uganda” focused on an obscure, unremarkable bureaucrat, a man named John Tumusiime, who from 1972 to 1976 was the 'Culture Officer' of Kigezi, Western Uganda. Over the course of years Tumusiime conceived, financed, organized, and built several institutions, a museum, a monument that preserved local history. He worked with fragile and transient things. The building of memorials in Uganda as everywhere else has always been a struggle to cheat time of its spoils. It requires impervious materials, concrete, wire fences, brass plaques, glass display cases to transform the great events of the age into turning points on the historical record. All of it is hard work. Repairs are always needed. And especially in places where things like concrete and wire are in short supply, it needs human ingenuity, self-sacrifice, and dedication to achieve the 'museum effect'.
Where did John Tumusiime and other Culture Officers in Uganda find their vocation from? Why, at a time when government and economy were so dysfunctional, at a time when tens of thousands of people were killed by the malevolent agents of state security, did earnest and high-minded men and women invest themselves in the work of cultural recovery? Was it the search for self-identity and the desire to decolonize in the post-colonial era as alluded by Makerere University Historian Mwambustya Ndebesa during Prof. Peterson’s lecture? Was it inspired by the need to legitimize power or could it have been a move to improve the tourism sector and subsequently boost the country’s economy?
Prof. Peterson’s presentation herewith attached extensively analyses the factors that inspired the actions.
According to Mr. Mwambustya Ndebesa, States should take interest in preserving history as a public good. He argues that there is need to focus on other forms of history; for example economic, social and medical history, noting that silencing some history undermines its critical role in nation building.
During Prof. Peterson’s lecture, Fountain Publishers Managing Director, also Proprietor of Igongo Cultural Centre, Mr. James Tumusiime challenged historians refocus and widen the scope of their research. “Historians should be the ones to dictate the way forward in terms of what should be preserved,” he said.
Prof. Peterson’s biography
Derek Peterson is Professor of History at the University of Michigan and a research associate of the School of Social Sciences, Makerere University. He is the author of 'Ethnic Patriotism and the East African Revival: A History of Dissent', which won the African Studies Association's best book award in 2013. He is one of the curators behind 'The Unseen Archive of Idi Amin: Photographs from the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation', an exhibition which recently closed at the Uganda Museum and will soon be on display in Soroti and in Arua.
See Prof. Peterson's presentation below