Records destroyed as fire ravages Uganda’s Makerere University main building

Makerere University main building fire
The Makerere University main building – Ivory Tower destroyed by fire

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Firefighters are battling a fire at Makerere University where part of the Main building is ablaze.

The Main building, also called the Ivory Tower burst out in flames early Sunday 20, September 2020 morning. The University’s Facebook page and Twitter handle started posting videos of the fire shortly after 1:00a.m.

According to a tweet posted on the University’s Twitter handle, @MakerereU, the fire was sprouting from the right side of building where part of the roof had sunk in. Moments later, the university tweeted; “the fire has spread and covered all floors of the right side of the building.”

The building with its unique 20th-century British architectural designs is one of the university’s oldest structures, the signature symbol of Uganda’s oldest and biggest university. It was completed in 1941 with funding from the Colonial Development Bourse. 

It houses several offices including the university’s main hall, university printery and Vice Chancellor’s office. The source of the fire is still unknown but fire brigade trucks are reportedly at the scene trying to stop the fire spreading.

The building also holds student records, and the basement is full of archive files spanning the whole history of the institution according to historian Derek Peterson, who says he was intending to organise. 

“Efforts to save the left-wing of the building are being defeated by the highly powerful and forceful flames. The left wing is custody the Human Resource/staff records of the university. Spanning the years this university has lived,” Makerere said in a tweet posted at 3:52 am. 

Ugandan police have launched an investigations into the cause of a fire. According to police, the fire which broke out in the wee hours of Sunday, is believed to have started from the roof, spreading to floors that house both the records and finance departments.

“A lot of property has been destroyed. Investigations are ongoing to ascertain the exact cause of the fire,” a police statement said.

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The university’s vice chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, said Sunday that they will “restore the building to its historic state in the shortest time possible.”

“It is a very dark morning for Makerere University. Our iconic main administration building caught fire and the destruction is unbelievable,” Prof Nawangwe said in a tweet.

Uganda’s First Lady Janet Museveni, who is also the minister for Education and Sports, is expected to visit the scene.

Brief history of the razed Makerere University main building

The Main Building was completed in 1941 under the leadership of Mr. George C. Turner, Principal, Makerere College (1939-46).

Earlier in 1938, the Duke of Gloucester, representing His Majesty King George VI had cut the first sod for the construction of the building on November 3.

The Main Building with its unique 20th century British architecture is easily Makerere’s most recognisable symbol and was constructed with funds from the Colonial Development bourse.

The building’s construction was greatly delayed by a scarcity of resources to purchase materials as Britain and her allies grappled with the expenses of World War II.

As a result, some of the carpentry work had to be done on-site at the Technical College.