Uganda Makerere University fire: ‘Ivory Tower’ gutted

A fire has gutted an iconic building at Uganda’s Makerere University, which is a prominent landmark in the capital.

Known as the “Ivory Tower”, an overnight blaze has left its distinctive white walls with blue-shuttered windows blackened.

Police in Kampala have started an investigation into the cause of the fire at one of Africa’s oldest and most prestigious universities. The vice-chancellor described the destruction as unbelievable.

The university wants to restore the “Ivory Tower” as soon as possible

“It is a very dark morning for Makerere University. Our iconic Main Administration Building caught fire and the destruction is unbelievable. But we are determined to restore the building to its historic state in the shortest time possible,” Vice-Chancellor Barnabas Nawangwe tweeted.

Fire officers fought the huge fire from around midnight, reports the BBC’s Patience Atuhaire from Kampala.

Flames engulfed the main building of the university in the early hours

Though most of it had been put out by early on Sunday afternoon, some parts of the building were still smouldering and smoke could still be seen, our reporter says.

There was a sense of shock as people looked on at the damage on Sunday morning

Huge cracks can be seen on some of the outer walls, most of the roof has been burnt off and many of the windows are completely burnt out, she says.

During the night the fire had spread to several floors

Initial reports indicate that the fire may have started from the roof, spreading to floors that house the finance and records department.

A historian of East Africa, Derek Peterson, says the fire is a disaster for Uganda and for East Africa.

The main building held student records and the archives of the Makerere University

“The building holds student records, and the basement is full of archive files spanning the whole history of the institution,” he tweeted, adding that he had been intending to help organise a project to catalogue the collection.

L-R: Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta and Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda in procession followed by P Anyang' Nyong'o and Chancellor Dr Apollo Milton Obote at the inauguration of Makerere University in Kampala Uganda, 8 October 1970
image captionIn 1970, African presidents, including Makerere graduate Julius Nyerere of Tanzania (L), attended a ceremony at the university

Makerere was first established in 1922 as a technical school and has grown into a widely respected university.

A photo of the "Ivory Tower" before the fire - Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
image captionThe construction of the “Ivory Tower” building began in the 1930s and was completed in 1941

Its alumni include independence-era leaders such as Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, renowned writers including Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o, academics and clergy like John Sentamu, the recently retired Anglican archbishop of York.

Graduates at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda - 2018
image captionMakerere University is Africa’s fifth-best university, according to the latest rankings by the Times Higher Education