Healing from the past: an architectural memorial and healing response to the 2000 religious mass murder in Kanungu, Uganda

Ainomugisha, Cynthia
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This research examines the use of an architecture project to respond to a tragedy that claimed approximately 1000 lives in Uganda. The research tracks a design process intended to foster common value through spaces of retreat, and spiritual healing, but most significantly a space for commemoration. This is a story about a massacre that claimed 1000 followers of the Movement of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God in March 2000, in Kanungu district, Uganda. While a lot of the information around this tragic event remains shrouded in mystery, it is known that there was a leadership team that guided faithful believers into an inferno. Minimal scholar attention has been done on this tragedy despite it having the highest death toll of any religious mass murder in human history. Additionally, the community of Kanungu was not given an opportunity for closure and healing from this tragedy as the deceased were simply buried in a mass grave that is currently identified by a tree. These mass graves are not accessible to the bereaved families and are covered in overgrown vegetation today. Memorialisation through reflection and healing is supported by museum gallery exhibitions and display spaces. The design aims to achieve remembering through the built form and to justify the positive effect of collective memory. The project shall also interrogate academic or dark tourist curiosities through commercial activities that give back to a community that was affected by this tragedy. This Memorial project serves as a converging point for people from all over the world to examine the activities of the Movement of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God (MRTCG) in Kanungu at the turn of the millennium, to interrogate impacts on the local community, and to explore the continuing significance of massacre sites as centres for collective memory. This document provides the project rationale and discusses considerations that lead to the proposal of a commemoration project as the timely and critical strategy to pay respects to the dead, as well as empower Kanungu town through supporting local enterprise. The document also discusses the context within which the site is located as well as provides a rationale for the Project. A programme for the architectural intervention is presented along side the Memorial and Space theories justifying the design decisions made. The project also explores the use of architecture to create healing environments for users and the local community through integrated outdoor design and involvement of local communities in the building process. This project is proposed at a time when the tourism contribution is critical to the National Budget and GDP of Uganda. The Uganda Tourism Board aims at increasing revenue for the country and this unique proposal contributes to the country’s tourism portfolio
A design project submitted to the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Architecture (Professional) July 2021