By Titus Kakembo
Talk about tourism in Uganda triggers thoughts about gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Kidepo Valley National Park in North Eastern Uganda and the snowcapped Rwenzori Mountains.
But the ministry of tourism is determined to change this perception by identifying and promoting a variety of products in Eastern Uganda.
“We have accommodation facilities of different classes to cater for the tourists,” said the traditional leader Omukuka Wamimbi.
“The good weather, a variety of organic foods, mountain climbing, birds and most of all, our culture can make any one have something of interest.”
Adding that, “The alternating imbalu (circumcision ceremony) if marketed can become a crowd puller.”
This triggered support of his idea to the effect that it ought to be branded the Bugishu carnival.
Rock climbing is another thriller in eastern Uganda which renders gyms useless. Photo by Titus Kakembo Rock climbing is another thriller in eastern Uganda which renders gyms useless. Photo by Titus Kakembo
“What with the seductive kadodi gyrations, jogging and dancing from village to village,” argued a tour operator John Kiddu. “If Kadodi is coupled with drinks and snacks it has the potential to beat either the annual goat’s race or the MTN marathon.”
Dr. Bintora K Adonia focused on the business aspects of tourism on a wider perspective saying its contribution to the GDP growth was three percent in 2013.
“On a sad note,” stressed Dr. Bintora. “After contributing $6.6 trillion and creating several jobs, the infrastructure to most destinations is still wanting. Guests with busy schedules waste a lot of time in transit. A trip to Kidepo Valley National Park takes not less than eight hours one way.”
Time and again Uganda Tour Operators Association have urged government to drop taxes on aviation services if the air travel facilities are to be exploited to capacity.
Zebras and bushbacks grazing together in harmony in Kidepo Valley National Park. Photo by Titus Kakembo
“Entebbe International Airport services are considered the most expensive in the great lakes region,” says Uganda Tourist Association president Herbert Byaruhanga.
“If dropped we would ably compete with our counterparts in the time it takes a guest to see a mountain gorilla or the Big Five.”
“There are species of birds only found on the Elgon Mountain ranges,” said the traditional leader of the Bagishu Omukuka.
“It is time Mbale ceases to be the base for expeditions to Kidepo Valley National Park. This is such a thriving town with lots of activity. It enjoys a cool weather and a panoramic landscape being located at the base of Mount Elgon.”
“The east is a gem waiting to be dusted for it to glow,” boasted Omukuka.
“For a start there is the panoramic view of Mount Elgon. Then there is the challenge of climbing it to the highest peak where there is a caldera.
On top of that is the circumcision season which happens in alternating years.”
The workshop participants were shocked to be told that there are visitors from abroad who are tired of the bright lights attractions in big cities and would love to come and experience real life in eastern Uganda.
Ajono (millet beer) stiffly competes with wines in eastern Uganda. Photo by Titus Kakembo
“This is what we call Stay in Cultural Tourism,” said Lyazi Vivian from the Ministry of Tourism.
“These people want to see how coffee beans are picked from a tree, dried and ground into a beverage they cherish on their dining tables.
And they will pay between $10-$30 per head, for every day they spend in your home. The conditions being availability of hygienic surrounding and safety guarantee.”
He said it has been piloted in Bombo where the Nubian homes tell their guests their history and sell them crafts.
The symposium left the participants pregnant with ambitions to exploit existing tourism opportunities in their midst.
“You do not have to be a millionaire to reap the fruits of tourism,” confided John Gidudu.
“I am going to be a tour guide. I know the history of this place like the back of my hand. I did not know this is a product I can sell!”
Counting the attractions on the Eastern Uganda itinerary kicked off with The Source of The Nile, Mabira Forest in Busoga, Mount Elgon in Mbale, Nyero Rock Paintings in Teso and Kidepo Valley National Park in Karamoja.
“There is value for money in eastern Uganda,” sums up UWA executive director Dr. Andrew Seguya. “Kidepo gives you a picture of what Africa was before modernization cropped in our midst.”