By David Mugabe
“The slogan must be a strong culture based on modernization, wealth creation and poverty eradication,” noted President Yoweri Museveni speaking at one of the largest cultural festivals in recent times.
Museveni was on Tuesday presiding over this year’s Imbalu ceremony in which close to 300,000 people descended on Mutoto grounds in Bulambuli. The occasion has been endorsed as a major signature event on the domestic tourism trail.
To mark its significance as a major product that will be promoted, Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), the tourism marketing agency partnered with the Inzi ya Masaba (Bugishu cultural institution) to kick-start this product’s development.
Stephen Asiimwe, UTB chief executive described Tuesday’s Imbalu occasion as “phenomenal”.
“There was an explosion of spending, in the tourism calendar, it is the second largest crowd puller after Namugongo,” noted Asiimwe.
Asiimwe noted that the Bugishu cluster has the richest diversity beyond wildlife and nature. There is Mount Elgon, Sipi Falls, Wanale Hill, bull fighting and the Kakungulu heritage.
The occasion came alive in one of the greatest show of unity for a cultural event that has united this sub-region for about a century.
“This is an occasion that unites everybody, on Easter Muslims don’t come and on Idd Christians don’t come, politicians from the political divide are all here,” observed Asiimwe.
UTB is also pushing for the establishment of a museum in the region.
Every year, boys between 13-18 years are initiated into manhood by circumcision. About 1,000 kids are expected to be initiated in the next few months.
“The product is there, what is needed is marketing, we would like to see people coming from all over the country,” noted Asiimwe
Domestic tourism events like the Imbalu are creating a new economy cementing tourism’s role as a major generator of gross domestic product.
Days before thousands descended on Mutoto on Tuesday, tents were erected, while semi-detached houses were built to act as lodges, eating places and bars. On Tuesday as thousands lined up, sweating men hundreds of creates into the venue before the stock of the last few days had run out.while
President Yoweri Museveni graced the ceremony at Mutoto grounds in Bulambuli. Photo by Donald Kiirya
“The biggest beneficiaries were the foods and beverages from local brew sold in plastic jerrycans, beers and sodas,” said a local politician. All the hotels were taken from large, medium to small while people spent the whole night partying despite it being mid-week. Events organizers and boda bodas in scores made brisk business.
Then in the guest tents, books about the Bamasaba culture were traded while tags, memorabilia of the cultural institutions sold by mobile vendors.
This is the same spectacle that was at Namugongo martyrs shrine but for the Imbalu, the activities last months. Also the carnival like celebration brings together five districts of Bududa, Bulambuli, Manafwa, Sironko and Mbale. That means transporters, fuel dealers, garages and tax authorities all realize a spike in revenue.
“This trickle-down effect and value chain points to the incredible impact tourism has on all aspects of society compared to other sectors like oil and gas whose resources can be hijacked by a few people leaving the majority in continuous poverty,” noted Amos Wekesa, a tourism investor.
President Museveni acknowledged that culture cannot be strong if perpetual poverty exists.
“For culture to thrive, it must pull people out of poverty, if you don’t create jobs, our children will go into prostitution because of lack of money,” said Museveni while urging local leaders to take up the fight against poverty.
Museveni emphasized the integration of an acre of coffee, another of fruits, one acre of foodstuffs and Friesian cows on another acre as a way to safeguard household income.
“That is how culture can be strong, poverty is a big danger for Africa and Uganda, I am happy with Mbale because they are serious with industry, we are going to have an industrial park and already 12 factories are lining up,” noted the president adding that government will secure sh4b to compensate people.
Distinguished legislator Nandala Mafabi said the occasion now allows tourists to trace the journey where the world acclaimed Bugishu Arabica coffee originates from.
“They took it to Brazil and it failed,” noted Mafabi.
Kenya and EAC joining in
The Bamasaba also live in Kenya and Tuesday celebration also witnessed the participation of a delegation from two Kenyan provinces of Bungoma and Trans-Nzoia. There were also Kenyan media who travelled to what is emerging as one of the largest cultural festivals in Africa.
“There is no circumcision in Kenya until it is flagged off in Bugishu, if they did, they would be held liable for tough disciplinary action,” said Mafabi.
Tourism minister Maria Mutagamba said the occasion is to “celebrate endurance for our land.”
“We are determined to make tourism inclusive, every Uganda will benefit women, children cultivates men and cattle keepers,” noted Mutagamba.