Njuki Moments

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Uganda at 50: The more things change the more they stay the same

In October this year, Uganda will be 50 years old. Her beauty un -diminished the girl has a story to tell. Having grown and retarded almost in equal measure we examine what has made the 50 years worthwhile and what we would rather forget as a country. Beauty and tourism: The thing with natural beauty is that you don’t earn it; it is natural and is simply bestowed on one by God. So was the case of Uganda. Sadly because no wars are fought to win beauty not many people and countries in this case put in that much effort to maintain or grow that beauty. In 1908 Sir Winston Churchill, then Colonial Secretary of the United Kingdom, in his book My African Journey, detailing his visits to British colonies said this about Uganda. “My journey is at an end, the tale is told, and the reader who has followed so faithfully so far has a right to ask what message I bring back. It can be stated in three words: “Concentrate on Uganda”. But it is alive by itself. It is vital, and in my view, in spite of its insects and its diseases, it ought in the course of time to become the most prosperous of all our East and Central African possessions, and perhaps the “financial driving wheel of all this part of the world”. My counsel plainly is: Concentrate upon Uganda! Nowhere else in Africa will a little money go so far. Nowhere else will the results be more brilliant, more substantial or more rapidly realized. Uganda is from end to end a ‘beautiful garden’ where ‘staple food’ of the people grows almost without labour. Does it not sound like a paradise on earth? It is the Pearl of Africa. Now compare this with the lonely planet magazine’s description of the same country 104 years later. ‘Uganda is Africa condensed, with the best of everything the continent has to offer packed into one small but stunning destination. Uganda is home to the highest mountain range in Africa, the Mountains of the Moon in the Rwenzori National Park. It is the source of the mighty Nile, and around Jinja offers the best white-water rafting in the world. It has the highest concentration of primates on earth, including the majestic mountain gorilla, one of the rarest animals on the planet. Head to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park for a chance to get close to these great apes. On top of all this, the scenery is so striking that it looks like an oil painting, the beautiful national parks see far fewer visitors than in neighboring Kenya and Tanzania, and the capital, Kampala, is safer and friendlier than most in Africa.’ Sadly, Uganda is yet to ‘become the most prosperous of all our East and Central African possessions, ‘or even the ‘financial driving wheel of all this part of the world’. A typical case of failing to turn blessings into assets. Even with ‘other people’s’ discovery of the pearl gifted by nature, not much has been curved out of this for its children. Majority of Uganda’s continue to slave away in unproductive gardens scratching the surface of the earth with hand hoes for food and economic survival instead of putting to use the easily available tourism potential. Like is the case with most natural beauties there develops a sense of entitlement, working against the beauty instead of for. Uganda has not been able to lead its East African neighbors as Winston predicted and sputtering efforts are still the only response government is giving to this huge potential despite being the leading exchange earner for the country by its very nature. Amos Wekesa, president of Uganda Tourism Association cites poor marketing strategies, poor infrastructure and lack of political support as the major setbacks in developing the tourism sector. He says that although Uganda is blessed with some of the most breathtaking sites in Africa, and that tourism creates more jobs than many other sector, the little political support accorded to the sectors has seen Uganda play catch-up to counterparts like Kenya. “How come that with all our natural endowments, other African countries like our neighboring Kenya are doing far better than us in brand imaging?” Wekesa asked. However the tourism players seem to have acquired an un-failing fighting spirit. They have designed a campaign which will seek to boost Uganda’s tourism once the proposed 7 Wonders National Program takes center stage. The campaign will also boost Uganda's revenue earnings with figures estimated at over $2.5b each year. The initiative designed by Amos Wekesa Masaba a tourism investor and President Uganda Tourism Association is supported by the Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU). “The campaign shall involve asking Ugandans within and abroad to choose Uganda’s 7 wonders. The selection of the 7 wonders will start with President, Cabinet, and Parliament before it rolls out across the country,” he said recently. A World Bank program implemented by PSFU has approved funding for the initial survey of the tourism attractions amongst tourism stakeholders to choose the best 30 natural wonders out of which the whole nation will choose the top 7 wonders of Uganda. The features will be identified from across the whole country with selections spread across flora, fauna, national parks and forests. Others will include rivers, mountains, rocks, historical, religious and anthropological sites. Gideon Badaggawa the chief executive PSFU says the campaign is a boost towards improving competitiveness in the Ugandan tourism industry. ‘Uganda’s scenic, unique and rich tourism potential has gone unnoticed over years,” he said. Despite the tourism potential, Uganda receives a small number of tourists averaging around 500,000 a year. Wekesa is optimistic revenues will double once the numbers of tourists rise. “What we need is market for our products and what would be better that attracting 2m people each year with a potential of each at least $2500 (Shs7m) while in Uganda,’ he mused. Unlike other East African countries that invested much in tourism last year (Kenya-$23m, Tanzania $10m, Rwanda $5m) Uganda only invested $300,000 earning a paltry $650m.Yet unlike the other states, Uganda still stands out because it has the highest density of primates (gorillas, chimps, baboons). According to the National development plan which was rolled out two years ago by President Museveni seeking to get Uganda into the middle income bracket by 2017,there is still work to be done. The plan whose goal is that on average, every Ugandan earns at least Shs1.8 million ($900)per year, details tourism as a key growth sector. However the plan is yet to move away from what is – just a plan. Hopefully, the next fifty years will find Uganda much wiser, more competitive and fitting into what Churchill saw 104 year ago realized as a regional power house, only 154 year late but on course. This article first appeared in The CEO Magazine May 2012.

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