By Dr. Ian Clarke
I have been a bit caught off guard in writing this column, since I lost track of time and almost missed the deadline. I suspect I am no different than many people in this period between the Christmas and New year who are so relaxed that they don’t know what day of the week it is. I hasten to add that this is not because I have had an overdose of the Christmas spirit, but because I have traveled to Zanzibar where time appears to stand still, or even go back.
So now I have been left to find inspiration and write a column within the next one hour, so that I can make the deadline before the Sunday Vision goes to print. Taking inspiration from the surroundings around me, where there is art, hotels, spices, and tourism I have been thinking about how Uganda can learn from Zanzibar. This is a small island in which one can travel from the northern tip to the southernmost point in two hours, yet it has at least one thousand hotels, with tourists flying in from all corners of the world.
This is not to say that Zanzibar is such an amazing place: it is not some kind of African Disney World. In fact, it is a decaying island, but it catches the imagination of tourists, and they flock here for a whole variety of reasons. One reason, which Uganda can’t match, is the white sandy beaches, and another, which Uganda has allowed itself to lose, is its history. But Zanzibar has also sold itself as ‘Spice Island’ and people actually take spice tours, which means that they go on a tour through some villages, meet the local villagers and are shown how they grow spices. Another name for this kind of tourism is eco-tourism in which tourists get to know how the local people live. It is becoming increasingly popular throughout the world, and Uganda is the ideal place for eco-tourism. Ugandans are taught English at schools, so more of them speak English than Tanzanians; they are very friendly and they are so happy when they receive visitors, especially foreigners.
There is so much talk about unemployment among young people in Uganda, while at the same time most Ugandans are involved in subsistence farming, so why not put the two things together and bring tourists to see Ugandans in their traditional way of life. Of course, there are some things which we do in Uganda which militate strongly against ecotourism, such as scattering rubbish all over the countryside. There is currently a worldwide campaign against plastics, because large amounts of plastics are finding their way into the sea, and into our food-chain, but if one walks around any scenic route in Uganda one will be treading knee deep in garbage and plastic bags. Rwanda took the issue seriously and is now admired all around the world for being environmentally friendly, while we still wallow in plastics and garbage.
Uganda has been lauded in many of the mainstream tourism magazines as being one of the top tourist destinations in the world, but what are we doing to promote Uganda ourselves? Simply by cleaning up our environment we would score points. We can use what already exists in the form of traditional Ugandan agriculture to show people how most Ugandans live. We can show people traditional Ugandan cooking using banana leaves, and allow them to try it out for themselves, as I once did in Vietnam. I am involved in coffee farming, and some people would love to see how coffee is grown and where their cup of coffee comes from. There are many small holder coffee farmers in the Rwenzori and on Mount Elgon where it is fascinating to see how they pick and hull their coffee.
So, in 2018, instead of moaning about all the problems, let us recognize what we have, what we can do to improve what we have, and make the best of it.
And now since I have written my column, I will be able to get back to enjoying my holiday in Zanzibar (what day is it?). May I take this opportunity to wish all my readers a Happy and Prosperous and Blessed New Year in 2018