By Mike Ssegawa
I am a tourism proponent. Uganda is possibly the best place you can ever live in on earth- after heaven that is. And yes, despite the huge amounts of teargas one is bound to inhale every other week, or the mean looking security guys decked in all sorts of gear walking the streets, Uganda is still the best place to live. That’s what I know as a Ugandan. However that is not how things work in the tourism business.
I understand the pain and how sorry my friends in Uganda tourism promotion sector are feeling; Amos Wekesa, Stephen Asiimwe, Edwin Muzahur,a John Ssempebwa, Andrew Seguya, Herbert Byaruhanga, Baluku Geoffrey, Kiwanda Godfrey, Muhereza Kyamutetera, Namutebi Muwala Wa Goretti, Amon Mugume, Bakora Tibangambensi, Moses Sebidde Kiryowa, Moses Serugo, Edgar R. Batte, Solomon Mario Oleny etc; spend their time trying to promote Uganda as a tourist destination and the next day their efforts end up in a trash basket.
This is akin to the Greek legend of Sisyphus.
Sisyphus was the cunning king of Corinth who was punished in Hades by having repeatedly to roll a huge stone up a hill only to have it roll down again as soon as he had brought it to the summit.
The worst image Uganda promoters have been battling are; insecurity, anti-gay fears and disease outbreaks such as ebola.
Ugandan tourism promoters however have tried to explain that the above are behind us, and instead craft the story about Uganda which makes adventure lovers look beyond the dark history which created fear in the mind of tourists.
We have in the process spent billions of shillings to pay PR consultants in Europe and America to tell this beautiful story. People like Wekesa go an extra mile to spend less time in his AC office on the top of one of Kampala’s hill overlooking Lake Victoria, talking to individuals, small groups and conferences around the globe at his cost. And there are many people doing this job on different scales. I am told about a young woman, KeyMe Akiiki, who does a good job promoting everything about Tooro region. I met Enid Mirembe the other day who promotes Ugandan cuisines e.g the #rolex, and so many Ugandan heroes (country promoters). What do I lead to? After energy, time, money, passion, etc has been spent. Our story goes back to square one. A political conflict breaks out on the streets. A woman is killed. A disease breaks out. A careless statement is made. It hurts. Whereas we have lots of natural resources that warmongers can harvest even amidst war, tourism is the gold that blossoms in peace, stability and tranquility. We are a few days from celebrating #WorldTourismDay in #Kalangala. It will be a wastage of resources to talk about the beauty of Uganda if our political atmosphere is characterized with greed, conflict, war. What is, however, at stake are hundreds of jobs that depend on the trust one single tourist puts into our country. The visa fee, the cab fare, the roadside snack, the bodaboda, the hotel room, the memorabia. the food, drink, etc consumed by tourists and their providers – the Ugandans – are at loss.
Figures for tourists arriving in Uganda had risen. We are almost gunning 1.5 million a year. The optimists in the tourism sector say, they want 4 million arrivals. I hear the president, Mr Museveni, believes and wants 4 million visitors as we need their forex badly too. Truth is – we cannot go far with what we are seeing on the streets. That scares any tourist who wants to come here to have a good time. No one wants to leave the comfort of their homes and countries, to come here to be threatened, teargassed, beaten or God forbid, killed. And by the way, the US embassy has already issued an advisory for its citizens in Uganda. Meaning, Kampala is unsafe!!!
I know this long post is useless for those in power. May be they do not care. Many of us nevertheless do. The young people who will inherit this country after this madness is gone, you should strive to make this country always peaceful, stable, and governed by neutral laws. That way, you will not worry about the price of oil or coffee at global markets. Our tourism; the Source of the Nile, the gorillas, the Rwenzori ice, our Lake Victoria, our national parks, our falls, our hot-springs, our forests, our caves, our cultures, etc…will bring people from East and West. They will leave their money here. And their money will be your money. You will have enough to feed your families, and the balance to invest in your dreams and aspirations