Wednesday January 6 2010

No love lost for a country that expelled her family

TOP OF THE WORLD: The hikers on top of Mt

TOP OF THE WORLD: The hikers on top of Mt Elgon. Ms Jiwa is fifth from right in the second row. PHOTO ISAAC KASAMANI 

By Flavia Lanyero


She was not even in her mother’s womb when her family – together with at least 60,000 other Indians – was ordered to leave Uganda within 90 days in 1972.

But for Jazzmin Jiwa, now a 30-year-old journalist based in Canada, the historical bond that her family has with Uganda could not be broken even by those circumstances.

Late last year, Ms Jiwa was one of 42 tourists from Europe, USA and Canada who travelled to Uganda for a 10-day mountain climbing expedition dubbed Hike4Life and facilitated by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).

For Ms Jiwa, unlike most of the other tourists, the Hike4Life tour – which ended on January 2 and was the first in eight years to be held in Uganda – was more than just a mountain climbing experience. She says her family’s historical attachment to Uganda made the tour feel more like a homecoming.

Great bond
“My parents left in 1972, but up to now I feel linked to the country. It is this historical fact that made me come for the Hike4life tour,” said Ms Jiwa in an interview with Daily Monitor on Saturday.

“It is interesting to know that there is a link through which I can come back to Uganda. I have had the motivation to come back and explore the country from childhood. I wanted to especially see the countryside from what I have heard,” she added.

The breathtaking sight of the lush Ugandan countryside, according to Ms Jiwa, did not disappoint her.
“Few people come to Uganda especially for mountain climbing, the weather, the mountain scenery and national parks are well maintained. It makes me want to come back,” she said.

The Hike4Life group’s itinerary included overnight camping at Kalagala falls in Kayunga District on December 26, 2009 and a three-drive from Kayunga to the eastern district of Mbale.

Spectacular scenery
While in Mbale, the group climbed the 4,321 metre high Mt. Elgon and the adjacent 3,068 metre-high Mt. Kaddam, a lung bursting five-day trek in which they plodded through heavy bamboo forest terrain, camped at the 4,060 metre-high Jackson’s Caves, and enjoyed the spectacular view of Elgon crater wall as well as the Suam Gorge just to its left.

The Mt. Elgon climb ended on December 29 when the group arrived at Wagagai peak, which is the highest point of Mt Elgon. They enjoyed a spectacular view of the mountain’s crater as well as other peaks, before proceeding the next day to climb Mt. Kaddam – where they witnessed the first sunrise of 2010.

Ms Jiwa was not the only one awed by the experience.
Karim Shahed, who is from the UK, said, “The tourism here is fantastic; it is a beautiful countryside with nice hotels, good hospitality. Uganda is up there with the rest of the world, at least the old image of the country is gone.”
From their 10-day expedition, the tourists concluded that Uganda is a naturally endowed country which, however, still needs massive investments to harness the natural attributes – like in the tourism industry – in order to boost the economy.
The Country Representative of AKDN in Uganda, Mr Ahmed Mahmood, said events like Hike4Life provide an opportunity to promote its natural potential and attract investment into the country.

Open opportunity
“Investment is a key area that needs to be looked at in order to achieve development in Uganda. When these tourists come to Uganda, they will be able to sell the country’s image abroad and bring potential investors,’ explained Mr Mahmood.
AKDN, which is the world’s largest private investment agency, has itself walked such talk in Uganda with millions of dollars invested in the education, banking, hotel, media, insurance medical and electricity sectors in the country. These have generated jobs for thousands of Ugandans.

“Development goes beyond setting up schools and building hospitals. Jobs should be created so that the people are able to access jobs so as to use these facilities,” said Mr Mahmood.

To Ms Jiwa however, the strides forward that Uganda has made since the perilous days of Idi Amin alone strike a chord in her heart, leaving her to wish that other members of can make the journey back to the place they once called home.
“When I get the opportunity to come back again to Uganda, I will; and even come along with other family members,” he said. “We all have a historical bond with this country.”