Tourism: We have failed to ‘play God’ and that is very dangerous
Posted Tuesday, November 5 2013 at 02:00
Ever since we knew about the total eclipse and how Pakwach in Nebbi District, West Nile would provide one of the best viewing points in the world, Ugandans have thrown the word ‘tourism’ all over the place.
That we are gifted by nature and we are peaceful, so tourists should come and see what we have to offer is the preferred argument. That our arsenal is full of magnificent vegetation, breathtaking geographical features such as lakes, rivers, rapids, hot springs, mountains, and wildlife. That we are also very nice people, warm and welcoming has become legendary.
All these are very good aspects in a tourism marketing strategy. But looking at global trends, Uganda needs to do some serious thinking. Most of what nature has proffered on us is available in very many countries and as such the competition for tourists for nature is increasingly becoming very stiff and expensive. You have to have something extra.
That is what takes me back many years ago. In our Christian Religious Education class, a debate was started by a student who wanted to know what happened to the world when God took a break on the seventh day of the creation week.
The student insisted that the credit to God for creation, ended that day. He argued that whatever took place or takes place these days has no God in it. Our Missionary teacher, Mr Evans, said after the seventh day, God delegated to man (and woman) the work of creation and that those who took him seriously would scale the heights.
According to www.rediff.com, some of the cities with the highest numbers of visitors recorded in millions of people in 2012-13 include: Bangkok 15.98, London 15.96, Paris 13.92, Singapore 11.75, New York 11.52, Istanbul 10.37.
In 2010 according to World Bank indicators, Uganda recorded close to 946,000 visitors.
The countries that dwarf us do not necessarily have better gifts of nature. They have simply cast their net very wide and broadened their view and comprehension of what tourism is.
Whereas ours is still a traditional attitude, which means our scope for tourist caters for those who are interested in nature, wildlife, vegetation and culture practices, most countries have gone several steps further. They take every little thing as being of interest and importance to someone else in the world.
For instance, take the people who are interested in sports and would relish the idea of coming to Uganda to get information regarding the late John Akii Bua, the record breaker of the 1972 400m hurdles in Munich. Did anyone have the presence of mind to preserve the vest, running number and shoes in which he achieved this feat? What about the same items for our current marathon sensation, Stephen Kiprotich?
Things like health spas, art galleries, museums, libraries, night clubs, eateries, science, technology and food fairs, cars and air shows, etc., are many of the things that we do not offer.
Yet they are of interest to many people and would serve to compliment the much touted gifts of nature.
On paper these are simple things. The reality is that they would require serious, focused and committed minds that have a long-term broad nationalistic view in all they do. There the mind and spirits that have taken seriously what our missionary teacher told us; the mandate to continue with the process of innovation and creation and there we have lacked since time immemorial.
What the colonialists and our forefathers left at Independence is what we have although most of it is in a rundown or stagnant condition. The Uganda Museum is a case in point. In other instances, what would be of interest like the history of the rule of Iddi Amin, was deliberately destroyed after the takeover of 1979 like happened to the Gbadolite Castle of Mobutu Sese Seko because of our petty politics and destructive primitive instincts.
The Great Wall of China, the Statue of Liberty, the London Eye, The Deutsche Museum, Madam Tussauds, the Eiffel Tower or the Leaning Tower of Pisa are not gifts of nature. Neither are the Kasubi Tombs or the Kabaka’s Lake. They are gifts of creation and innovation.
That is what will enrich the trove of what we offer tourists and increasing the number of visitors. Nature alone will not suffice.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. firstname.lastname@example.org