A week after the gathering of Banyakigezi in Vancouver, British Columbia, my wife and I, together with our two very close friends, are continuing our tour of parts of this beautiful province of Canada.
The gorgeous snow-capped rocky mountains; the many rivers with crystal clear waters cascading over ancient stones and rocks; the fresh water lakes and the coast of the Pacific Ocean have offered us visual treats that don’t lend themselves to easy description.
We have visited British Columbia several times in our four decades in Canada. However, each visit feels fresh and offers us new discoveries and different perspectives. We are, once again, struck by the way this country has invested in tourism – not just in its parks and other natural attractions, but in every aspect of human activity.
The partnership between governments and private citizens and businesses enables Canada to attract and serve millions of visitors every year. The World Trade and Tourism Council, reported that tourism contributed $41.8 billion to Canada’s Gross Domestic Product in 2017. That figure is expected to rise to $56.1 billion by 2028.
Whereas foreign tourists, especially from the United States of America, are major contributors to this key industry, tourists from within this country are the main foundation. Canadians have a strong appreciation of their country and proudly promote and enjoy its beauty. Setting money and time aside to explore their country is as is important to them as saving for retirement.
This is a habit and pursuit that was central to the deliberations of the just concluded Convention of the International Community of Banyakigezi (ICOB), that was held in Vancouver 10 days ago. Under the theme: ‘Unlocking Kigezi’s Tourism Potential’, excellent presentations by Ivan Mbabazi Batuma and Lillian Kamusiime, two leading tourism investors and providers in Uganda, highlighted the exceptional beauty of Kigezi and Uganda.
It is a view that I endorse without reservation. Without prejudice, and without taking away from the great beauty of other parts of Uganda, I believe that Kigezi remains underappreciated as a choice destination for the connoisseurs of beauty, culture, history and the unbeaten tourist path.
That is why ICOB has resolved to be a champion of tourism in Kigezi, not only through actively promoting the opportunities in our homeland, but also through a concerted, collaborative effort to get government investment in an infrastructure that will make tourism a successful offering in that part of the country.
This is a message that was very well articulated by Dr Lena Dacunha, my A-Level schoolmate, who recently visited Uganda after very many years away from her homeland.
Dr Dacunha is a Goan Indian whose grandparents migrated to Uganda in 1909. Her father and her siblings were born in Uganda. Lena was born in India and was taken to Uganda at three years of age. She studied at Norman Godinho (now Buganda Road) Primary School, then at Naranbhai Primary School in Jinja, before joining Mount Saint Mary’s Namagunga for O-Level education. She joined King’s College, Budo for A-Level in 1971 and left Uganda in 1972, just after the expulsion of Asians by Gen Idi Amin Dada. She joined Birmingham University, UK where she obtained a BSc degree and a PhD in Mathematical Physics. She has had a most venturesome professional career, capping it as an IT manager for Shell for 34 years.
She is now retired.
Lena has lived and worked in the UK, Netherlands, Norway, Malaysia, Dubai and Kazakhstan. She has visited the USA, Canada, Nepal, India, Kenya, France, Austria, Egypt, Qatar, Oman, Russia, Germany and Italy. So, she has seen the world and has a great point of reference. Lena, now 64 years of age, visited Kigezi in February this year. She wrote to me: “I grew up in Uganda, but never visited Kigezi. My standards for what constitutes scenic beauty were set in Jinja and Budo and are, therefore, high. I now live in the English Lake District and am very dismissive of others’ descriptions of beautiful views. What do they know?
“I arrived in Kigezi from the North, not expecting much even though I had been told it was beautiful. Like the vast majority of tourists, we were there to see the gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. That was a once in a lifetime experience. I was lucky to be in a group that was driven up to 2,300m and trekked into the forest from there. And yes we saw the gorillas. Turns out that the next two to three days spent in Kigezi were even more memorable. The area south of Bwindi, with Lake Mutanda and the Birunga (Muhabura, Mugahinga and Sabinyo) was stunning.”
“We walked from our lodge to Kisoro, about 20km. The farms were lush and the birds were colourful, including two crested cranes flying. Kisoro was another surprise, with modern buildings, tarred roads and a great lunch at a hotel in town. We also went to Birdnest at Lake Bunyonyi and through Kabale, all looking very modern. Quite a contrast from Kampala and its surrounds.
“My group were blown away by the beautiful scenery we went through and commented that we should have done more while we were there. Examples of what we could have done include a boat trip on Lake Mutanda, boating on Lake Bunyonyi, walks through some of the hills, climbing Mt Muhabura or Sabinyo. All of these are activities for which there are local guides and can be purchased as tourist activities. I was left with a feeling of enormous unexploited potential.
“We stayed four nights, but still only scratched the surface of tourism possibilities. I plan to visit again in February 2019, but this time possibly climb Muhabura. I challenge all your ICOB members to do the same.”
Dr Dacunha’s challenge is one I share, and hope will be taken up by Ugandans with disposable income to tour their home districts, then their home regions and other parts of our country. The visual dividends, some of which Dr Dacunha captured with her camera, are truly priceless.