A few months before the 2011 general election, the ruling NRM party released a manifesto in which it committed itself to working on infrastructure aimed at consolidating the inroads that Uganda into turning into one of the leading tourist destinations in Africa.
Top on the party’s to-do list was the development of “the necessary infrastructure, especially roads and airfields, in tourism areas to enhance easy access and movement of tourists”.
The ruling party committed to “improve the movement of tourists to tourist centres, access roads that are critical to the performance of these key tourism products will be upgraded”.
“We will construct tarmac roads up to access gates in Bwindi, Mugahinga, Murchison, Budhagali, Kyabirwa, Isimba, Semuliki, Kibale and Kidepo, Lake Mburo, Lake Bunyonyi and Rwenzori national parks,” the manifesto further said.
Also listed among the roads that would be worked on the period between 2011 and the 2016 were that which leads to Namugongo Martyrs Shrine.
In justifying targeting development of infrastructure around the tourism sector, President Museveni said tourism had cut itself out as the fastest growing sector with annual growth rate of 21 per cent and contributing at least 24 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
Tourist numbers, he had said, had shot up by 600,000 in a 6 year period rising from 200,000 people in 2002 to slightly more than 800,000 people in 2008, with 140,000 of the tourists visiting wildlife protected areas where they, among other things ,tracked gorillas and other primates, watched birds and engaged in various activities like sport fishing, kayaking, mountaineering, white water rafting and nature walking.
The highest number of foreign tourists had been registered in 2007 when slightly more than 640,000 people from Europe, Asia and the Americas visited.
Prior to the release of that manifesto, the government had launched the National Development Plan 2010/11 – 2014/15, which revealed that expenditure by tourists had been on the increase, rising to $509million in 2008 up from $231million in 2004.
The NDP went on to point at nine constraints which it says had to be addressed in order to make the sector work even better. Amongst them was the infrastructure.
“A network of good roads and availability of affordable air charters are essential for the comfort, safety and security of tourists. Some existing tourism attraction facilities are inaccessible due to poor condition or absence of the requisite transport infrastructure…” the Plan reads in parts.
Seven years since both the development plan and the manifesto were unveiled, the tourism roads, as they are referred to are yet to be worked on.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Uganda Tourism Board, Mr Stephen Asiimwe, says officials from the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities and those from his own organization last week held a meeting with officials from the Uganda Roads Authority (UNRA) and discussed the matter. He however declined to divulge details of what had transpired.
UNRA’s director for communications, Mr Mark Ssali, says the Executing Director of UNRA, Ms Allen Kagina, had during last meeting furnished officials of the Ministry with details on the progress on all the roads.
“The oil roads cover 50 to 60 percent of what the tourism sector is demanding for from UNRA and they have already been prioritized. The rest, mostly in the South West and the North are also at different stages of construction process,” Mr Ssali said.
Mr Sssali said that some of the roads along the tourism circuit which are under construction include the Kyenjojo-Kabwoya Road, the Kabwoya-Kigumba-Bulima, Olwiyo - Gulu-Acholi Bur-Musingo, Soroti-Moroto, Mbale-Bubulo-Lwakhakha, and the Kampala Entebbe Expressway
He named the roads for which funding for having them upgraded has been secured as Muyembe-Nakapiripirit, Kapchorwa-Suam, Masindi-Para-Pakwach, Karuguttu-Ntoroko, Rukungiri Kihihi-Ishasha-Kanungu, Rwenkunye-Lira-Apac, Kampala-Jinja Expressway and the Kibuye-Busega-Mpigi Expressway.
Failure to pay attention to the tourism roads is threatening to derail the country’s attempts to increase the number of tourists coming to Uganda.
After years of political turmoil and civil wars that left thousands dead, thousands more displaced and confined to life in internally displaced camps, property destroyed and the country’s image in tatters, Uganda has over the years taken serious steps towards rediscovering itself.
That entailed conducting branding and marketing campaigns like “Uganda Gifted by Nature”, which resulted into some dividends including the hosting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2007.
That was followed by among other regional and international summits like the Ministerial Meeting of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) in 2008, the Smart Partnership Dialogue Summit of 2009, the African Union Summit on Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in 2009 and the Global Summit on Agro Business in 2010. Those marked out Uganda as a hub for conference tourism.
Next week the country will be hosting the United Nation’s sponsored refugee solidarity summit, which is once again another opportunity for it to showcase what it has to offer, but it not possible to build on the achievements of the past and that opportunity because of our failure to invest into much needed infrastructure.
In December 2016 the American cable and satellite television news channel, Cable News Network (CNN) named Uganda fifth on a list of 16 emerging travel destinations in the world, saying that, “meeting eyes with a silverback mountain gorilla across a misty jungle, after an arduous hike through Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, leaves everlasting impressions of arguably the best wildlife safari in the world”.
The network’s travel writer, Anisha Shah, added that, “But there’s much more to Uganda. Rich in nature, it’s an outdoor sanctuary of crater lakes, white-sand beaches on lake islands, thundering waterfalls and national parks”.
Uganda is indeed quite well endowed and has quite a variety to offer to tourists. While nature based tourism centered geographic area and linked to water bodies such as Lake Victoria, Lake Bunyonyi and River Nile and nature bodies like forests, game and wildlife parks is the main driver, there are other distinct segments of tourism on offer.
Other segments include Eco-Tourism, seen in the variety of primates such as mountain gorillas, golden monkeys and Pata Monkeys and archeological structures like the Bigo Bya Mugenyi; Faith based tourism available in the Namugongo Martyrs’ shrines as well as the hills housing important symbols of Catholic, Anglican, Bahai, Pentecostal and Islamic faiths in Uganda; and Community and Development Tourism seen in the ways of life of different cultural groupings in Uganda.
Uganda however cannot take full advantage of these different segments unless the various agencies agree on working together to clear all that which impedes the country from tapping into them.
Tourism has been a major contributor to the economy over the last five years. The sector’s contribution to GDP has been on the rise over the last 5 years. In 2013 the sector’s contribution to the economy was Shs5.6 trillion, rising to Shs6.4 trillion in 2014. During the same period, the sector provided slightly over one million jobs starting with 551,100 jobs in 2013 and rising to 592,500 jobs in 2014.
During the same duration the sector saw 1,206,334 visitors come to Uganda in 2013, a figure which rose to 1,266,046 in 2014.
In November last year, Mr Asiimwe told the media in Kampala that the number of tourists visiting Uganda had hit the 1.2million people’s mark in 2015 and was targeting 1.5million people by the end of 2017.
Mr Asiimwe was however quick to add that UTB’s target was to ensure that the 2015 number of tourists would have in five years been multiplied by slightly more than 3 times.
“Our target is that by 2021 we want to have 4 million visitors. The government has prioritized tourism roads and we have also contracted three international marketing firms to promote the country in Europe and North America,” he said.
However, failure to work on the roads in Kigezi region, a gateway to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Elgon region, gateway to Mount Elgon National Park and those leading to the Murchison Falls National Park, or the road from Moroto to Kotido and Kabong, gateway to Kidepo National Park is now threatening to stifle what growth in that sector. The goals that UTB arrogated itself will not be achieved.
Poor roads infrastructure has often made it very difficult for motorists to make the journey from not only Entebbe International Airport to Kampala, but also from Kampala to game parks and national parks a nightmare. No tourist wants to go through such an ordeal.
“There is a very thin line between what UNRA works on, and what the District Councils and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) are meant to work on, but we submitted a list of the roads that we would love to see worked on to boost the tourism sector. The Executive Director (ED) of the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) also came out with a laundry list of the roads that they are working on. We can only wait”
Stephen Asiimwe, Chief Executive Officer Uganda Tourism Board
“This oil is becoming a problem. They are heavily borrowing to invest in the oil sector. They are ignoring the tourism sector which has been contributing towards the economy. Despite having fewer gorillas than ourselves, Rwanda has doubled the number of its gorilla permits. It is receiving many more visitors than ourselves because it invested in infrastructure. Visitors travel on tarmac all the way from Kigali” –
Robert Centenary, MP Kasese Mun and Shadow Minister for Tourism
Daily Monitor position
Like it was pointed out in the 2010/2011 – 2014/2015 National Development Plan, infrastructure is the block on which Uganda can build to develop the tourism industry. It is therefore critical that Uganda works to ensure that tourists easily access the country’s tourism sites and that they are availed the services that they need in order to have a memorable stay.
Good roads not only make it easy for tourists to access the hinterland, but also present the prospects of other social and economic benefits for local communities. The erection of roadside businesses trading in art crafts and fruits would open up employment opportunities at a time when the economy is hardly generating any jobs.
Uganda has previously been known to be “beautiful country with nice and hospitable people”. It is time for us to build on that.
However, while it is important that the country works on the roads, it should also be giving attention to the development of internal air, water and rail transport networks to provide tourists with alternative means of transport from the main entrance at Entebbe Airport.
Where such a network has been developed tourists can either fly from Entebbe to Kasese, Mbarara, Gulu, Arua, Moroto or Kidepo Airfields in order to access the Game and National Parks, or simply make the journey to Jinja by boat on Lake Victoria.
Development of the railway transport network could also allow them make the journey by train from Kampala to either Kasese in the West, Jinja in the West or Pakwach in the North.