According to Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), two out of every 10 Ugandans have been to most of the tourism centrers around the country. Translated, only 20 per cent of Ugandans have visited most of the tourism centres in the country.
In light of the tourism sector’s strategic direction to promote domestic travel, this is one of the challenges facing Sam Mwandha, the newly appointed executive director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
With a rich experience in Natural resource management, Mwandha says he is ready to steer the team in the Uganda Wildlife Authority to the best of his ability. Mwandah, who holds a master’s degree in natural resources, has been involved in wildlife management over the last 23 years.
“If we adopt a mindset change approach in the way we sensitize our fellow citizens, we shall have them visit our parks and get more revenue to further develop these parks and add on the already limited facilities that we have,” he says.
Tourism contributes more than 10 per cent of GDP. Since 2007, tourism revenue has grown from Shs1.4 billion ($400m) to more than Shs4.4 trillion ($1.2 billion) as of the 2017 National Budget. This figure is expected to grow further to Shs9.2 trillion ($2.5 billion) in 2020. Tourism employs more than two million people directly and indirectly.
Mindful of the existing opportunities, Mwandha has laid out strategies to take advantage of the favourable environment.
“We need to have more resources to invest further into the sector if we want to see more growth both as UWA and for the private sector. I expect that as a result of further investment, our services will improve, become better and more competitive,” he says.
Having worked with African Wildlife Foundation last seven years, Mwandha says he has observed a renewed interest by international NGOs and development partners to support wildlife conservation.
“We should position ourselves to tap into this opportunity and guide them in the areas we believe are of our priorities. UWA has a good working relationship with several stakeholders, both in government and private sector. This will be enhanced and strengthened so as to benefit from the synergies that come with this good relationship,” he says.
“We still have a lot of wildlife outside protected areas. We should work with the landowners and communities to ensure proper management of such resources not only for their benefit but also to ensure the numbers even multiply,” he adds.
Key among the challenges Mwandha is bound to face, is political interference as the population grows around protected areas.” he said.
In July 2014, UWA issued a permit for the export of more than 7,000kg of pangolin scales to Laos. Pangolin scales, skin and meat are all highly valued, making it the most illegally traded mammal in the wild, according to International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Pangolin meat is a delicacy among the newly affluent parts of China and Vietnam.
Mwandha is faced with the task of stopping poaching and degradation of parks.
At the helm of UWA, he will be required to oversee the management and turnaround of game reserves that have been neglected and become a haven for poaching.
He is also faced with ensuring the improvement of infrastructure, and thus making national parks more accessible to Ugandans through construction and better maintenance of UWA budget bandas. The bandas in most of the parks have fallen apart in the last few years even though private sector investment in accommodation in and around parks has grown.
Also on his docket is the reclaiming Uganda’s position as the choice destination for gorilla tourism which we have lost to Rwanda even though Uganda is home to more than half of the world’s mountain gorillas.
Balancing the conservation role of UWA with investment in revenue generation activities is key. He will likely get a push back from private sector investors who are keen to monopolise the travel business but only target rich foreigners, leaving would be domestic tourists as spectators.
Rising to the challenge
Asked what he feels about the new appointment, Mwandha says the appointment is a call for him to serve and nothing more than that.
“I heartily thank the appointing authority for this appointment. I take this as a vote of confidence in me and my abilities but most importantly the values I stand for. This appointment bestows on me a huge responsibility which I am ready to take on together with the team at UWA, the Ministry of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities, sister agencies and all stakeholders in the sector,” he says.
What to expect of Mwandha
In demonstrating his commitment to serve, Mwandha outlines six areas and avenues in which he intends to act.
• The sector should expect an open and transparent method of work.
• We want to ensure efficient utilisation of resources and proper setting of our priorities.
• Uganda Wildlife Authority should be 100 per cent self-sufficient and for this to happen, there has to be innovations that generate more revenues and systems that eliminate all forms of wasteful expenditures.
• We want meaningful and functional partnerships with different stakeholders in various areas such as research and development, community empowerment and other development projects so that we execute our mandate collectively with the involvement of our partners.
• We shall strengthen our communication with the public to ensure that people access timely and credible information about the organization and what we do.
• We shall put in place a communication strategy that will guide all our communication aspects and also ensure that we build a good working relationship with the media because they are key partners in our work.
What he brings to the team
Mwandha says that despite his individual contributions to the team as the ED, UWA has a team of dedicated staff who are professional in their different fields.
“All offices by their nature have issues and that is why people are appointed into them,” he says continuing, “Issues are sometimes different and each issue usually requires a unique way of handling on its own merit. In addressing issues affecting us, we will bring them on board so that we can benefit from their goodwill.”
Mwandha says the values that have been set at the authority will be his baseline.
“We have values that were developed to guide operations at Uganda Wildlife Authority and I want us ferociously pursue these values,” he says determined.
“We are a conservation organization and therefore we need to commit ourselves to conservation efforts so that whatever we do serves the conservation purpose for which we exist as an organisation,” he adds.
According to Solomon Oleny, who has closely worked with Mwandha, is a man who ardently believes in teamwork and passionate about conservation.
To the confirmation of what is said about him, Mwandha says, “Teamwork is important for the smooth running and success of any organization. I want to build and enhance teamwork in the organisation so that we have a shared responsibility and shared vision of where we are going. We understand that we have clients; therefore we want to ensure we implement the client charter of government by ensuring customer care and offering quality services to all our clients. Incidentally, customer care and quality services, is one of the core values of UWA.”
Mwandah asserts that he wants to serve with a high degree of professionalism, engage in research not only to generate credible wildlife information for the public but also make research and evidence based decisions.