Last week, the spotlight was on Kalangala District as it played host to the Kabaka’s 22nd coronation anniversary. The district, which is made up of 84 islands, also known as the Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria, is largely dependent on fishing and tourism as the leading income earners.
The Ssese Islands are significant to the Buganda kingdom since they are home to many cultural shrines. Of particular importance is the Luggo, a privately owned forest located in Buswa Village which contains the ddamula tree, a rare species from which the Ddamula Scepter, which is given to the katikkiro of the Kingdom by the kabaka as a symbol of administrative authority, is cut. Kalangala is also endowed with numerous white sandy beaches and natural rainforests unlike any other.
The Kabaka’s visit not only highlights the beauty of Ssese and its great tourism potential, it also brings into sharp focus how fast the island attractions are disappearing. Some of the island forest tree species owe their existence to the vigilant protection of individuals such as Samuel Nsagalanyi, the caretaker of Luggo Forest, in which the all-important ddamula tree grows. Meanwhile, other forests are being felled to make room for oil palm growing, among other activities.
Currently, the level of depletion in the Ssese Islands is at its peak as many trees were cut down on the island of Bugala to pave way for oil palm growing. At least 621 hectares of forest are said to have been cut down at the inception of oil palm project in 2008. Residents have also complained about the disappearance of the wetland tree species that provide a breeding ground for the huhu beetle grub, a traditional delicacy in the island district
In the face of the large scale damage to the natural tourist attractions of Ssese and the laxity in tourism promotion, it is no wonder that the revenue from tourism is dropping. Statistics from the Kalangala Tourism Board showed a 37 per cent shortfall in tourism earnings from 2014. In spite of the improvement in transport, with the introduction of a second ferry plying between Kalangala and the mainland, tourist numbers remained low during Easter holidays this year, causing outcry from tour operators and hoteliers.
With the Kabaka’s visit, Kalangala received an income boost from the visitors attending the coronation festival. However, now that the celebrations are over and the visitors have gone home, Kalangala’s problems should not be allowed to slip back into the distant recesses of the public consciousness. Now, more than ever, Kalangala needs an intervention to stop the environmental degradation that is threatening the livelihood of the district and country at large.