Private sector institutions, in partnership with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), have embarked on robust initiatives aimed at mapping, developing and marketing tourism around Mt Elgon region.
In a bid to increase the number of tourists visiting the region, the duo has earmarked the construction of Mt Elgon Culture and History Museum, the opening of Bushiyi track in Bududa District, leading to Wagagai peak on Mt Elgon National Park.
The route will be the shortest and easiest for tourists to reach the peak of Mt Elgon compared to the existing Sasa trail, which is currently in a deplorable state, followed by Sipi trail and Piswa trail.
Other moves include robust online marketing strategy, spearheaded by Casa Uganda Lodges and Safaris, the development of Kakungulu memorial site, the upgrading of Mutoto cultural site into tourism centre, among others.
Francis Wanyina, the proprietor of Mt Elgon Culture and History Museum, says the combined efforts are aimed at turning the region into a tourism powerhouse in the country.
Wanyina says the museum will house not only Imbalu (circumcision) art crafts, but also other artistic paintings and sculptures, which are revered by tourists.
“The museum will showcase the traditional life of the Bamasaba. We have potential tourism products such as a rich culture, history, geography, science and heritage, but all this has remained unexploited for years,” says Wanyina.
Wanyina says Mt Elgon has numerous tourism products that have remained unexploited due to lack of political will, poor road network and resources.
Located on the Uganda-Kenya border, Mt Elgon is home to two tribes: the Bagisu and Sabiny. It is 80km in diametre and more than 3,000m above the surrounding plains.
Prominent tourism products in the region include Imbalu (circumcision), the Isonja dance, which is the preparatory dance for intending circumcision candidates, the Ineemba dance, which is performed at the end of year of circumcision and bull fighting.
Mt Elgon National Park also has more than 1000 waterfalls, including Sipi falls, Sisiyi falls, Kagera falls, Bilitanyi gorges falls, among others.
The park is also home to different species of birds, including the endangered lammergeyer and has the largest mountain caldera in the world.
Unique tourism products
It also has several caves such as Daraji ya mungu and Kaguta caves in Namisindwa District, Namanguyi and Giduno caves in Bulambuli District, Kakungulu caves in Mbale District, among others.
Saleh Naminya, the director of Casa Uganda Lodges and Safaris, told Saturday Monitor that as tourism stakeholders, they are trying to raise the numbers of visitors but implored government to step up efforts.
“We are aggressively marketing tourism sites in the region, but government is not doing much to promote tourism in the eastern region,” Naminya says.
Naminya, who also doubles as the public relations officer for the Eastern Entreprenurship and Tourism Network is concerned that lack of tourism officers at local governments coupled with the negative attitude exhibited by political and technical leaders are some of the challenges the tourism sector is grappling with in Bugisu region.
Denis Mukungu, a tour operator, says the sector has the potential to absorb many unemployed youth.
“The tourism sector has enormous employment opportunities, directly and indirectly, but our leaders are seemingly sleeping on the job,” he says.
Some of the highlighted tourism opportunities include tourism information officers, travel agents, tour operators, tour guides and drivers.
Rachel Kakungulu, the proprietor of Kakungulu Safaris, says strong social media presence is one of the strategies that can attract tourists to the region.
“Other regions score highly in terms of tourism because they have well-maintained tourism sites and robust social media campaigns. These are some of the strategies we must embrace,” she said.
Why the tourist destination stands out
Wilson Watila, the LCV chairperson, Bududa District, said the region is favourable tourist destination for trans-border hiking, nature walks, birding, rock climbing, among other activities.
He is, however, concerned that the numbers have remained stagnant due to lack information.
“With improved road network, the numbers will increase. This will also create employment opportunities for the youth,” he says.
Micheal Mazina, the assistant chief administrative officer Bulambuli District, told Saturday Monitor that plans are underway to develop some of the tourist sites such as Bilitanyi Gorges, Sisiyi and Kagera falls in a bid to increase local revenue.
“We are going to identify key priority tourist sites and publicise them in the media and on our district website to avail information to potential tourists,” he said.
Government to step up efforts
Denis Wanyoro, a youth councillor in Bulambuli District, appealed to government to play an active role in enhancing tourism instead of leaving it in the hands of the private sector.
“Some districts are willing to refurbish and maintain some of the tourist sites but they lack logistical support,” he said.
Mt Elgon National Park Conservation area manager, Fredrick Kizza told Saturday Monitor that Mt Elgon park currently receives more than 3,000 visitors annually.
“We are optimistic that with the new initiatives, coupled with traditional ones such as nature walks, bike hiking, bird watching, among others, the numbers will soar in the long run,” he says.
“The only challenge is marketing and negative attitude among the locals. Locals from westen Uganda visit here and they hike Mt Elgon but locals living around the region are not interested,” says Kizza.
He says Pien Upe reserve in Karamoja region received only about 500 tourists yet it is endowed with wild animals such as eland, a small population of zebras, hartebeests and the impalas, which were recently relocated to the reserve from Lake Mburo National Park.
He, however, urged private stakeholders to invest more in marketing tourism activities within the region.
If I had to visit tourist sites in the Elgon region, it would definitely be the following
Sipi Falls is a series of three waterfalls in Eastern Uganda in the district of Kapchorwa, northeast of Sironko and Mbale. The waterfalls lie on the edge of Mount Elgon National Park near the Kenyan border. The Sipi Falls area is the starting point for many hikes up Mt. Elgon
Bulambuli. Sisiyi falls in Buyaga sub-county, Bulambuli District lies 38km east of Mbale Town. The magnificent attraction stands out from a distance as you take the highway from Mbale to the districts of Sironko, Bulambuli, Kapchorwa and Moroto.
Mbale. One of the activities that attract tourists to the Elgon region is circumcision dance dubbed imbalu. The Bamasaba or the Bagishu initiate the young boys into adulthood through conducting public circumcision. The ritual is done annually.