Irony as Uganda’s house in London looks shameful

Sunday July 1 2012

Trafalga Square draws hundreds of tourists from all over the world.

Trafalga Square draws hundreds of tourists from all over the world. 

By Yasiin Mugerwa

As I strolled through the fancy streets of London, a fascinating and exciting city with much beauty, I kept thinking about the mess in Kampala, my capital city. London is the birthplace of mass transportation and modern day sport, London today shows its history to the world, for better and for worse. But one thing that is true, London is a beautiful city. London is a peaceful, exciting, and multicultural city that provides a lot of attractions for sightseeing.

As I moved deeper into London sailing on the River Thames- from Westminster Station to Camden Town near Greenwich area, in South-Western parts of this up-to-the-minute city, the memory conjured visions of the “banana republic” at home. The pleasant roads, well-kept trees, the purity of the city and above all the patriotism of the people offer a foretaste of a developed country.

Wasted blessings
Endowed with enduring natural diversity, great climate, rich cultures and receptive people, East Africa is one of Africa’s leading tourism destinations. But with all the beauty, Mother Nature offered us, we findourselves stuck. Where did Uganda go wrong?

Uganda is one of the most beautiful countries in Africa, with fantastic natural scenery and half of the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population. It also offers world-class white water rafting at the source of the Nile and some of the region’s more peaceful national parks, where wildlife viewing doesn’t involve long waits in line behind a dozen or more vehicles.

Tourism in Uganda is focused on Uganda’s landscape and wildlife. Uganda has a very diverse culture, landscape, flora, and fauna.From the highest mountain range in Africa, the Rwenzori Mountains; you relish one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world, Murchison Falls; perhaps the highest primate density in the world, is enough to show that Uganda is a beautiful country with a great deal to offer.

Uganda’s over 1,040 species of birds – it is a birders paradise. Volcano hiking and climbing such as Mount Sabinyo and Mount Elgon and others? How about the beaming faces of Ugandans? There are several tanning shops in London, where some people pay to enjoy simulated sun-shine on sunbeds. But all this can be enjoyed in Uganda, free of charge.

A senior doctor in Central London said Sunbeds are not a safe alternative to tanning outdoors. “Like the sun, sunbeds release harmful UV rays which damage the DNA in skin cells and can cause skin cancer”. He said, “sunbeds are estimated to cause around 100 deaths from melanoma every year in the UK.”

This doctor believes that sunbeds also cause premature skin ageing, which means that your skin becomes coarse, leathery and wrinkled at a younger age. So when the tan fades, the damage remains. If people managing the tourism sector were creative, they would have show-cased all this at Uganda House in London. But do they even give a damn?

The icon of shame
The country has been let down by indiscreet people in positions of responsibility. For instance, Uganda House which is located at Trafalgar Square, at the heart of London has now turned into an icon of shame. In fact, Malaysia uses Uganda’s building to advertise its tourism potential as we continue to slumber. In an effort to diversify the economy and make Malaysia’s economy less dependent on exports the government has pushed to increase tourism in Malaysia. As a result, tourism has become Malaysia’s third largest source of income from foreign exchange, and accounted for seven per cent of Malaysia’s economy as of 2005. Last year, Malaysia ranked 9th among the top most visited countries in the world, after Germany.

In her 2012/13 Budget Speech, Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka recognises the significance of tourism but when you read the budget she attempts to paint a false picture; that Uganda emerged as a top tourist destination over the last year. However, the Minister does not show the basis of her finding, an indication that she just wanted to hoodwink the public yet in reality, it is quite the opposite. The fact is that in the region, Kenya beats Uganda by a distant margin.

The fact is that Uganda has never become a leading tourist destination because of sloppiness of the docket holders. Uganda’s features at Uganda House in London, paraded as tourist attractions to market our country are disappointingly “pathetic”. From the dusty hewed gorilla to faded artwork, from rusty windows to rotting doors and cracked walls, these all cut an image of a government interested in rent fees other than marketing Uganda’s tourism potential to international community.

“What’s wrong with your government? A friend asked me. He went on: “How can you fail to clean your building, the doors are rotting, the entrance is dirty and you can’t even use such a strategic location to promote tourism in your country.” He added: “Nobody will come to your country if you don’t change your image. It looks pathetic. You need to get serious.”

Trafalgar Square is one of the city’s most vibrant open spaces. This historical Square is a public space and a tourist attraction in central London, built around the area formerly known as Charing Cross. It is in the borough of the City of Westminster. However, Uganda does seem to see the strategic importance of this Square. While authorities at the Uganda High Commission in London ,who begged not to be quoted in in order to speak freely, blame the current state of affairs on lack of funds, the Tourism Minister in Kampala needs to wake up.