If you are a travel enthusiast, you must have seen different cultural crafts dotted at different spots, some on the popular tourist destination on highways.
Among the different cultures in Uganda, the drum is a symbolic craft. Different types of drums have symbolic backgrounds.
Besides the drum, different cultures have nascent or indigenous crafts such as baskets, wooden crafts, handbags and music instruments, among others.
The skill of making cultural craft items is something to marvel about, thanks to heritage. Crafts are a source of livelihoods for many communities and its role in boosting tourism cannot be underestimated.
People who travel from near and far to visit a particular tourist attraction always look forward to buying a souvenir.
Provisional findings in an ongoing survey by the Uganda Tourism Association (UTA), an umbrella body of tourism in the private sector, show that majority of the cultural crafts need a push to grow beyond using rudimentary tools.
The general observation is that despite advancement in technology, the crafts industry in Uganda and East Africa is still using rudimentary tools to produce crafts with limited equipment and resources to improve their products and workplaces.
Better tools, better crafts
That would mean that with better tools, producers can improve the craft making process as well as the products. As such, in the wider scope of travel, tourists interested in cultural tourism will have an integrated itinerary where the production and origins of the products are located.
In a bid to coordinate and advocate for better business environment as well as capacity building, UTA is steering efforts to improve the skill set and build capacity among craft producers in Uganda.
It is undertaking a survey aimed at galvanising information about different cultural crafts and availing details for online and physical buyers of items from different points of purchase, such as cultural villages along Buganda Road and at Uganda National Cultural Village.
The team is benchmarking and drawing lessons from Eco Tourism Kenya. UTA’s chief executive officer, Richard Kawere, says Kenyan craft makers have minimal in-house standards, which makes them suitable to pass on knowledge and mentorship in production capacity building and digital marketing skills.
Linking UTA to craft makers
Different players have been brought together under a project dubbed ‘Marketability of East Africa Cultural Crafts’ that is linking UTA to craft makers. One of the expectation is that during the process of skilling, unemployed graduates will be trained along with the producers to bring in digital knowledge to support the crafts producers.
Government is in full support of the new efforts and according to the State Minister of Tourism, Godfrey Kiwanda, craft producers need to embrace digital marketing and creatively brand their products.
The Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) will supervise and support the process in collaboration with Kenyan crafts makers.
Online marketing platform
The objective is to build a marketing platform to solve some of the bottlenecks that come with accessibility by building portfolios online, where an international or regional buyer can access and be able to transact from a range of products made locally.
Nicholas Najuna and Joseph Taremwa, the directors of Agro Tourism welcomed the idea and are currently working with 70 craft producers in Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest tourism circuit and another 50 in Kasese.
They are linking craft makers to a market of potential buyers. One of their target buyers is Nuwa Wamala Nnyanzi, a visual artist, who runs Nnyanzi Arts Studio.
His owns one of 40 shops in the National Arts and Crafts Association of Uganda situated next to Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC), commonly known as National Theatre.
The value chain
Nnyanzi is optimistic about combining traditional and online marketing avenues to create a portal which will be a-one-stop centre for those interested in selling and buying art and crafts, especially those that are culturally based and inspired by ‘our’ cultural values.
“It is a project that’s going to help many people. The value chain involves producers, those who buy and sell, those who transport them and the landlords,” Nnyanzi explains.
UTA has received an approved grant of $47,000 approximately Shs173m from GiZ Uganda to support 100 craft producers in Uganda for a period of one year. Nnyanzi says the art and culture industry offers employment to the semi-illiterate and literates in society.
“Craft-making is majorly based on talent and passion. There are people who make crafts and bring them here for selling, but we need to widen the market, accessibility to buyers and make the crafts bankable and dependable as opposed to being seasonal,” he says.
Effects of Covid-19
Like many sectors, the art and crafts sector has been hit by the lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. To emphasise the issue of seasonality, Nnyanzi says even when the pandemic has been eased, many crafts shops remain closed because of challenges of transport.
Transport fares have been doubled with reduction of capacity in matatus and buses. The seasoned artist adds: “Since we re-opened, we receive an average of five to 10 clients a day. Before Covid-19, we used to have them in hundreds. We are depending on online sales. The airports are closed and foreign tourists cannot come in. We depend on Ugandans who buy items to send abroad. To solve the problem, we have to market our items online.”
Challenges in crafts industry
The study reveals the challenges the crafts industry faces and the need to support crafts makers and producers to enable them to thrive.
The online Uganda Travel Guide observes that art and craft are part of Ugandan culture. “Crafts have been developed through the traditions of the people. Art and craft are a result of the feelings of the people responding to a principles of historical events, influences and the environment in a most spontaneous manner.”
It adds: “Art is the creation of works of beauty through the application of skill resulting from knowledge and regular practice. Craft on the other hand is taken as an occupation, especially one in which skills or techniques in the use of the hands are needed.”
Most tours and travel companies include a visit to an art and craft place for tourists. Kabiza Wilderness Safaris recommends the ‘best places to buy souvenirs-gifts’, adding that Kampala has many places, where one can buy African art, crafts and souvenirs such as baskets, weaving, fabrics, t-shirts and much more.
At the end of the projects, there are expectations in improvement of access to markets by the crafts’ producers, standards, linkages between local and regional producers and ultimately a boost in income for craft producers.
According to the 2018 UNESCO Global Report titled Reshaping Cultural Policies, Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs) account for $2,250 billion and employ 30 million people worldwide. Moreover, CCIs typically employ more people aged 15-20 years than any other sector in Europe.
Jobs and economic growth
The report further reveals that increasing emphasis has been placed on the creative economy in Uganda. In 2009, a first mapping exercise of cultural and creative industries undertaken by the UNESCO national commission of Uganda, revealed that the cultural sector in the country fosters economic growth, job creation, exports earnings and promotes social inclusion, cultural diversity and human resource development.
The crafts industry in Uganda has gained particular recognition as an engine of economic development.
Due to intense campaigns on Buy Uganda Build Uganda, the craft industry has become a potential business opportunity for sustainable income generation and attracting more and more tourists, traders and exporters.
The project implemented in the framework of the UNESCO 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural expressions and funded by the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, aimed at strengthening the artistic, marketing and management skills of women professionals in the crafts industry with the end goal to improve the quality of their products and open market access.
Uganda Tourism Association (UTA) has received a grant of $47,000, approximately Shs173m from GiZ Uganda to support 100 craft producers in Uganda. UTA, an umbrella body of tourism in the private sector, says majority of the crafts producers need a push to grow beyond using rudimentary tools, improve the skillset and build capacity.
If I were to buy nice crafts, I would definitely go to…
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
I have been to Bwindi to track Mountain Gorillas and I would wish to go back. I have bought some of the classic arts and crafts pieces from here. I like the handmade-crafted bags made from Kitenge bags. They can be used as both travel bags and casual bags. -Precious Annestine Kabakama- event’s organiser.
Every time I visit Kidepo, there is something to learn about culture the Karamojong. I have learnt about their wedding ceremonies. They fight to get wives, pay bride price of many cows and more. They make a variety of art and crafts and I have bought many pieces from here. -Emmanuel Mugabi- photographer.
I like the local music instruments such as mulele and amadinda. Their sound is very relaxing. I like travelling to Jinja. It is known for the beautiful falls. I love the view at the falls and the scenery is my favourite when I want to take vacation. -Hadijah Kigozi- Media practitioner.
In a bid to advocate for better business environment and capacity building, UTA is steering efforts to improve the skill set and build capacity among craft producers in Uganda. The project will offer an online marketing platform to solve issues of marketing.
Like many sectors, the arts and craft sector has been hit by the lockdown as a result of the Covid-19. To emphasise the issue of seasonality, Nuwa Wamala Nnyanzi, a visual artist, says even when the pandemic has been eased, many crafts shops remain closed. To solve the problem, we have to market our items online.”