Former Idi Amin’s luxurious lodge brought back to life

The newly refurbished Katurum Lodge in Kidepo National Park. PHOTO BY KELVIN ATUHAIRE.

What you need to know:

  • Renewed. One of former president Idi Amin’s favourite pastimes was hunting. That is why Kidepo Valley National Park was a perfect place to build for himself a getaway. According to CNN, Kidepo is the world’s fifth best tourism destination because of its spectacular landscape and pristine valleys, hosting the largest herd of buffalos in Africa. Now tourists can enjoy this beauty in the comfort of the recently refurbished Katurum Lodge, writes Kelvin Atuhaire.

Built in 1971 by Danish master architect Hans Munk Hansen, the Kidepo Safari Lodge, now known as the Katurum Lodge Kidepo was put up by the former president Idi Amin, as a meeting point for his international friends. It was also a hunting spot since he loved hunting as a sport. This lodge was built alongside other lodges such as Pakuba Safari Lodge in Murchision Falls and Semiliki to help boost the number of lodges in the national parks.

Katurum lodge was later burnt down and abandoned in 1979 when Amin was overthrown. For 35 years, it fell into disuse in the turmoil which followed his overthrow and the once luxurious accommodation was taken over by wild animals and down on their luck soldiers, until local entrepreneur Cornelius Lorika Kodet decided to take up the challenge of requesting President Museveni to bring the lodge back to life.
“The government was planning to raze the whole place but then I requested the President to give me some time to develop this place again, which I have done. I have built this place on the trust of President Museveni,” narrates Kodet

Pleasure haven
Katurum lodge that used to be a haven for wild animals, is now a perfect place for one who loves adventure, located high on Katurum rocks in the valleys of Kidepo Valley National Park. The park offers an abundance for a more rustic experience into the paradise section of the park.
The lodge derives the name Katurum from the hilltop it was built on. It is famed to resemble a Swiss chalet, where one wakes up early in the morning to the sunrise with windows opening to the natural air and a unspolied nature.
Katurum Lodge, which is under a 15-year concession since 2014 to Kodet, will be launched early this year to offer a variety of services. It has an accommodation capacity of 100 rooms, including a presidential suites, spa and health club, bar and restaurant.
According to Kodet, any one that visits their lodge gets a full package for both the game drive as well as accommodation.

Kodet who, is a local investor and already owns Aero Beach Entebbe, Mt Moroto Hotel, says that his love for Karamoja’s development inspired him to restore the famous lodge since it was one of Karamoja’s pride alongside the Kidepo Valley National Park.
“For many years Karamoja has been treated as a human zoo, a no-go area, where tourists are discouraged from visiting. I wanted to change that narrative and I believe Katurum is going to be a home for many, and people will visit Karamoja because of it,” Kodet predicts.

Kidepo Valley National Park has been having a challenge of accommodation, since there are not more than six lodges and hotels within and outside the park. With Katurum coming on board with 100 rooms for guests, it is another boost to the park.

The lodge can be reached by both road and air transport. When using the road, there are four possible routes.
Routes via Kampala - Mbale- Soroti- Moroto- Kidepo is 792 kms,
Kampala – Mbale- Sironko- Kotido- Kaabong- Kidepo is 740 kms
Kampala- Karuma- Gulu- Kitgum- Kaabong - Kidepo 671 kms
Charter flights to Kidepo can be arranged from Aero Beach where Kodet’s offices are located.
Kodet has a plane to help in the transportation of tourists. The flights take two hours from Entebbe to the lodge.

One does not have to worry about animals attacking them during the course of the day or night, there are Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) rangers deployed at the hotel as well as patrols that move around the park.
The location of the lodge also favours the guests so in case of any attack, people can easily secure themselves in a bunker.

Speaking to Kodet, he expresses his disappointment in the way the government treats its local investors. He claims the government favours foreign investors whom it gives all these bonuses and exemption while taxing the local investor dry.
“There is a lot of bureaucracy and red tape that an investor struggles through to get even the most basic permit. Many people would want to invest and develop this nation but their efforts are being thwarted. Something needs to change,” Kodet notes sadly.
He says he has been struggling with some corrupt government officials who do not want him to continue with the lodge.

“I am 80 years old, I have put all my investments into this place, but these people seated in the offices are not easy. For 15 years I have been moving from office to office looking for one clearance or other. I know they want some sort of kitu kidogo (bribe) but I am sorry I am not about to participate in corruption,” Kodet states.
Kodet says that he has been operating the lodge on President Museveni’s letter giving him permission to take over the lodge. He says any time President Museveni goes away and they force him to leave he will go.
Another challenge highlighted by Kodet is the transportation of the raw materials from Kampala to Kidepo where every week they had to travel more than 650 kms to bring the materials.

“Imagine each of every inch of these materials was got from Kampala, travelling over 650kms to bring materials here, it is really not an easy job,” says Kodet. Besides Katurum lodge which is now refurbished, Pakuba Safari lodge, Amin’s former state lodge built in 1975 in Lututuru hill, in Agoro Sub-county, 35km away from Lamwo Town council, are still dilapidated.

What they say about Katurum

Jaffer Amin, Idd
Amins’ son
“We are so grateful because one of our late dad’s friends mzee Kodet has been able to restore our father’s legacy. And not only that, mzee is trying to prove to us that we locals of the country can also invest in tourism as well.”

Phillip Akorongimoe head guide Kidepo
Valley National Park
“Mzee Kodet being the son of this soil, coming up to restore this amazing lodge, brings pride to us. We are happy that even local people are coming up to invest more in tourism.”


...It would definitely be...

Cultural promotion
Promotion and celebration of this community’s local tourism such as the popular Atekker festival will bring focus to the multitude of ethnic groups in Karamoja. Karamoja has many exciting things but they have not been properly packaged and advertised for the rest of the world. We have some incredible cultural festivals, I would want to see tourists get a chance to be part of.
[Jaffer Amin ]

Karamoja. There is need for more hotels and lodges to offer accommodation to our visitors that come to Kidepo. There are days when we stop some visitors for coming because all lodges are fully occupied.
[Phillip Akorongimoe head guide Kidepo Valley National Park]

Karamoja. Kidepo is very far, using the road is exciting but also sometimes tiresome with poor roads off Kitgum. I once tried out going there by air it was very expensive. So I think if the air transport is boosted and subsidised it would help promote local tourism. [Jacinta Naigaga ]