Locals ask govt to develop little-known tourism sites

Ms Jackline Besigye Nyiracyiza, the acting commissioner, museums and monuments, at the Tourism Ministry, addresses journalists inside  Nyero rock in Kumi district last week. PHOTO/FRED WAMBEDE

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Residents said developing the sites would boost tourist numbers in eastern Uganda

Authorities have asked the government to recognise and develop historical sites in eastern Uganda.

Locals visit the sites for religious and cultural reasons.

At Bugobera shore in Bugwere village in Tirinyi Town Council in Kibuku District, stands three giant ‘miraculous trees’ where locals often pray to the gods for blessings.

Situated at the banks of River Mpologoma, the revered site, made up of three trees, is cherished by the locals for its spiritual powers.

The three trees are locally known as Mukunyu (Sycomore fig), Mvule (African teak) and tamarind. They were planted in the early 1900s.

Inside, the locals who seek blessings kneel on the neat ground before one of the tree trunks and say their prayers to seek healing, bear children, and also to celebrate the new harvest.

The site is under the custodianship of Bulangira, one of the royal clans in Bugwere Cultural Institution.

Mr William Kamba, one of the elders and custodians of the site, says though not developed, it’s one of the heritage sites.“This site is of high cultural and tourism value because Kakungulu rested here and took some water under one of the trees with our ancestral leaders upon his arrival,” he says.

He said it is also a resting place for their ancestral leaders including the then king of Obwa Senkulu bwa Bukedi, Lyadda Ndooboli.

“This was a gateway, where Semei Kakungulu and other provincial leaders under the British government had meetings before they spread to other areas more so Bugisu,” he says.

Kakungulu was a military general, who helped the British colonialists bring Bukedi, Bugisu and Busoga under their sphere of influence.

 In 1917, Kakungulu set up his home on Gangama Hill in Nabweya parish in Mbale city.  Kakungulu lived in the same place until his death in 1928.

 “I have seen barren women come here to pray and our gods have answered their prayers. Some politicians also come here and win elections,” Mr Kamba said.

The Prime Minister of Obwa Senkulu bwa Bukedi, Mr Mugoda Abuneri, said the site is one of the antiquities that the government has failed even to erect a signage for identification.

“We are calling upon the government to know, if they did not know, that we have historical sites that define Bukedi as a sub region but they have been ignored,” he said.

Mr Mugoda says Kakoro rock paintings in Pallisa district have a similar geometric shape similar to Nyero rock paintings but it has been ignored by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities.

Other sites include the graveyard in Kakutu village in Kakutu Sub-county in Kibuku District, where locals throng for spiritual cleansing.

The locals pray facing the grave of the then King of Bukedi, Mubbale Kabandamawa.

Mr Mugoda says failure to develop many of the heritage sites explained the low number of tourists in the eastern region.

According to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the region receives 10 percent of tourists that visit the country despite having unique vegetation and hundreds of waterfalls including Sipi Falls and Chebonet Falls in Kapchorwa District, Sisiyi falls and Bilitanyi Gorges falls (Bulambuli District), among others.

It is also hosts Mount Elgon National Park which has different bird species, including the endangered lammergeyer, and colobus monkeys among others. Elgon is also the largest mountain caldera in the world.

Mr Lawrence Gonsya, an elder says the heritage sites are slowly fading away because of a lack of political will and modernisation.

“We have drums that drum themselves on Jan 1 every year in Kakutu Sub-county but all this is not being appreciated. They treat it as evil and primitive yet it’s what can pull tourists from foreign countries, not the things they know like these modern religions,” he says.

Mr Nathan Mafabi, a resident of Mbale City, on the other hand, blames local governments for their failure to map and develop tourism sites.

“The local governments should use part of their local revenue to develop tourism sites. For example, in Mbale, we have sites that have remained undeveloped since time immemorial,” Mr Mafabi, said.

He said there is also a need for a census on the number of hotels and the bed capacity in the local governments to know the exact number of tourists the area can house for planning purposes.

Mr Raymond Assimwe, a senior conservator and site manager of Nyero rock art in Kumi District, said there is need for aggressive marketing.

“This is a site for rainmaking and also for people to pray and ask for children if they are barren. The place harbors medicinal plants and the scenery is beautiful but the number of tourists is still low due to inadequate publicity,” he said.

About 2,000 tourists visit Nyero rock art annually and most of them are school-going children on study tours and foreign tourists. The painting is the oldest rock art in the country, with an estimated age of more than one million years. But geologists first documented the paintings in 1914.

However, Mr Saleh Naminya, the chief executive officer of Casa Uganda Safaris and Casa lodges said accessibility to tourism sites in most of the districts remains a huge challenge.

“The government has only dealt with other regions and ignored ours when it comes to construction of tourism roads,” Mr Naminya said.

Mr Naminya said the area is blessed with cuisine, culture, and scenery but most of them are untapped partly due to unbalanced marketing by Uganda Tourism Board (UTB).

Mr James Muron, the chairperson of Nyero Town Council, says the government should allocate special funds for developing historical sites across the country.  “We also need   have facilities such as restaurants and accommodation facilities for tourists, which are lacking,” he says.

“The government should also prioritise tourism because it has potential to employ more youth than other sectors,” he says.

Ms Lilly Ajarova, the chief executive officer of the UTB, during her visit to Nyero rock last week, said the government has not yet developed cultural sites that would improve the experience of both domestic and international tourists.

“This year, we are going to give more attention to cultural assets. We want to bring to the light the information on the available sites,” she said.

Ms Jackline Besigye Nyiracyiza, the acting commissioner, museums and monuments at Ministry of Tourism, said the ministry is working to ensure that sites and monuments are developed.

“As a ministry, one of our main goals is to ensure that we diversify tourism products and for us to diversify, we must tap into the cultural heritage. So we have started by having them titled and erecting signage for all sites,” she said.