KAMPALA, Uganda (eTN) – Disgruntled minority elements within the tourism fraternity continue their self-serving attacks on the concession agreement, the Uganda Wildlife Authority signed some years ago with the Nkuringo Community Development Trust Fund and the African Wildlife Foundation, one of the most reputable conservation non-governmental organizations around the globe. This contract was and continues to be aimed at empowering communities surrounding the national parks and give them direct financial benefits. The Ugandan national tourism policy, too, encourages and, in fact, demands that communities neighboring national parks and game reserves should be involved in tourism activities.
The involvement of the AWF in this concession goes back into the 2003/4 period, when detailed research and a community analysis was carried out in the field before sound recommendations were made to the then UWA board and management for the proposed way forward. UWA, after concluding their own internal reviews, then entered into an agreement with the community, represented by the trust fund, which in turn advertised together with AWF their intention to invite proposals and bids by investors to jointly develop the area for tourism. One of the mandatory criteria was that the local community, with support from the ultimate concession operator, was to control most if not all of the available gorilla tracking permits of a group habituated for human visits in this area for the benefit of the area residents. It should be mentioned that the Nkuringo tracking site is not accessible by vehicle from the main side of Bwindi National Park at Buhoma. There are only walkable tracks across the park – but that visitors need to drive from Buhoma via Muko and Kisoro to the Nkuringo site, where the road then ends. (This drive from Buhoma to Nkuringo can, depending on weather, take up to six hours.)
The new eco lodge development named Clouds s said to be aiming at and capturing the upper market segment and requires logistically a two-night stay, during which guests will be guaranteed a tracking permit for the gorillas in the area. In an adjoining forest near the lodge site chimpanzees are resident, making it one of the very few locations on the globe where visitors can see both main primates in their natural habitat while staying at the same lodge. Hence, most visitors are expected to stay three nights to capture all the area’s attractions, which will be good news for the community as all staff members are recruited from the community. Presently they are involved in building the lodge but will then also be employed in other positions as receptionists, waiters, room stewards, cooks, porters, cleaners and gardeners, for which they are already receiving training. In addition, the community receives “royalties” for every guest staying at Clouds, bringing a steady flow of cash into an area which up to now had no paying jobs whatsoever and where residents were engaged in subsistence farming and daily own-use dairy production.
The same concept of community engagement has, in fact, also worked very well at the Apoka Safari Lodge, where the staff comprises locally recruited Karamojong, who now for the first time in their live hold employment and can bring cash home at the end of every month. This has led to broad support, also in security terms, for the lodge from the communities surrounding the Kidepo Valley National Park. The concept, although still relatively new in Eastern Africa, has for long been practised in Southern Africa and has won recognition and acclaim as the arguably best way forward to empower local communities to partake in tourism activities and generate a sustainable income in areas where otherwise few if any paying jobs would be available.
In spite of all that, those expressing feelings and opinions like being “locked out” or “disenfranchised in our own country” continue to play the public with cheap sentiments and well near falsehoods, including thinly concealed racial inferences, as the owners of the concession operation are non Ugandans. The couple in question, however, had elected to make the country their adopted home and invest substantial amounts of money into their tourism ventures. The Uganda Safari Company and their sister companies have over the past 15 years developed an upmarket safari operation with custom built 4x4s, constructed the Semliki Safari Lodge (Semliki Game Reserve – formerly Toro GR) , redeveloped the Apoka Safari Lodge (Kidepo Valley National Park) and opened the 5 star Emin Pasha Hotel in Kampala’s fashionable Nakasero suburb. Last year the company added a Cessna 206 to their assets to fly their clients to the remote safari properties, thought to be amongst the finest across Eastern Africa.
Success almost inevitably breeds envy. Instead of applauding the community integration and participation in a viable tourism activity however complaints are peddled to the media, which has so far failed to give a balanced view of the true situation on the ground. Get more information on the various safari lodges of Wild Places Africa, and their Kampala based boutique hotel The Emin Pasha, and read the story of this remarkable tourism and hospitality operation at www.wildplacesafrica.com