KASESE, Uganda… About three weeks ago, Kasese was a hot bed of clashes between the security forces and militia groups loyal to the Rwenzururu King Charles Wesley Mumbere. The three day scuffle that rocked the world left over 100 dead and scores of other civilians and security personnel injured
The clashes between government security forces and the Rwenzururu royal guards sparked security fears worldwide, driving away tourists. As the festive season hits fever peak with Christmas just a few days away, The Investigator‘s Patrick Jaramogi went down to Kasese to ascertain how the once volatile situation is at the moment and below, he reports…
After a grueling 5 hours’ drive (Kasese is 427 kilometers from Uganda’s capital Kampala), I finally reach Kasese town. By 7pm when I touched base, most parts of Kasese town had just pockets of locals. As the hour drew to 8pm, most shops had been closed. The search for accommodation wasn’t a futile one since most hotels, lodges and guesthouses were not fully occupied.
What we discovered though is that calm has been restored in this Mountainous district. No single UPDF or police personnel was seen in the streets patrolling at least for the hours that our team spent combing on foot through the streets until 2am. What is evident is perhaps due to the fear of reprisal attacks; most property owners had hired the services of UPDF to safeguard their properties. The financial installations like banks are the ones that had armed private guards on duty.
Night Life in Kasese
What is evident on ground and in most happening places is that the locals here are fast beginning to forget about the saga especially the arrest of their king. “We see no point in continuing to suffer and losing our dear ones because of loyalty to the kingdom, we need peace and development… enough is enough,” said Joseph Maseruka, a boda-boda rider.
At the New Marian Bar and restaurants, one of the hottest happening spots and at Kamwe Kamwe, another hot spot for pork lovers, life is as usual. The unfortunate part is the fact that the ‘ladies of the night’ and/or ‘flesh peddlers’ business was left to ruins. “We used to do so well before the skirmishes. At this time of the year (festive season) we would be rich, but we are now only counting loses,” said one lady of the night who preferred to remain anonymous. A visit to the surrounding areas of Bwera near the DRC boarder and in Katwe, the salt mining town found usual business back to normal by the locals.
Is Tourism affected?
Now this is a hard one. The Investigator took a ride to Queen Elizabeth National Park at Mweya Safari lodge, the understandably Uganda’s most popular tourist destination. The parks diverse ecosystem includes the shady, humid forests, sparkling lakes, and sprawling savannah. The park has over 600 bird species, and over 95 different types of game.
These include elephants, buffaloes, Hippos, crocodiles, water bucks and others. But that was not our intention. Ours was to ascertain if the Kasese clashes had affected the tourist flows. My first encounter at Mweya Safari lodge was with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Warden Captain Tourism Dickson Katana. Dressed in full military fatigue, Katana told The Investigator that the Kasese clashes had partly affected the industry but surprisingly, boosted domestic tourism.
“We at UWA, we are happy. Our visitors have not dropped. Perhaps a few cancellations that we got from the tour operators but we are fully booked for the festive season until January 1st” he said. He also noted that they got reports from the neighboring lodges that most foreign tourists had cancelled their bookings due to fear.
Accommodation at Queen Elizabeth National Park is also provided by private operators such as Mweya Safari Lodge owned by Madhivani Group, Simba Safari Camp owned by Amos Wekesa of the Great Lakes Safaris, Tembo Safari Lodge run by UWA, Ishaha Wildness Camp, Savannah Resort Hotel, Kingfisher Lodge Kichwamba, Queen Elizabeth Bush Lodge, and Katana Lodge among others.
Katana told us that Tembo Safari Lodge was fully booked, but by locals… mainly Ugandans. “Ugandans need to know that tourism is not for only foreigners. In fact it is subsidized for East Africans,” he said. A one Amos Wekesa revealed that the clashes had affected them, especially his Simba Safari Camp. “Yes Murchison falls is full but queen has had lots of cancellations. We were fully booked for December 3 months ago. Kasese situation killed it,” said Wekesa the CEO of Great Lakes Safaris.
Wekesa’s statement however contradicted that of the Queen Elizabeth Park Chief Warden Asalu Edward who said much as the Kasese clashes had security elements of scare especially among the foreigners; the park is full and busy with visitors. “We are not complaining because it is business as usual. Whether it’s local or foreign, what matters to us is the fact that the park is busy with visitors,” he said. He said the boat cruises at the Kazinga Channel are also fully booked for the festive season. Tasked to give real statistics of the cancellations by foreign visitors, Wekesa said; “those statistics need time bwana”.
Who is A Visitor?
A visitor is a traveler who takes a trip to a destination outside his/her usual environment for any main purpose (leisure, business or other personal reason), other than for his/her regular employment, and returns on the same day.
Who is A Tourist?
A tourist is a visitor whose trip includes an overnight stay but lasts no longer than one year (a Tourist may be a domestic traveler or international visitor).
Competitiveness: tourism is a hugely competitive international industry, with ever more
Destinations fighting to increase their market share. Uganda also faces a particular challenge stemming from her geographical proximity to larger better-known competitors who offer similar products.
Therefore, this calls for increased planning and support for the country to become highly competitive. In general, based on the above it is evident that tourism is a pivotal pillar of the Ugandan economy. Strengthening that pillar by availing the necessary financial, human and technical resources, can only serve to support and boost Uganda’s overall development.