It is a widely-held belief in the West that every African has seen a wild animal up-close and personal – if they don’t own one in their backyard, that is.
What a misconception! On the contrary, a big number of Ugandans have not enjoyed the wildlife that roams their national parks and reserves, and consider it a ‘Western thing’; a mentality tourism stakeholders are determined to change.
Seeing a lion for 20-year-old Jackline Mbabazi has been a dream she thought would only be achieved when she starts working and earning her own money to go on safari.
She missed several school tours because her parents could not afford them, but last weekend, she had the opportunity to see a lion and lioness, free of charge. This was during the fourth Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo organised at the Sheraton Kampala hotel from February 24 to 25.
“I have never gone to the zoo or any national park and in our geography classes, we were only taken to see lakes and mountains, but now that I have an opportunity. I want to see the lion at least,” Mbabazi said.
She and her three friends in their S6 vacation head excitedly to the mini zoo set up at the expo to view caged animals. There are many children and adults who, like Mbabazi, are getting a chance to see things they would otherwise have experienced at a cost.
The Observer talked to a few of them about what they thought about the expo.
Under the theme “Rediscovering the Pearl”, the expo was organised by the ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities and its partners including the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), and the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC).
According to UTB chief executive officer Stephen Asiimwe, the expo hosted buyers from more than 10 countries who are expected to market the county’s tourism potential worldwide.
Daudi Migereko, the UTB chairman, said the expo, which attracted more foreign exhibitors, presented Uganda with the chance to learn from other exhibitors and to not only promote Ugandan tourism but also East Africa as a region.
Exhibitors from Rwanda, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Kenya, among others, wooed revellers with reasons why they should visit their countries.
Among the Ugandan exhibitors were hotels, cultural groups, traditional wear designers, UWEC, UWA, tours and travel agencies and others.
“My best part was when they put that python around my neck. I was so scared and excited at the same time. And then there was that tour around the city on the bus rooftop – that was just breathtaking. Can we have more than one expo in a year?” an excited Linnet Adeke said, clinging to her older sister Rhona’s hand who did not seem as excited.
Rhona almost collapsed, she said, when she saw her young sister accepting a mature python to be put around her neck.
She then turned to Adeke with a warning: “Never put that python on yourself even when I’m not around. The day they will put it on you when it is hungry is when you will understand what I’m talking about!”
Meanwhile, atop the new double-deck bus in Kampala city, a group of boys sat on the stationary vehicle to enjoy the view at such heights. On Sunday, a trip around the city was scheduled and would cost each of them Shs 25,000, but they were too excited to mind the price..
“We don’t have many buses like this [one] in Uganda, do we?” Hakim Kitaka asked me. “So, if you see us sitting here even when the bus is not moving, it is because we are excited about it and can’t wait to have the ride tomorrow.”
With options to choose from, some of the revellers chose paintball to pass time, and target shooting at a fee of Shs 5, 000 for 10 shots.
Christopher Araali held the gun as I arrived and he, together with friends had wagered on who would shoot all the bottles at the other side within the paid-for 10 shots.
“I have always wanted to be a soldier, although I fear death. Because of my love for guns, this has been my favourite point at the expo. I can do this all day,” Araali said before aiming a perfect shot that shattered the bottle across. He did not shoot them all and lost the wager.
Even as the expo grows bigger each year, it is still below the mark when it comes to representing Uganda’s full potential in cultural diversity, flora and fauna. For James Mulumba, who has attended all the past four expos, this one should have been better.
“To be honest with yourself; if you were a foreigner and you came to this expo to see the things you have seen, would it leave you with the hunger to see more? The things they are displaying are the same over and over and they don’t represent even 1% of what Uganda has to offer,” a disappointed Mulumba said. “I think the tourism authorities should do more than this.”
For Innocent Ayeko, the essential aspect of town life was ignored at the expo. He said a tent displaying Kampala’s nightlife would not have hurt, especially for foreigners at the expo.
“The officials at the opening ceremony just talked about it but I think this is something we have to throw out there as a country; our nightlife,” he said. “People know us as a country that parties from Monday to Monday and for me to come here and not see a single tent trying to at least explain our nightlife is so disturbing.”
More voices from the Expo
From the look of things, Kenya, Rwanda and even Tanzania are far better at these expo things. What we are seeing here today should have been more in all aspects.
This is a good initiative for promoting tourism although many people don’t even know that this expo is taking place. I think there should be more advertising next time so that many Ugandans can come too.
The mini zoo is so exciting. You know coming here and you see those animals out of their habitats is some good experience. I wish the expo could be organised more than once a year so that Ugandans get to know where to tour.
This is my first expo and I can authoritatively say it has blown me away. It is not the organisation that I expected to find here. I have been more interested in the fact that hotels are here too. Ugandans fear hotel accommodation so much.