Uganda Promotion

4th Africa IIPT Conference
About Peace Through Tourism

Commonwealth Heads of
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About Uganda
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Uganda Hotline
by Prof. Wolfgang Thome

Good Vibes
By David Cogswell

Uganda Profile
by Helen Broadus

Africa's Emerald
by Abigail Lubliner

Adrift on the White Nile
by Cam McLeay

Mountains of the Moon
by Cam McLeay

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"The scenery, the climate, and especially the people are different from
anything elsewhere to be seen in the whole range of Africa.
" Winston Churchill

Good Vibrations in Uganda

By David Cogswell

I knew almost nothing about Uganda before I attended the African Travel Association's Cultural and Ecotourism Symposium in October 2004. In a short time I was to fall in love with it. For me the experience of Uganda is joined with the experience of the symposium, with the glowing energy of the hope and purpose shared by its participants. That was how I experienced Uganda.

Coming Down to Earth
We arrived at the Entebbe airport at night and were met at the airport by ATA's Uganda Chapter President Susan Muhwezi, and a group of about the friendliest people I could remember ever meeting. For an American, there is something about the encounter with Africa that cannot be fully communicated unless both sides of the conversation share that experience. The ATA is made up of people who do share that experience, and who also share the belief that the world would be a better place if more people traveled to Africa. I share that conviction. The whole thing is embodied in that first mind-altering encounter with the African culture, and the African land.

It was not my first encounter with sub-Saharan Africa, but it was the first of its kind for me. I had been on Safari in Kenya, and it was magnificent. But I had had an unquenched thirst for coming in from the bush and the tourist lodges to meet and mingle with the people in the cities and villages of modern Africa. This trip there was no safari; it was not a tourist trip. On paper it was a business trip, but really it was a people trip.

The Land and the People
As much as I hold the great wildlife of Africa in reverence, for me the greatest attraction of Africa is the people. Of course there is no real separation of the two. The fact that the people of Africa have learned to live in harmony with their extraordinary wildlife is at the core of what makes them such superb people. Such is the power of the land that within moments of encountering Africa, you are at home, and practically forget what life was like before you got there. Scientists say that all human life has its root in Africa. "To me it feels like there is a deep genetic memory that resonates when you fall under the spell of the land."

Musical Magnetism
The affinity between Africa and America has always been powerful. Growing up in America I experienced a great deal of African culture through the medium of the American cultural melting pot. I have long shared Bohemian composer Antonin Dvorak's opinion that the African component of America's music is the most vital part of it. So as an American interested in music, it is impossible not to feel a connection with Africa, even without ever going there. To hear African music at its source is a priceless experience. It was a great pleasure to be able to walk into a restaurant and hear an ensemble playing traditional indigenous music, a complex polyrhythmical cacophony, with both looseness and precision, everything going every which way at the same time and all perfectly in synch and in tune.

Home Away From Home
We took a half-hour trip from the airport by van to the Nile Hotel in Kampala. After many hours in transit it was a night for sleep. The next morning I woke up and looked out off my balcony to get my first look at the land in the daylight. God, what a Garden of Eden it was! The earth was deep red with a rich growth of plants, towering trees of many varieties, many colors and shapes of flowers, rich green grasses and vegetation. The air was thick with the smell of life.

One of my first pleasant surprises was maribu storks that I could see in the treetops out my window. I had never heard of them, but in Kampala they are a second population that shares the city with the human population. These birds are magnificent -- with huge wings that pump the air audibly as they fly overhead. They pose proudly atop the highest perches in the city, trees, high streetlamps, steeples and tall buildings. They are everywhere, living in marvelous symbiosis with people, as they clean up the garbage in the town -- and eat it.

If you see one on the ground taking inventory of a garbage receptacle you'll see that they are as big as small humans. In the morning a great many of them perched in the trees out my window and they woke up in the morning the same time as me, and preened their feathers, then slowly unfolded and stretched their wings and prepared for their first morning flight.

Touring Kampala
After getting registered for the conference, the ATA group was treated to a tour of Uganda's capital city by Kelley MacTavish-Mungar the operator of Pearl of Africa Tours. Kelley is a former Texan who went to Uganda originally as a dentist with her dentist father, and then became a tour operator. Now she is married to a Ugandan and raising Ugandan children. She was a great guide for a group of Americans because as an American herself she knew just the kinds of things we would want to learn about.

Before we began our tour, she began her narrative by sharing a few insights into the people of Uganda. "Ugandans are quiet," she said. "They may seem a little reserved, it's not because they don't like you, but during the war, if you attracted too much attention you may get shot. So they're a little reserved, but if you talk to them they will really shine."

As I became acquainted with the people of Uganda, I remembered what Kelley said. At times I tried to fathom in my imagination what they must have experienced in those terrible years, those memories and scars that had become imprinted on the culture. It was a quality I thought I could feel in their presence, but could not name or pinpoint. What was not hidden was the great spiritual depth of the Ugandan people, the warmth, the generosity, the sensitivity. They were extremely kind to me, to other visitors and to each other. I was struck by how supportive they were to each other, as if they were all extended family.

For an American it was almost shocking. I found myself staring in wide-eyed wonder, trying to take it in and figure out what it was that the Ugandans had that we seem to have lost. They have a sense of immediacy, of being fully present in the moment that Americans seem to have left behind somewhere along the way, perhaps from being too comfortable, or watching too much TV.

"It was only 25 years ago, Uganda endured the devastating reign of Idi Amin, when thousands of people were killed merely as bystanders to a drive for power. In times of such overwhelming violence and death, I have heard, life takes on a luminescence, from the heightened awareness of the preciousness and fragility of life. In Uganda I felt that light shine on me for a while, and I was changed by it."

And that brings us to President Museveni.

A Hero for Our Time
I'm not one to get carried away with the kinds of emotions political leaders are supposed to engender, but the experience of seeing President Yoweri Musevene speak at the opening lunch, and actually getting to shake his hand was a highlight of a week full of peak experiences.

Museveni was the man who led an armed struggle from 1981 to 1986 that ultimately forced out the reigning military dictator Tito Okello, and subsequently transformed the beleaguered country into a thriving democratic republic. Ever since Uganda gained its independence from Britain in the early 1960s, it had been through one hell after another. Idi Amin, who had seized power in a 1969 coup, killed over 300,000 civilians just to maintain his iron grip.

Amin had no clue how to govern a country, so while his soldiers massacred wildlife for meat or ivory and the economy collapsed into chaos, he launched a war of distraction against Tanzania. In retaliation, Tanzania unleashed its own wave of destruction on Uganda. The people, the wildlife and the landscape suffered each assault and the country lay in devastation.

After Museveni took over, Uganda reduced the poverty rate from 56% to 27%, AIDS from 30% to 6% in 10 years and increased primary education from 40% to 99%. With a 6.5% average annual growth rate, Ugandaís economy is the fastest growing economy in Africa. Museveni put his presidency to a vote and won overwhelmingly in 1996 and 2001.  

Museveni's initiatives to restore the wildlife and the environment laid the groundwork for a plan to fuel economic growth through tourism. He recognized the potential of tourism to provide the engine for a developing economy like Uganda because the amount of investment required to begin generating a return is relatively small. But the tourism must be carefully managed to make sure profits are reinvested in the maintenance and economic growth of the destination. Hence the Cultural and Ecotourism Symposium.

Museveni met ATA executive director Mira Berman at the screening of Discovery Channel film called Uganda: The President's Tour in Washington D.C. He extended his personal invitation to ATA to hold its symposium there, and the association accepted, shifting plans so quickly that the preparations had to be telescoped into a few months.

His leadership in a movement that so drastically turned around a scene of great tragedy was an awesome legacy, and when he walked into the room he carried that legacy, palpably. This was no propped up political leader, no media creation. This was a man whose own accomplishments and benevolence created a powerful aura.

When Museveni spoke, he was brilliant, but relaxed and -- funny. He had the place cracking up. His mellow self-assuredness cracked the stiffness that goes with a government affair, and people were glad to let off their tension in laughter. But while he entertained he  taught us about Uganda.

"Uganda is one of the three places on the globe that are on the equator, but have high altitude," he said. "That gives us a unique climate. One of the problems is that architects and civil engineers try to import the problems of Europe; like air conditioning. Itís not necessary. Air does not need to be conditioned. You can just enjoy it as it is."

Uganda ranges from 80 degrees in the day to 60 at night and never changes much, he said. In the mountains it can get below freezing. There are two rainy seasons, and we were there in one of them. Once in a while a storm would come up, pour water in torrents for an hour or so, then dissipate, and once again the sun would come out.

Museveni went on to describe Uganda's variety of landscapes, from high tropical rainforests to savannahs to the mountains so cool that Irish potatoes can grow there. "The mountains import the temperate climate," he said. Museveni said he intended to dispel some myths about Africa, such as the "colonial anthropology" that concluded that the diversity of tribes inevitably led to dissension. "It is true-- there are many tribes," he said, "but they are all linked." 

Uganda is safe, he said. "This part of the world is more immune to terrorism than many places," he said. "We don't have much here. In most parts of Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi we don't have national terrorism. The populations are mainly African, some Indians. They are not notable for terrorism. We have nice Hindus. Our Muslims are black. They are not interested in terrorism. East Africans don't like to die too much. They are not good candidates for suicide bombers. They are too busy eating pork. They are very humble. Our people like to live."

If you have ever Googled Uganda, or picked up a travel brochure, you probably know that the highly quotable Winston Churchill called Uganda The Pearl of Africa. But there was more. He also said, "The scenery, the climate, and especially the people are different from anything elsewhere to be seen in the whole range of Africa."

My experience of Africa was set to the high pitch of the hopefulness of a conference devoted to pursuing extremely positive solutions to economic and environmental problems. The energy generated by that group of people coming together from all over Africa and the rest of the world to find mutually beneficial ways of building a new world was irresistible. Such a high-minded enterprise would have been exciting anywhere. In Uganda it was enchanting.

The End

David Cogswell

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