It is from a place of relief that the country is celebrating the safe return of an American tourist and her Ugandan guide who were kidnaped and over whose lives a huge ransom of up to Shs1.8 billion was demanded. It was a regrettable incident that happened on April 2, at the edges of Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda.
Because of this kidnap, Uganda has been in the international news headlines and tourism market not for her roaming gorillas, ostriches, cheetahs, and rare birds or her massive frothy waves colliding at River Nile in Jinja or the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains. We need to turn the tide.
Both the tourist and guide have been brought back safely after the ransom was paid. We commend all efforts that resulted into rescuing Kimberly Endicott, 35, and Jean-Paul Mirenge from their captors without any harm. Now the question on many tourists and potential visitors’ minds is whether Uganda is safe. The answer is certainly yes. But as the adage goes: Once bitten, twice shy. This isolated incidence should be used as a launch-pad to improve security in the already safe parks.
Tourism is a top business that should be given the attention it deserves. The sector alone brought in foreign exchange last year in excess of $1.4 billion (Shs5 trillion), according to government statistics. Here are some of the things that we think government should urgently address.
First, we propose that the government increases border security, especially with the troubled neighbour – the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been harbouring militia groups for a long time. These militias have in the past attacked, kidnapped or killed even Ugandans. We believe that the UPDF has the capacity to put an end to this insecurity. We have seen the government deploying soldiers to patrol urban centres at night. The same should be extended to our cash cow – the parks.
Secondly, we suggest that the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the agency that manages parks and the tour operators, ban all tourists from entering parks without security. Well trained rangers and if need be, UPDF soldiers, should be deployed to ensure the safety of guides and tourists.
Third and most importantly, government should limit entries to the parks. Only few gates which are well-manned should let people in and out of protected areas and there must be proper screening of who enters the parks. We need to ensure that we keep as many bases covered in order to keep our tourism flag flying high.