UGANDA MEDIA CENTRE
The Elgon range of mountains interspersed with the proverbial thousand waterfalls are a spectre to behold! Overlooking a vast plain, Sipi Falls with its breathtaking three level cascades is arguably the most beautiful chain of waterfalls in Uganda.
A network of well-maintained but rather muddy local trails offer picturesque views of the area. With a local guide explaining the flora and fauna as well as the intricate eco-system in a historical but rather modern context, our group had such a fascinating trail. As Team leader, I had 26 government Communications officers with me.
We camped at Kapkwai exploration centre, 13km from Sipi around 8pm having explored one level of Sipi falls. Kapkwai, deep in the forested national park doubles as an educational centre for schools, and the trailhead for climbers using the Sipi trail to the Elgon caldera.
The cottages provide basic but comfortable accommodation to visitors. Uganda Wildlife Authority wardens and staff took good care of our team. Warm water, a sumptuous buffet and open Bar in the deep of the Forest! You do really feel at one with Nature at Kapkwai.
The Hike and Forest exploration was the first activity after breakfast on Sunday 10th July. Led by Senior Warden, Peter Mbwebwe as well as Jossy Muhangi the PR Manager of Uganda Wildlife Authority, we embarked on this rather exciting trek of Mt. Elgon. Three circuits of between 3-7km hug the regenerating forest and we picked the 5-km route. With excitement tempered by anxiety because of the rugged terrain, we walked through the forested Mountain range, observing escarpments, thick canopy, caves, waterfalls, birds, caterpillars and primates.
Our guide pointed out bird species, shrubs and herbs as well as the traditional Sebei cultural ceremonies performed in caves. The Elgon mountain slopes are riddled with caves left by moving lava and erosion of soft volcanic deposits millions of years ago. The most accessible are Kapkwai Cave, near the Forest Exploration centre, Khauka Cave and Wanale Ridge.
Our team had limited time to explore the entire treasure. But Jossy Muhangi of UWA explained that all these features acted as shelters for locals and their livestock in the past and more recently, the caves were used by climbers and their porters. Even today, campsites are still located at Hunters Cave, Siyo Cave by the hot springs, Mude Cave and Tutum Cave which are recommended for overnight expeditions.
Mt Elgon has the largest volcanic base in the world. Located at 4000km squared, it is also the oldest and largest solitary – volcanic mountain in East Africa with an extended trans-boundary conservation area which has been declared a UNESCO ‘man and Biosphere Reserve’.
Why this visit by Government Communication Officer’s forum (GCOF)? Tourism has been highlighted as one of the 4 key priority growth areas by government. The impetus is captured in Uganda Wild Life Authorities vision – ‘to be the leading, self sustaining conservation agency that transforms Uganda’ and to economically develop the protected areas of Uganda in partnership with other stake holders for the benefit of Ugandans.
Government communications officers are a key segment identified to promote tourism both locally and abroad. It was felt however, that they must be equipped to promote a product that they – themselves have sampled and enjoyed. As a result, Uganda Wildlife Authority has given concessions, at times fully sponsored trips for spokespersons of Ministries, Departments & Agencies of government to tour National Parks and thereafter, promote tourism at a higher notch. After all, they would have ‘savoured the flavour’ so to speak.
In his recent speech at PM Netanyahu’s visit, President Museveni restated his government’s priorities using the key words: investments, trade, tourism, and technology – (ITTT). It is in line with these priorities that all of us who have a role to play in government communications must grasp and run with as a matter of urgency as we seek to enforce ‘business unusual’.
There are challenges we picked up in the Elgon region which need to be addressed. The road network is unfinished business. Access to Kapkwai Centre is by murram road which gets treacherous in wet weather. The Eastern & northern parts are not as attractive to tourists as the western parts of Uganda. Government must address infrastructural bottlenecks such as extending Electricity to the national park.
Equally, local leaders are not helping in conservation efforts. We learnt that most leaders in the region, from MPs to LC5 chairmen & others encourage encroachment on the National Park. Instead of being on the side of government, they urge peasants to go in and cultivate, lumber and do illegal activities that degrade the Park. There is a pending issue of resettling some communities who still live inside the national park. UWA wardens also complained that when they arrest encroachers and cattle thieves who use the National Park as a transit route, courts quickly release them to return to their vices. The Judiciary should be sensitive and supportive of conservation efforts.
Dennis Katungi, Communications & Media Relations Manager, UMC