Uganda expects tourism boost
Kidepo, Uganda - Uganda Wildlife Authority hopes that a programme to disarm
Karamajong cattle herders in this remote north-eastern region of
Uganda will give a much-needed boost to tourism in Kidepo Valley
"I'm sure the disarmament programme will affect tourism. People
are not comfortable travelling where they are not secure and if the
disarmament goes through, people will gain confidence in travelling
to this area, and visitor numbers will increase," said Joseph
Sentongo, chief warden at Kidepo.
Kidepo is a ravishingly beautiful 1 440 square kilometre parcel
of open land bordering south Sudan, with the mountain range marking
the boundary with Kenya clearly visible on the horizon.
The park, which is full of tall windswept grass, has a greater
range of animals than in Uganda's other national parks: lions and
cheetahs, giraffes and buffalo, elephants and zebra, but very low
On average 140 people visit Kidepo a month, compared to the
2 000 who visit Murchison Falls National Park in northern Uganda
and Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda.
When this reporter visited Kidepo there was one other car in the
park, but the wildlife was remarkable: a coven of hunched vultures
pecking the carcass of a dead buffalo; two lions tearing at a zebra
by the side of the road.
The problem is insecurity: visitors fear Karamoja because of the
herders who until this month have been allowed to carry guns to
protect themselves in inter-clan and cross border cattle raids.
Some however misuse their weapons and ambushes along the main
roads through Karamoja are common, with the most recent attack
involving warriors shooting at the Presidential Protection Unit.
The park authorities hope that if the disarmament programme,
launched on December 2, is successful this will change.
Kidepo, like the rest of Karamoja, has been isolated from the
rest of Uganda for decades. The region is poor with very low
literacy and very high infant mortality.
Karamoja's economic isolation has resulted in bad, neglected
Only with the launch of the disarmament programme have the roads
been upgraded and the park authorities hope that this, along with
improved security, may raise numbers.
But fear is not the only effect of the gun. Poaching has reduced
animal numbers to five percent of what they were in the 1960s.
In 1979, when former president Idi Amin was removed from power,
poachers flooded the park, eating many of the animals.
The area filled with guns after the Karamajong raided Moroto
barracks armoury during the fall of Amin.
Others armed themselves with weapons available across the border
in war-torn Sudan and from the heavily armed Turkana.
"In the sixties this region was full, full of game. Karamoja,
South Sudan, Northern Kenya had the highest density anywhere. Now
after twenty years what's left ... the AK-47. That's what's left,"
EU-funded warden Peter Muller said.
The EU is now funding a programme to restock the park,
particularly with those animals which have been hunted out of
existence like the black rhino.
Some efforts to reduce poaching, put in place in the
mid-nineties, have already resulted in higher animal numbers:
elephants have increased from 150-200 in 1994 to 410 in 2001.
The removal of guns from the area, if successful, would further
reduce the damage by poachers.
Uganda Wildlife Authority is clearly hopeful: there are plans to
improve tourist accommodation by selling Apoka Rest Camp, built in
the 1960s and overlooking the wide sweep of the Narus Valley.
"I want this concession because I'm a Karamajong and I'm capable
of bringing tourism to this area," Cornelius Lorka Kodet said.
"Karamoja takes up ten per cent of the country and with
disarmament we hope Karamoja is going to become a tourism centre." - Sapa-AFP