AS our Members of Parliament made their vows at the start of the week my mind was on two unrelated events on either side of their solemn activity, creating a sandwich of thoughts that I am quite happy to share here.
The MPs have sworn to work for us with the help of God.
Their combined job, as the Legislature, is to be representative of the people of Uganda; make the laws that we want to be used to govern us; and check the Executive we have chosen to come up with policies under which our society will be managed in a manner that will enable us to prosper.
Some of these Parliamentarians will be asked to join the Executive, while most will stay in the House where they will meet regularly to consider the affairs of the Nation in Plenary, through Committees, Caucuses, and getting feedback directly from us, their employers, directly or indirectly through the media and other channels.
For the next five years we will keep reminding the Parliamentarians of the humility they showed us during the campaigns and the ‘down-to-earth’ antics they adopted to convince us they are “of the people”, so that they don’t go off on lofty tangents that have nothing to do with us.
We will bring many issues before them and push them to deliver on them within their mandate. My first issue for them is what, for me, sandwiched their swearing-in – and it is an issue all Ugandans need to take up in whatever way they can.
Rewind to the first event: Over the weekend I was in Adjumani to pay my last respects at the burial of the wife of Mohammed Kabba, a friend and colleague. In the midst of his anguish and grief, Mohammed, a passionate Patriot with surprisingly diverse interests, took the opportunity to show us the ‘Adjumani Tree’.
He said the tree, a Tamarind, was many decades old, and it stood grandly in the courtyard of the Adjumani mosque providing shade to the mourners and a nice stand for a number of bicycles. The legend in Adjumani is that the tree marks the spot where, back in the day, the Madi (I believe they were) who had serious disagreements with each other would congregate to reconcile.
Whereas normally the Madi walked around holding axes, when they got to the Adjumani tree for a reconciliation ceremony they were required to take spears with them – the purpose for which I have not yet established.
In the backdrop of this little tale and its location was Deputy Prime Minister and one-time Minister of Tourism, Gen. Moses Ali. I walked over to him to make the appropriately respectful sounds, and mentioned that that spot could easily be turned into a tourism attraction. I left that thought there to proceed with the solemn issues at hand.
Had I more time on my hands I would have spent it going into some detail over the missed opportunities in Adjumani just because they had not recognised this tree as a potential tourism attraction.
On our drive up to the district we took the first of two turns left to Adjumani. We eventually discovered that this was a “security road” and is not generally in use now that the Atiak road is so well-tarmacked and the road from there to Adjumani is a much better grade of murram (laterite).
The thick, bushy vegetation beside this disused road keeps you searching hopefully for the sight of wildlife, and wistfully at possible forest trails that would be full of thrills and adventure, a massive campsite just waiting for tents, campfires and people.
Cue to the second event, two days later, sandwiching the MPs oaths – Uganda signing contracts with international Tourism Public Relations firms.
I was part of the process, in some small way, and proudly so because I believe strongly in the power of communication and the need for appropriate marketing. As the ceremony was taking place, I fielded a few questions from friends within the travel industry who were concerned that the US$1.5million was going elsewhere rather than to firms such as my own.
The firms, which my partners have written about here, are Kamageo, KPRN Networks, and PHG Consulting. Each is handling a different market, respectively: the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland; Germany, Austria and Switzerland; and North America. (I suspect I will be talking or writing more about this later on, judging from some of the comments I’ve seen on various platforms elsewhere).
The fears were besides the point, I explained, because the work to be done by the foreign marketing and PR firms is specifically within the realm of tourism and travel in those markets where they operate for the cardinal objective of increasing the number of tourists coming to Uganda.
That doesn’t leave us helpless or in a sitting position waiting for tourists to arrive; if we all identify tourist attractions and opportunities such as the Adjumani tree, and get our respective local leaders and entrepreneurs to develop them, then we will give these PR firms a lot more to work with as they storm the travel industry and media in Europe and the United States.
On the Adjumani Tree alone, if we can unearth the legend of reconciliation and, perhaps, get a few warring politicians to meet at that tree and emerge as best of friends, perhaps we can convince thousands or millions of unhappy siblings, couples and politicians to make reconciliation pilgrimages there?
Every district, Constituency and probably village has a likely tourism attraction that needs to be identified, developed, and then promoted – which is exactly what the foreign marketing and PR firms need in order to give us more value for the dollars being spent.
As the MPs take up their seats in those pews, have them think of this so they make it government policy and ensure it is implemented, just as we all should wherever we are in Uganda.
Find your spot in this tourism sector and occupy it.