European Union earmarks Karamoja for tourism development
The European Union Head of Missions has identified Karamoja as one of Uganda’s most promising tourist destinations. While meeting with government and private sector stakeholders including the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA) and other sector entities to deliberate on the ways to promote Karamoja, Head of the EU Delegation, Mr. Attilio Pacifici, said Karamoja needs all possible support to conserve wildlife and promote communities open to tourist visits.
Karamoja is home to Kidepo Valley National Park which has 80 species of animals including lions, spotted hyena, bat-eared foxes, cheetahs as well as 480 species of birds such as ostrich, goshawk, red and yellow barbet, kori bustard, Jackson’s hornbill and Karamoja Apalis.
“As a region, the variety of its wildlife, forestry, landscape, paleontological and cultural tourism assets provide an untapped and potentially lucrative competitive advantage for local economic development,” adds Mr. Pacifici.
In 2018, Cable News Network (CNN) named Kidepo the third most prestigious national park in Africa, after Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Kidepo has been recognized because of his remarkable fine offerings.
He added that the park is a good beacon for sightings of incredible animals, the voracious Kidepo lions feed on roaming herds of over 4,000 buffaloes (the park’s total population is said to be around 13,000) and the herds of elephants moving majestically along the valleys.
CNN has also observed that the park’s isolation is off-putting to many, but the 12-hour drive from Kampala or a fairly expensive private charter flight is a small price to pay to discover one of the true hidden gems of the island. Africa.
An international online travel site, Lonely Planet, states that Kidepo is the road less traveled through the Karamoja wilderness of eastern Uganda, taking you through some of the country’s most breathtaking landscapes.
The Karamoja sub-region has a population of around 1.3 million people living in a largely arid expanse, where you will find several tourist attractions, which include diverse wildlife, dramatic mountains and hills, and rich culture. “Karamoja is a place where you can travel for hours without seeing any buildings. You will be treated to the bush, to beautiful landscapes and of course to our culture. You don’t need to go to a museum because most people in Karamoja still live in the traditional way,” says Theo Vos, founder of Kara-Tunga, a social enterprise that promotes tourism and culture in Karamoja.
“You will traverse timeless plains dotted with high jagged peaks and blazing fields of sunflowers. You will also meet the Karimojong people – the highlight of the trip for most – pastoral herders recognizable by their traditional dress (like the Maasai). The men often sport Dr Seuss-style top hats with a feather stuck in them and brandish a cattle stick and a mini wooden stool (used as a seat and headrest),” writes Lonely Planet, in part.
Kidepo, 705 kilometers from Kampala, is accessible by road and air. Aero Link, a local national airline, flies from Entebbe to the park for 1.7 million shillings ($490) one way, for a minimum of seven passengers. For a round trip, you will pay double the amount.
The airline markets Kidepo for its breathtaking landscapes and large concentrations of wildlife‚ which coexist among the diverse geographical features such as dry montane forests‚ open savannahs and rocky kopje-capped peaks. Kidepo, a true wilderness in the rugged semi-arid region, offers game drives along the Narus Valley which flows in a northwesterly direction through the southern part of the national park.
Nature walks around Apoka Lodge at any time of the day will help you experience the Karamajong cultures. Mountain hiking, Morungole mountain view and bird watching are some of the activities to enjoy during your stay. According to Stephen Masaba, Business Development Manager of UWA, Kidepo attracts around 12,000 visitors a year.
Half of them are East African residents and the other half are foreign tourists. “The number has increased. Kidepo received 5,000 tourists a year seven years ago,” he adds. Entrance to the national park costs Shs20,000 for East African residents and $40 for foreigners.
Karamoja is also a destination for mountaineers and adventurers where you will come face to face with Mount Morungole – the home of the Ik people. These moved to the mountains when the Kidepo Valley National Park was established, Mount Moroto – a volcano along the border between Uganda and Kenya.
Kadam Mountain – where you can enjoy an eagle view, meet highland people, admire the rich biodiversity and Mount Napak – one of the most difficult mountains to climb as it is steep are some of the tourist attractions to watch. There is also a Rift Valley escarpment in the eastern part of the city
“Many people can identify Kidepo but very few are aware of the richness of his culture. We need to diversify the tourism product to have more value for the region”, explains Joseph Esule, head of research, monitoring and evaluation at UTB.
Esule says there is a need to focus on the challenges of marketing tourism in the region. “Karamoja has limited and underdeveloped tourism products; Kidepo Valley National Park is the key destination in Karamoja.
There are many potential tourism products that can be developed to provide a diversity of experiences from the strengths of culture, history, landscape and biodiversity,” he explains. He adds that the lack of awareness about Karamoja, especially as a tourist destination, also limits the number of tourists.
It also highlights the need to increase the skilled labor force in tourism services and improve the road network. Esule says the region lacks electricity, information and communication technology (ICT) and water which would improve the visitor experience and provide competitive services.
“Much remains to be done to extend these services, especially to protected areas, not to mention the Karamoja sub-region. A stopover is planned between the Moroto-Kotido-Kidepo corridors but currently there is none.
Ecological degradation in the region is another challenge he cites, which explains the apparent soil erosion, deforestation, burning of vegetation, development of gullies and flash flooding in most districts of Karamoja.
“Wildlife is declining. Erosion is causing loss of life due to landslides and mudslides in Kawalakol, Lolelia and Lobalangit sub-counties. For decades, forests have been sources of fuel and building materials and their cutting has provided permanent agricultural land and pasture,” explains Esule. If not verified, Esule fears that the continued loss of vegetation cover will threaten and affect wildlife in the area.
Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade are still poignant thorns in Karamoja. Italy, one of the EU member states, is bolstering UWA’s efforts by providing technical training.
Italy has signed a £10m support fund to enable UWA officials to train communities in anti-poaching techniques as well as support to mitigate the current effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But local players are making continuous efforts to attract businesses. The Karamoja Tourism Organization markets the destination in domestic and international markets.
One of the reasons why you must visit Karamoja is that the city is located on a large plateau. Much of it is over 1,000 meters above sea level, with four main mountains towering over the region’s savannah, highlands and river valleys.
For outdoor adventurers and nature lovers, wildlife is another reason you should visit Karamoja. Home to Kidepo and Pian Upe National Reserve, you will find many rare species such as roan antelope, topis, gazelles, heartbeest and elk. There is an ongoing campaign by some tourism stakeholders to turn Pian Upe and Mateniko Game Reserve into national parks due to their wildlife offerings.
Experts say that if the number of tourists to the Karamoja region increases, revenue will be generated, jobs will be created in the tourism and hospitality sector, and the region will eventually grow.
The Karamoja Tourism Organization emphasizes cultural heritage which details how the Karimojong people lived together in Ethiopia as an ethnic group and migrated around 1600 AD to settle in Sudan, Kenya, L present-day Ethiopia and Uganda.
He further adds, “Today, seven related pastoral tribes: Dodoth, Jie, Lebtur, Bokora, Matheniko, Pian, Pokoth live in the plains and the mountains are home to ancient inhabitants (Ik, Tepeth).” Rainfall usually occurs sporadically between June and October, desert winds and the hot dry season invading the land from November to March are a reason to experience the region’s climate.
Karamoja’s accessibility for international travelers is another reason to visit the region. While Entebbe Airport serves the most international arrivals and departures, three other airports also receive flights from other countries.
“National airports make all parts of the country accessible, from Entebbe Airport in the far north to Kidepo Valley National Park. Airport facilities vary depending on the size of the local population.
For many countries, it is easy to obtain a visa to visit, and citizens of bordering countries may not even need a visa, thanks to the visa-free policy in East Africa,” adds- he.
The government is also investing heavily in improving the road network in the Karamoja sub-region. In 2013 a 100 kilometer road was completed linking Moroto to Nakapiripirit and other roads are regularly maintained and leveled with murram.
“We recommend that you contact the local community about road conditions in advance before embarking on a trip.” The organization’s seventh reason is an assurance on safety and security, explaining that since 2011 cattle raids in the northeast region have officially ended.
The UPDF succeeded in disarming the region, after which peace was restored. “The people of Karamoja are celebrating peace and security and no related incidents have been recorded.”
With security guaranteed, Karamoja will attract more investors and development partners, which in turn will generate substantial income and increase employment opportunities.