Ankole – Katatumba Missed the Point On Tourism Board [opinion]

My attention was drawn to a recent article in your newspaper headlined Tourism should partner Nkore Cultural Trust by Dr William Katatumba, the Enganzi of Nkore and chairman of Nkore Cultural Trust (NCT).

As the chairman of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), I found some sections of the article provocative because the author was misrepresenting our intentions in trying to get Mugaba palace in Mbarara restored. I, therefore, feel obliged to enlighten your readers with the correct information.

Dr Katatumba’s article came hot on the heels of a recent workshop UTB jointly held in Mbarara with members of GANTONE (Greater Ankole Tourism Network) regional tourism cluster. Like tourism clusters in different parts of the country, GANTONE is working with UTB to promote tourism in the Ankole area by helping stakeholders to network to acquire skills in managing tourism ventures and to enforce the right standards in the industry. It is also helping in identifying more attractions in the area and ensuring that those identified are promoted worldwide so that tourists can spend more time in the region.

One of the potential attractions identified by participants at the workshop was Mugaba, which used to be the palace of the king (Omugabe) of Ankole. Ever since kingdoms were abolished in 1967, the buildings were abandoned, and the ravages of time have taken a heavy toll on them. Yet this site and its contents have great tourism potential, besides their sentimental value to the people of Ankole.

We all know the reasons why the Obugabe has not yet been restored – the acrimonious disputes between different groups who differ in their interpretation of the role of the institution in the culture of Banyankore. As the debate between these contenders rages on and the central government continues to give it time, many people are clamouring for the buildings to be repaired and put to some use, just like all the “Ebyaffe” in other kingdoms served different purposes until they were returned to their owners. UTB shares this view.

By repairing the buildings and turning them into a memory site, the government will have hit two birds with one stone. First, it will save residents of Mbarara and visitors to the town alike, from a chronic eyesore of dilapidated structures that have given the town a bad name, which reflects negatively on the image of Banyankore as a people.

Secondly, the restored palace will create employment for Ugandans who wish to guide tourists around the place, and who may wish to sell souvenirs to those visitors. In many parts of the world where empires and kingdoms have long ceased to exist, castles and palaces of leaders of the defunct institutions continue to be major sources of revenue for the people of those countries.

The palace of King Rudahigwa in Nyanza, Rwanda, is a good example. The monarchy in Rwanda was abolished in 1961 but the palace is teeming with tourists, both domestic and international. In his article, Katatumba claims that NCT are the rightful owners of Mugaba and the other cultural sites in Ankole.

He then protests over UTB’s attempts to ‘own’ them instead of helping NCT to repossess them. It is clear from the tone of the article that Katatumba is confusing ownership of the buildings with the drive to repair them and promote them as a tourist site.

What readers should know is that it is not the mandate of UTB to own tourist attractions, but to help in identifying them working with stakeholders in developing and promoting them and setting appropriate standards for managing these assets.

Just as UTB does not own national parks, the Source of the Nile, or the Rwenzori mountains but still promotes them, so shall it be in the case of Mugaba palace and indeed with the other cultural and historical sites like Kasubi tombs, Namugongo Martyrs shrine, Bigo bya Mugyenyi, the Equator, and others.

Presently, Mugaba palace buildings are under the department of Museums and Monuments, in the ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities (MTWA). UTB has been working with the MTWA to seek funding for rehabilitating these sites and to attract investors as partners in the process.

Should the MTWA get the funding to restore them, I see a role for Katatumba’s Trust and all the other interested groups in helping to contribute ideas to shape the identity of the project. This will result in a win-win situation for all Banyankore, who will have a valuable asset in the centre of their town, while at the same time having their history preserved for future generations.

Mugaba properties are currently in a depressing state of disrepair and could crumble any time unless they are rehabilitated. Encroachers have occupied part of its land and murram diggers have defiled the site. By resisting the rehabilitation of these buildings because they have not been allowed to own them, Katatumba and his group would be shooting themselves in the foot.

They would not be behaving any differently from those he accuses of cynical selfishness and malice, who claim ownership of the palace and the kingdom’s regalia, which at the same time they would be happy to see destroyed. In our democratic system, Nkore Cultural Trust is free to press on with their quest for having the Obugabe restored and when successful, to own the properties.

But in the meantime, they should support UTB who wish to see the palace rehabilitated, instead of undermining these efforts. This campaign by Katatumba and NTC to hold back the restoration of the palace unless they first own it reminds me of the Biblical story in King Solomon’s time in which two mothers were contesting ownership of a baby boy.

The one who wanted the baby sliced into two so that she could own a piece regardless of whether the boy died obviously was proved not to be the real mother (1Kings 3:16). NCT should avoid being this woman.

James R. Tumusiime is chairman of Uganda Tourism Board.

Source : The Observer

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