Eastern Uganda has been neglected, the EU ambassador to Uganda Attilio Pacifici has said.
Pacifici who is also the head of the EU delegation expressed concern that little effort has been made to exploit eastern Uganda's tourism potential and attractions through deliberate marketing and infrastructural development leaving the region to wallow in abject poverty.
According to official government estimates, most of Uganda's poor people are found in eastern Uganda and is also the region with the highest inequality rates.
“We have so many people that come to Kampala and then go north-west and leave a lot of wealth to the private sector that side. In the East, despite its beauty, it’s been neglected and we should all think about it,” Pacifici said.
Some of the eastern Uganda tourism attractions include Mabira forest in Jinja, source of Nile River in Jinja, Mt Elgon national park, Sipi falls in Kapchorwa, the rocky Lolui island, Sigulu island, Mt Elgon among others.
“There are shortages in terms of accommodation that the private sector needs to tap into. Let’s make this area easy for tourists because there’s room to bring more businesses here – a reason we chose it for this year’s retreat,” he added.
Pacifici said this at the opening of the first-ever four-day retreat for the eastern part of Uganda at Mt Elgon hotel in Mbale yesterday Monday.
Mbale district LC V chairman Bernard Elly Mujaasi said the retreat will help advance the region’s tourism sector by attracting development partners.
“Already, the Austrian ambassador offered to set up a cable car unit system that will join Bududa to Mount Elgon and Sipi Falls. If we can pull that one off, we can attract more tourists to the East,” Mujaasi said.
Commenting on the inadequate accommodation, Mujaasi agreed with Pacifici that it’s an area that has been neglected.
“Some of the premium big hotels are Mount Elgon hotel, Wash and Wills and Mbale resort. Unfortunately, most of the middle class of the east are concentrated in Kampala which is giving us a problem. They need to come back and invest in such facilities especially in areas near Mount Elgon,” he said.
According to the EU press advisor, Emmanuel Gyezaho, the annual retreat is an opportunity for ambassadors to take time off their busy schedules to reflect on various issues of a selected region.
“It is very rare to have all of them free at the same time…This retreat is a unique activity to get all ambassadors in one spot because they regularly meet in Kampala but only deliberate as a group once every year outside the capital,” Gyezaho said.
He added that retreat also offers a platform for ambassadors to internally brainstorm about EU’s cooperation with residents and the government of Uganda so that they can better plan and strengthen their relationship.
In 2013, the EU took a decision to meet with people in various regions. The first retreat was later held in Arua in 2013 before extending to Kisoro, Gulu, Karamoja, Hoima, and now, Mbale. The delegation that set off to Mbale today comprises nine ambassadors to Uganda from Belgium (Dr Roswitha Kremser), Denmark (Nicolaj Hejberg Petersen), France (Jules-Armand Aniambossou), Ireland (William Carlos), Netherlands (Henk Jan Bakker), Sweden (Per Lindgarde), Italy (Massimiliano Mazzanti), Austria (Dr Roswitha Kremser) and the EU ambassador also head of delegation, Attilio Pacifici. The Austria head of office of the Austrian Development Agency, Dr Roswitha Kremser, is the only female on the delegation.
On Monday evening, the ambassadors engaged the Mbale LC V chairman Mujasi, chief administrative officer Esau Ekachelan and district security officers. They also met NRM leaders in the district while all opposition party leaders have been scheduled for Thursday in a separate closed-door meeting.
On Tuesday, the delegation will meet civil society organisations on issues related to governance, accountability and human rights, female genital mutilation and gender-based violence. They will also visit the EU-funded 10MW Tororo solar power plant. After Tororo, they will proceed to Malaba one-stop border.
“The whole idea at this border is to interact with customs officials to better appreciate inter-regional trade and discuss opportunities and challenges at this busiest inland post in the region,” Gyezaho said.
Tuesday activities will conclude with a visit to a flagship programme of the EU dubbed “Spotlight gender project” in Tororo that gives a second chance for girls who dropped out of school due to early marriages and teenage pregnancies.
On Wednesday, ambassadors will extend to the Kiprotich National High Altitude Training Centre in Teryet, Kapchorwa. Gyezaho said they will meet the state minister for sports, Charles Bakkabulindi, the International Olympic Committee and previous athletics champions with Joshua Cheptegei as the main attraction.
Cheptegei recently broke the 10km road world record in Valencia, Spain after setting a new time of 26 minutes and 38 seconds. In October, he was crowned 10,000m world champion in Doha among other prestigious awards.
The day will end with a guided tour of the Mount Elgon Park with Uganda Wildlife Authority before ambassadors interact with masses in Mbale through a radio talk show on local-based Elgon FM.