Various dictionaries give a multiplicity of definitions to the term “tourism” but the common denominator to all the definitions is that “tourists visit places with special reference or unique features ranging from cultural exposition to technological or architectural structures”. The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) recently confirmed that Africa has been one of the fastest growing tourism regions in the last decade. The continent’s tourist numbers rose from an estimated 37million in 2003 to 58 million at the closure of the decade.
The growth of tourism in Africa largely depends on the rich cultural diversity and nature. The continent is a home to innumerable tribes, ethnic and social groups hence a variety of cultures.
Some of these tribes represent very large populations consisting of millions of people while others are smaller groups of a few thousand.
Some countries have over 50 different ethnic groups, dressing, cuisines, worship, to music and dance. These unique characteristics attract tourists.
Africa has a rich tradition of arts and crafts. The first trans-Atlantic interaction between the Europeans and Africans revealed that there were millions of priceless structures and artifacts made by the pre-supposed uncivilized people of Africa.
In Uganda just like other countries arts and crafts find expression in a variety of woodcarvings, clay, metal and leather art works. The arts and crafts also include sculpture, paintings, pottery, weavings and so on.
Tourists who visit Uganda have always exhibited a special interest in crafts because they are made basing on themes. Most of these themes recur and they include a couple, a woman with a child, a male with a weapon or animal, and an outsider or a stranger.
Couples may represent ancestors, community founder, married couple or twins. The couple theme rarely exhibits intimacy of men and women. The mother with the child or children reveals intense desire of the African women to have children. The man with the weapon or animal theme symbolizes honor and power and at the same time epitomizes hunting as a traditional activity. All these speak volumes about the African culture.
Most tourist destinations have attached great importance on cuisine. True Africans love their food and won’t hesitate to sell the delicacy of their food to tourists. Traditional cuisine is basically characterized by use of starch as a focus, accompanied by stew containing meat or vegetables, or both. Starchy cassava, yams , sweet potatoes, peas, beans, cereals and steamed greens with hot spices are commonly consumed. In each African locality, there are numerous wild fruits and vegetables which are used as food. Watermelon, mangoes, banana and plantain are some of the more familiar fruits. All these create delectable meals to both native and foreign visitors.
Uganda, just like other African countries, is gifted with beautiful Flora, fauna and a variety of physical features. Culture continues to play a role in the environmental conservation. In central Uganda, the Baganda have always cherished and protected wildlife by giving each clan a totem which is either a plant or an animal. It is therefore the duty of every clan to ensure that their totems do not suffer total extinction. Those whose totem is a monkey will fight tooth and nail to have monkeys exist. A myth from the Congolese pygmies had it that whenever a member of society cut down a tree the strange noise of the falling tree would annoy the chameleons in the forest and this would cause a great water flood that would spread all over the land and kill people.
Tourists who come to Africa are offered first class entertainment. Music is part of our culture. Traditional Sub-Saharan African music is as diverse as the region’s various populations. The common perception of Sub-Saharan African music is that it is rhythmic and centered around the drums. Dance involves moving multiple body parts. Swaziland, Africa’s last standing absolute monarch, attracts thousands of tourists annually. Tens of thousands of bare breasted maidens from the age of six assemble before Swaziland’s King Mswati III in a traditional reed dance during which the king selects a wife. The Swazi people do this in a display of pride in their culture and virtue. This ceremony is a tourist attraction.
Africa’s tourism industry already employs around 7.7 million people. The industry is vital to many economies in Africa. A growing percentage of Uganda’s GDP comes from tourism. However we have a long way to go to be able to increase our share on the global tourism market pie. Uganda is blessed with a strong music festival reputation, hospitable people and relative peace; the country should now embark on initiating and improving on food festivals, film, literature, theatre, infrastructure, cultural conservation as well as protecting the wild life. Good governance, broadcasting and print journalism can also play a significant role in marketing the country on international scenes. As Uganda celebrates 53 years of independence today this is the only gift we can give this beautiful pearl of Africa.