News / Africa

Uganda’s Little-Known Gem to Become Accessible

Uganda's Kidepo National Park was inaccessible to tourists for decades, Dec. 28, 2012. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
Uganda's Kidepo National Park was inaccessible to tourists for decades, Dec. 28, 2012. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
For decades, conflict and insecurity made Uganda's Kidepo National Park all but inaccessible to tourists.  Even today, expensive flights and terrible roads put off all but the most adventurous visitors.  But Ugandan authorities have now mounted a plan to open up the park to the wider world.  
This year CNN ranked Kidepo National Park - a remote stretch of savannah in northeastern Uganda - as the third best park in Africa.  On its website, the American network raved about the park’s wildlife and picturesque setting.  

But another draw is Kidepo’s exclusivity, it said, as only a handful of visitors have ever been there.
Until about five years ago, Kidepo was a virtual no-go area.  But now the Ugandan government is determined to open it up to the world.
The park lies just north of Karamoja, a region that has long had a reputation for lawlessness and violence.  To the west lies the land terrorized for decades by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army.
Its location means that Kidepo has been essentially cut off from the capital for decades, although longtime tour guide Amos Wekesa, who now runs his own tour company, said he used to take visitors there all the same.
“These were extreme risk-takers.  I used to take people there under such circumstances, but we always had to make sure we were in a convoy.  We had security with us.  We could gather in Kotido and have 20 cars following each other.  It was a very volatile environment at that time," said Wekesa.
Stephen Masaba of the Uganda Wildlife Authority reviews plans to upgrade Kidepo National Park, Sept. 5, 2013. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)Stephen Masaba of the Uganda Wildlife Authority reviews plans to upgrade Kidepo National Park, Sept. 5, 2013. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
Stephen Masaba of the Uganda Wildlife Authority reviews plans to upgrade Kidepo National Park, Sept. 5, 2013. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
Stephen Masaba of the Uganda Wildlife Authority reviews plans to upgrade Kidepo National Park, Sept. 5, 2013. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
In the past five years the people of Karamoja have been largely disarmed, and the LRA has moved into neighboring countries.  Stephen Masaba of the Uganda Wildlife Authority said millions of dollars are about to be poured into marketing Kidepo and improving its infrastructure.
“Security has tremendously improved, and that’s why we’re able to do a lot of these things.  We are getting out of the long historical bad days, and we are slowly but surely getting there - putting in place systems that give you access, putting in place gate systems, putting in place systems that can enable you to enjoy.  We hope this will turn around the fortunes of Kidepo," said Masaba.
Wekesa said this represents a shift on the part of a government that has, until now, focused more on agriculture than tourism development.
“They realize that we are earning a lot of money, and we have a treasure.  This is one of the greatest countries in the world in terms of biodiversity.  But we have not been able to tap into it, and they realize we should tap into it," he said.

But there are still challenges.  Even with improved security Kidepo is difficult to reach.  Flights from the capital are expensive, and according to tour guide Noel Bayo, bad roads mean it can take two days just to reach the gate.
“When they get to Kidepo they love the place.  But of course, you can understand their frustrations when you get stuck on the road and they have to push, and it’s muddy.  This is where the frustration creeps in," said Bayo.
The government says it has plans to upgrade the roads around the park.  Already, says Wekasa, tourism numbers have been rising, even if fewer than two percent of Uganda’s visitors make it to Kidepo every year.
“The thing is, it was starting from nowhere.  So the percentages have been so high - 100 percent, 200 percent.  Everyone that goes to Kidepo thinks it’s the most beautiful national park they have been to.  I’m sure in the next five years it will grow by 1000 percent," he said.
By then the park might lose some of its prized exclusivity.  But that is exactly what the Ugandan government is hoping for.

You May Like

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs