Uganda is Dying

Uganda is Dying

Nairobi's GADO says it best: Museveni is like Idi Amin.

Yesterday the Ugandan Wildlife Authority drastically reduced the fee for visiting mountain gorillas. Yesterday 6th term president Yoweri Museveni lambasted the police for being too soft on demonstrators. Get the connection?

I don’t think people realize how bad it’s getting in Uganda. This is in large part because of the clever dictator’s successfully distracting the world’s media by the admittedly draconian “Kill the Gays Bill”. But this has drawn all the attention away from the much greater and more serious human rights violations affected on all Ugandans, increasingly brutal every day.

For travelers heading there now, don’t be too alarmed. Proceed with caution. Keep your eyes on the “Kill the Gay’s Bill” that like flotsam on a dying reservoir won’t go away. See if Museveni actually imprisons all of his opponents, and keep your attention on that rebel rouser, Kizza Besigye.

And especially, keep reading one of the best blogs in Uganda, Mark Jordahl’s Wild Thoughts from Uganda. And hope that Mark isn’t imprisoned like a lot of other journalists.

Today, Jordahl notes:
“Why does a sitting president, who is no longer a member of the active military, wear fatigues to a swearing in ceremony for Members of Parliament? … Does he want to remind people that he can come down on them, at any time, with the full force of the military?”

For tour companies like EWT, and if as an individual you’re now beginning to plan a safari for the future, scratch Uganda off the list.

The Hide is a great camp in what was one of the best wildlife parks on earth, Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. EWT still carries a credit from that camp from our last safari into Zimbabwe in 1999. I’m afraid 2011 has seen our last safari in Uganda.

I can’t remember exactly the straw that broke Zimbabwe’s back for EWT, but I do recall a series of events including growing police brutality that displaced Africa’s beautiful sunsets with red flags: First there was the harassment of journalists. And then the emasculation of other branches of government, starting with Zimbabwe’s until then flamboyant parliament and ultimately killing the judiciary.

And that’s exactly what’s happening, today, in Uganda. It’s a methodically slow and miserable decline.

And the decade which followed EWT’s decision to stop safaris in Zimbabwe didn’t result in any real danger or injury to tourists who still went. But it became increasingly uncomfortable.

At this stage – NOW in Uganda – expect bloody demonstrations, road blocks, crazed police.

And then as the population is subdued the country’s suffering infuses society like lupus: the growing bellies of malnutrition to the long lines of cars at gas stations. For tourists it’s the possibility that gas for your transfer to the airport won’t be available and brunch will be canceled.

Ultimately tourist attractions do suffer. The boreholes so essential to Hwange and other national parks were neglected. Soldiers shot the animals.

We know well how tourists are immune to internal troubles, whether that be Tibet, Nepal or Madagascar. No sides in an internal conflict want to discourage tourists. In fact, tourists become an indication that “everything’s OK.”

And I’ve always believed that travelers should go wherever they want to, wherever their own clever devices can get them. Whether that be Cuba for an American in the 1990s or South Africa under apartheid.

But go with your eyes wide open. Travelers in the future won’t be going to Uganda to see mountain gorillas. They’ll be going to explore a once great society cut to its knees by a maniac dictator.

As Mark warns today to all of us who still love that place: “Uganda needs to be watched closely.”