Today should be a day of broad celebrations in Uganda, as President Museveni prepares to be sworn in for another term of office. This follows his resounding election victory and emerging equally victorious from a challenge filed in the Supreme Court by a rival, after all nine justices ruled in favor of the defendants, President Museveni, and the Electoral Commission by throwing out the case.
Several tourists seen by chance yesterday, though, two of whom in fact wanted to join the crowds at the Kololo Ceremonial Grounds for the event and take pictures and Tweet and Facebook them to the world, were livid when they noticed that social media access had been switched off.
While the reasons, like during the elections, are understandable – the government of course does not want social media to be used to rabble rouse on a day like this when plenty of African Presidents and VIP visitors are in the country to witness the swearing in – so are the reasons why in particular tourists are hugely upset.
It has become customary for most travelers in the world, and Uganda is no different, to post pictures and comments on social media of game seen in national parks; the lush green scenery of the Ugandan landscapes with lakes, rivers, hills, and mountains; and of course the city, its people, and its landmarks like the main cathedrals, the main mosque, and the Bahai Temple, among many other highlights.
Not being able to post such pictures and the subsequent anger is not good publicity for the Pearl of Africa, and those who took this decision, no doubt with good intentions from where they stand, must bear the blame for, what in plain language can only be called p****** off the tourists who opted to come to Uganda over the choice of many other destinations, to spend their money here and wanting to show off their selfies and now, by and large, cannot.
Needless to say, applications are available on the web like Virtual Private Network software which allows those tech savvy enough to continue posting and as one of the visitors said: “I stay in touch with home by Facebook. I post my every move when I travel. That way everyone is sure I am ok. Coming to Africa, to Uganda, already raised some issues with them but I calmed them down because I have traveled in East Africa before. But if I were not able to post regularly, like with this restriction now, they would probably call our Foreign Ministry out of concern. So, I use the available apps and stay connected and they know I am fine.”
Still, some lingering anger remained and none will now apparently join what will be a mammoth crow at Kololo to show their pictures but leave the city for a daytrip to the Nile.
In a related development, the main highway from Kampala to Entebbe and the International Airport was closed by government, causing frantic efforts by foreign visitors to reach their departing flights through just one alternate route, the new incomplete dual-carriage pay highway, while arriving visitors suffered equal delays in reaching their city hotels or their destination of the day after heavy rains soaked sections of the diversion making it hard to get through.
“As a tourism operator, I must appeal to government to be more mindful of the needs of others. We continue to bring in tourists, or tourists who are here at the end of their safari want to go home. Closing the main road to the airport is not a measure we in the tourism industry want to see because, while we understand, the tourists will not, and [will] leave in a bad mood or arrive already wound up. It is not good publicity for the country and makes our job to promote Uganda only more difficult than it already is. Like we often build in on the departure day a visit to UWEC or the Botanical Garden, and that has been made impossible now. We are left to explain, and REFUND, for why we cannot provide such a service at the last moment and again, this is bad for business,” quipped one senior stakeholder on condition of not being named.