As the third day of this year’s Smart Partnership Dialogue started to unfold, details began to emerge about the attendance of the meeting. Both Mr. Prabhat, Speke Hotels’ group general manager, and Mr. Petzer, general manager of the Commonwealth Resort, reported to have served nearly a thousand people during the opening dinner, making it arguably one of the big evenings in the resort’s history. Although this figure is thought to include some support staff and security details, actual attendees are still considered to be touching the 900+ mark, a vote of confidence by the global “smart partners” in Uganda as a destination and the capacity to organize and successfully deliver such meetings.
While in the lounge near the main reception, waiting for my interview with President Banda from Zambia to take place (see separate upcoming report), His Majesty King Mswati III of Swaziland and his entourage walked through the lobby to their waiting limousines accompanied by a crier who, dressed in traditional Swazi gear, loudly and continuously announced the presence of his monarch to ensure that those nearby would pay their respects, which without hesitation everyone did. What a tradition that is, and novel to Uganda for sure, though apparently quite common in Swaziland, of course.
Also seen that morning was “soldier turned artist,” General Elly Tumwine, who did not fail to draw this correspondent’s attention to his ongoing art exhibition at the Munyonyo Resort, open for “smart partners” and other visitors and occurring because of the fact that some of his designer wear would be shown during the closing dinner fashion show on the last evening of the dialogue. Elly is one of the best-known Ugandan artists and while still serving in the army on active duty, spends every spare minute to paint, create, and promote Ugandan art across the country, the region, and further abroad.
Business went underway that morning in earnest, with participants moving from plenary sessions into dedicated discussion groups, dialoguing the various topics and recording their observations, potential solutions to common problems, and recommendations on the way forward. These sessions were spurred on by “catalysts” located at the tables and venues, tasked to get the talking into gear.
The respective reports were periodically delivered to the dialogue organizers and rapporteurs to become part and parcel of the final outcome of this year’s Smart Partnership Dialogue.
Transport across the sprawling resort from one venue to the next took place by electric carts, while others wanting to walk off the after effects of the burgeoning buffets could easily attain a mile or more of walks in a day. The weather was also conducive, as a constant light breeze from the lake and sunshine tempered by passing clouds helped to present Uganda from its sunniest side.
It was also appreciated that the security arrangements, normally heavy when several presidents are on site, were smart, too, and there were no demands to leave laptops, cameras, or mobile phones behind when entering the various venues, although equipment was screened as a matter of principle. In fact, it was especially noted that the otherwise often dour faces of security operatives had largely transformed into broad smiles, and greetings were not only answered politely but, in fact, often offered when passing them.
The resort staff across the board was also at their very best, helpful down to the smallest detail, and anything asked for in the dining room, would arrive by “express” delivery.
Tourism did not play a very heavy role in the discussions according to some of the participants of the break out sessions, but infrastructure, including roads, bridges, airports, and telecommunications facilities – all of great importance to a functioning tourism sector – were featuring strongly on the agenda of the think tankers.
At the end of the working day, most participants visited the exhibition stalls to see indigenous Ugandan art pieces, buy unique fabrics, woodcarvings, traditional baskets, or simply enjoy the colors and sounds of Uganda and interact with each other.
President Museveni and First Lady Janet hosted the assembled heads of state, heads of government, and heads of delegations, plus, of course, the CPTM leadership for a private dinner within the resort to strengthen their ties beyond business to personal levels.
However, the typical Ugandan hospitality will be accorded to all visitors to the country, every one of them being a very important person for the country’s tourism sector. See www.visituganda.com for more details on Uganda’s tourism attractions or www.theeye.co.ug for more detailed information on what to do while in Uganda.