As we emptied two pots of coffee in Kampala last week, a curious Australian development worker, Paul Cahill, inquired about, in his words, “this buzz in town”. On his maiden visit to Uganda, he had noticed that Martyrs Day and tourism were ‘trending’ in our media “From television news here, it appears this Martyrs Day and tourism are synonymous”. “One media respondent actually spoke about gorilla tracking and Martyrs Day”, he mused.
I hastened to explain; “Martyrs Day which falls on 3rd June is a big day on our religious calendar in Uganda” “45 youthful natives were burnt to ashes on that day in 1887. Their ‘offence’ was familiarizing with European missionaries and converting to Christianity…” “What…Excuse me.. – he cut through my narrative.
The grotesque event, I told him, happened at Namugongo 10 kilometers north of Kampala city. “For daring a 19th absolute monarch, braving fire and paying the ultimate price, those Christians inscribed their names in the annals of our religious history. So every year, thousands of multi-national pilgrims stream into this country to remember them – Uganda Martyrs and celebrate their legacy. Typically, the build-up to the day involves a series of news items and programs in the media”, I offered.
As we know in Uganda, Martyrs Day is among the main highlights of our religious history. It is, therefore, commendable that under an ecumenical arrangement, tireless churches have meticulously preserved the historic sites at Namugongo. Through partnership with government, the facilities have been expanded to host pilgrims whose numbers have been increasing with time.
The day embodies the symbolism and triumph of faith personified through the ultimate sacrifice by the Uganda Martyrs. Thus, Namugongo is one of the highly sought-after tourism attractions in Uganda today. Which is why, Uganda Tourism Board, (UTB), works with churches to ensure that pilgrims and other visitors to Namugongo get the riveting story and leave with indelible memories. Alongside the churches, UTB will, again, undertake extensive about Namugongo and the other dazzling tourism attractions in Uganda. For those with ‘queries’ like Paul Cahill’s, this is where religion meets tourism.
Martyrs Day is a fertile platform to show-case our unique, diverse and ‘seductive’ attractions. From the gigantic mountain gorillas, natural hot-springs, large fresh water bodies, magnificent snow-capped mountains, the rarest animals on earth – we have them here. According to Africa Sceneries, Uganda also boasts a staggering 1,078 bird species, including the endangered shoebills, fox weavers, Kivu Thrush, White Winged Warblers and African elegant Pittas.
Secured from border-to-border, Uganda is home to a myriad of cultures. “Explaining African Ethnic Diversity”, a 2012 Harvard University report has Uganda, with 56 indigenous groups, as the most ethnically diverse country in the world. This is the research tourist’s dynamite!
A string of recent global accolades presents good entry points to market destination Uganda. CNN Travel has ranked Kidepo Valley National Park third among Africa’s 10 Best parks. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has been voted Africa’s top birding site by Africa Bird Club. In 2012, New York Times ranked Uganda among the 33 priority places to visit. National Geographic Channel’s had Uganda in its world-wide top 10 destinations, 2013. In 2012, Lonely Planet, the largest global travel publisher, ranked Uganda the number 1 tourist destination world-wide.
This 3rd June we shall reflect upon the unflinching faith exhibited by the legendary Uganda Martyrs again. And, with ‘the world’ coming to Uganda again, we should seize the moment and show-case the packed menu of tourism attractions that God lavished on ‘the Pearl of Africa’. Good to know, Paul Cahill will check out Namugongo and ‘invade’ Lake Mburo National Park subsequently.
By Moses Watasa