In the beginning, we had a pristine wilderness habitat bordered the largest national park in Uganda, Murchison Falls. The land was just as valuable to Uganda and important to the animals who inhabited it as part of the national park itself. It was a home rich with biodiversity: from butterflies, amphibians, reptiles, and birds like the glossy ibis, the grey-crown crested cranes, the paradise fly catcher, and the shoebill. To other fauna like butterflies, amphibians and reptiles. Wildlife can’t recognize know the borders of a national park. The hippopotamus and the antelope simply don’t care about arbitrary human borders, so, they often roamed into the park’s surrounding lands premises. The sad reality is that much of Uganda was once this rich. I remember once finding a pangolin in my parent’s garage at home in Jinja town when I was only a little boy.
How do we create a unique wilderness lodging experience without ruining the timeless beauty of the land?” How do we live in the wild without giving in to the human reflex to tame the wildlife?
Many Ugandans “develop” an area by cutting down all the trees, chasing off the wildlife, and filling the place with concrete. This fallacy can be traced to relic of colonial mentality that still holds firm in the Ugandan psyche. Most Ugandans, still think that everything western is superior. So if Paris and London have more concrete than trees, then Ugandans should cut trees, too. When people do a Ugandan is to plant trees, then foreign shrubs and vines are preferred to the indigenous plants which are more effective in decarbonisation. Kampala or Jinja should be more like “Paris, they believe,”! With little regard for the natural beauty of the Ugandan wilderness that people from Paris and London pay to come and see because all they have is concrete and no trees.
Ugandan traditional life honoured nature at its centre until the advent of Arab slavery, and ivory traders, and imperialist European explorers. The people of all 50 tribes in Uganda lived in near perfect harmony with nature. Before 1850, the Karamojong pastoralists, the Buganda cultivators, and the Rwenzori mountain dwellers all lived a traditionally sustainable lifestyle. It is well documented in the tales, proverbs, customs, rituals, and languages of the different tribes. They revered nature. They saw big trees, rivers, and lakes as deities. They protected animals with an ingenious totem tradition. Countless customs enmeshed daily life with conservation and spirituality. Nature was to the community as breathing was to the individual.
The introduction of foreign elements, especially the British colonialism, caused a seismic disturbance in every aspect of traditional Ugandan life. The environment suffered immensely from callous destruction like that of American President Theodore Roosevelt's expeditions in the 1920s. The environment suffers today because of a loss of conservation traditions and Ugandans’ disconnection from nature. The areas around Murchison falls are no exception.
The connection in traditional life was spiritual and economical. Today it is far from spiritual and the economic benefits derived by locals are limited. Though the Ugandan Wildlife Authority has tried to benefit the communities around the national parks in Uganda, a lot still needs to be done to address the biting poverty in communities around the national parks. In Murchison Falls, poaching prevails there is no longer spiritual respect for flora and fauna and because locals find it is the only way they can access this economic resource from which they have been otherwise alienated.
So we live in times where the locals around the park are not concerned with sustainability, because the cultural norms that made conservation possible were destroyed by foreign intervention. The cultural norms were instead replaced by western norms anchored by a capitalistic system that has brought them poverty. The problem of conservation in Uganda is the ancient systems that connected Uganda to their heritage of biodiversity had been destroyed and yet the western inspired way of life super imposed by colonialism has led to poverty and environmental destruction.
So we set out to create an eco-enterprise founded on the sustainable traditional principles of sustainability. How do we as Ugandans reinforce the value of environmental conservation to our fellow Ugandans? How do we run an ecologically sound enterprise that will leave a lasting legacy not just for locals and tourists, but for all citizens of the world? Most crucially, how do we rediscover our connection to nature through the traditional principles that make Uganda a natural haven for diversity?