UWA adds Batwa forest experience to its tourism products

Until the early 1990s, the Batwa people of South Western Uganda were people of the forests where they lived a life as hunters and gatherers.

If you have visited Mgahinga Mountain Gorilla National Park, you must have had a first-hand experience of their lifestyle on the Batwa trail.

Visitors to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, home to many of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, have been missing this experience, forcing Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to launch the Bwindi Batwa Forest Experience.

The new tourism product was launched on Friday in the southern sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Rubuguri Town Council, Kisoro district by the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Prof Ephraim Kamuntu.

“I would like to encourage Ugandans, to find innovative ways and means to continue tapping into the many tourism opportunities as the potential of the tourism sector is yet to be fully exploited,” Kamuntu said.

He said that culture is an important aspect of people’s lives and it should be harnessed for development especially through cultural tourism which he said not only serve to generate money from tourists but also plays a key role in the preservation of culture and heritage.

“Our rich cultural heritage is our greater asset, we should therefore protect it and harness it for our survival through tourism and. I am extremely pleased that we are now here today, to put only a small portion of our rich culture to the tourism market for the benefit of the Batwa people and this great nation,” Kamuntu said.

The tourism sector is one of the most transformative forces fuelling the growth of Uganda’s economy, generating $1.5 billion in foreign exchange annually which is more than coffee, remittances of Ugandans working abroad or any other commodity exported by Uganda.

“I am very glad, that the proceeds from the Bwindi Batwa Forest Experience will target mainly the Batwa. This is another indicator that the government of Uganda has never, and will never neglect the Batwa people as quite often wrongfully accused. There is a great will by Government to continue improving the conditions of all Ugandans,”Kamuntu said.

Batwa dancers entertain guests at the launch

UWA executive director Sam Mwandha said, as part of UWA’s continued support towards the promotion of the product, UWA will waive park entry fees for tourists who purchase gorilla trekking permits and want to undertake the Batwa Forest Experience on the day before or after their gorilla trek.

“We recognize that communities have to benefit from the parks and therefore we continue to come up with strategies of ensuring that they benefit. The proceeds from the Bwindi Batwa Forest Experience will mainly target the Batwa community in order to uplift their wellbeing and alleviate poverty,”Mwanda said.

The Batwa Forest Experience was jointly developed in 2013 by UWA together with Nkuringo Cultural Centre and the Batwa community in the southern sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park as a tourism product with a major aim of utilising the Batwa rich culture for conservation and improvement of the livelihoods of the Batwa people.

The product has been developed to reflect a high level of authenticity depicting with accuracy, the exact culture of the Batwa. It was mapped and geo-referenced through thebeautiful forest of the famous Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Along the trails, are demonstrations of various aspects of the Batwa culture.

Up to 66 Batwa individuals have been trained in adult literacy, responsible guiding, music dance and drama, social cultural values, enterprise development and financial management.

The trail has been developed with support from Mbarara University of Science and technology and other partners.