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Uganda softens stance on investing in National Parks

A lodging property by Elewana Collection, recently built in Kenya’s Loisaba Conservancy. COURTESY PHOTO

New investors commit Shs228bn to build lodges in the country’s conservancies

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | The Ugandan government is expected to sign several concession agreements with new investors next month seeking to build top of the range lodging facilities in five national parks.

The new development is a signal that the government has softened its stance on the conservative concession agreements, which spelt out that such facilities, be located at least 100km apart or 50km radius.

The investors have already committed Shs228bn (US$60million) to build high-end low-impact properties in the national parks, according to information available to The Independent.

“The new high-end lodges will be built by Africa’s leading responsible tourism operators,” the country representative of Space for Giants in Uganda, Justus Karuhanga, told The Independent on the sidelines of the just concluded Africa Wildlife Economy Summit in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, last month.

Space for Giants is a conservation agency that has partnered with the government to unlock investments in the country’s conservancies.

Some of the investors that have shown interest in investing in the country’s national parks include; Great Plains targeting Kidepo and Kibale National Parks, Elewana Collection eyeing investments in Kidepo, Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Parks, and the Serena Group that wants to build lodges in Murchison and Queen Elizabeth National Parks—conservancies that are popular with foreign tourists.

Nanjing, a Chinese outfit is also interested in building a property in Murchison Falls National Park. The Independent understands the government is seeking for an investor to set up facilities in the country’s tier-two conservation areas (wildlife reserves) including Katonga and Tooro-Semliki wildlife reserves.

Karuhanga told The Independent that the investors had been chosen following a rigorous evaluation process by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities and the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

He said the new investments will improve the country’s image in the tourism sector both on the continent and beyond.

“Uganda has been known as a three-star tourism destination and now what we are doing is attract five-star accommodation facilities,” he said.

This development comes at a time when Uganda’s tourism sector is on the rise. Last year, the sector attracted more than 1.5million tourists bringing in about US$1.4bn.

In October 2017, Uganda hosted a conservation investment conference where several multi-national and investment companies showed interest in investing in the country’s tourism sector.

However, out of the 20 investors that showed interest in investing in the sector, the number was cut to nine following government’s evaluation of the proposals.

Karuhanga said if investments continue over the next two years, Uganda’s earnings from the sector could easily double.  His optimism comes in the wake of renewed interest in Africa’s wildlife-based tourism which drives up to 8.5% of GDP on the continent providing up to 24 million jobs.

According to a working paper presented at the conference by Space for Giants, a Nairobi-based conservation non-profit, national parks and state-owned conservation areas could significantly multiply the revenue they pump into African economies.

The paper titled, “Building a Wildlife Economy: Developing Nature—Based Tourism in African state protected Areas,” notes that spending on tourism, hospitality and recreation could double to more than US$ 260bn by 2030.

The paper also notes that bringing new private-sector investments to underfunded protected areas to capitalize on surging interest in nature-based tourism would help fund conservation without draining state finances, while driving sustainable local and national development.

“Some protected areas receive only one in every ten dollars they need, as governments grapple with financial shortfalls amid competing priorities like health, education, and infrastructure development,” the paper notes in part.

The paper sets out a pioneering toolkit that in seven simple steps can guide protected area authorities to attract new international investment to fund national parks while also conserving the environment and providing socio-economic benefits.

The paper was co-authored by Space for Giants and Conservation Capital, a conservation business and finance advisory firm. The UN Environment and Space for Giants funded the report.

Dr. Lauren Evans, Space for Giants’ director of conservation science said, “Africa’s unique diversity of wildlife and habitat has the potential to radically transform the continent’s economy.

“At present, few state protected areas are meeting their potential as engines for growth. This presents a major opportunity for governments.  Cared for and sustainably developed, these are national assets that can provide significant financial and social returns now and long into the future,” he said.

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