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Wright’s passion for Uganda safari

By Agnes Asiimwe

What’s your typical business day like?

I get up at 6.30 a.m. I go to Uganda Safari Company office and Emin Pasha for meetings and updates. Initially, I ran the business, answered the emails, now I try as much as possible to delegate and the large part of my work is checking what’s going and what we need to do next. At around midday I go to the gym and return to office by 2 o’clock. I travel a lot and we have upcountry lodges so I go to one of the up-country lodges at least once a month.

How do you find it managing Ugandans?

Staff in Kampala gets up to speed pretty quickly. In places like Kidepo, staff is very different. We have to hire local Karamojong. They have a lovely but primitive way of life and to train them to look after a lodge is very hard. It takes time to build a good team. In Semliki it took six years to build a good staff team.

There are things that usually astound me. People here feel they have a right to sue you even if they are caught with there hands in the till.

One of the problems with people is they leave university or school, get a job and within three months they expect to be driving a car and living in a big house.

The way Europeans and North Americans work, if you come out of university you start from the bottom. Graduates don’t understand that they have to grow within the job; you have to prove yourself.

Upcountry, everybody has a brother or a sister and they have about 30 of them. They come to you and say they want to be off for three days because a brother is ill and you wonder if that is a real brother or a half brother. If you agree to it in the end you’ve lost eight weeks of work a year. In Karamoja workers just walk and suddenly you have a full hotel on New Years Day and on New Years morning 10 of the staff have gone to the village without asking.

Jonathan Wright’s management tips

You have to give a clear direction so that people know what their job is.

It’s a question of keeping people motivated and having a good relationship with your staff.

You have to treat each employee fairly.

You have to let your workers believe in themselves and know that everybody is capable of progressing, at different levels.

Pursue your dreams even as you will take hits, punches and falls.

What are your biggest challenges?

What I have learnt in Uganda is that you have to push. It doesn’t matter what you are trying to do, how much money you are putting in or how many people you will employ. It’s never easy.

The negative events that we have no control over, like Ebola, impact tourism drastically. You do your marketing and then you get an incident and 95% of your business is gone overnight.

Poaching; our business depends on good management of the animals. The reality of national park conservation in Uganda is not good. Poachers are running amok in national parks and we have already lost many species. Until we change the laws and make sure poachers are prosecuted properly, it will get worse.

Low level civil service can be a headache. Upcountry courts are corrupt. Someone will kill an elephant and they will go to court and pay the registrar and they will walk away free.

Also, protecting the resources is becoming harder because of the big population next to the national parks.

How do you hope to overcome these challenges?

I market the lodges. I do international travel, I go to Europe at least five times a year and I go to key markets in Durban, once a year or to United States West Coast or East Coast to get key agents and supporters in those markets.

We continue to lobby our political counterparts and help in protecting the wildlife resource.

In Semliki we used to take about 20 school children around, give them a meal and take them around and talk about the plants and wildlife. It’s important for Ugandans to realize that they have been given a phenomenal resource, the bio-diversity is incredible, and they need to value it.

I do believe that soon more senior management positions will revert to Ugandans. To me, having Ugandans running my business would be a dream.

I have always loved the outdoors, safaris, big game, wildlife, conservation. To get into this kind of business you need a passion for wildlife.


About Jonathan Wright: He is the managing director of the Uganda Safari Company, Wildplaces Africa which owns Semliki Safari Lodge, Apoka Safari Lodge and Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge. He also owns Emin Pasha Hotel in Kampala. He was born in Uganda and attended nursery at Victoria Nile School in Jinja. Due to unrest in the country, the family left for England in 1972. Wright returned as an investor in tourism in 1990.


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