Uganda has successfully hosted its first ever Giant Club Conservation and Tourism Investment Forum. The forum hosted by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, attracted major global investors focused on responsible tourism and investment. The meeting held at Lake Victoria Serena in Kigo was attended by various private investors, development partners, conservationists and tourism operators as well as government officials.
In the meeting, the president commended Uganda Wildlife Authority for the relentless effort to rid the country of poaching. The president hailed UWA for its conservation efforts and promised continued support to ensure conservation benefits are visible in the country.
In his remarks, the president attributed the country’s beauty to its very unique unrivalled features that only the country possesses. “Uganda really is unique. The lowest part is 650 metres above sea level. The highest point is 5,000 metres, where there is snow. The terrain between the two is where we have all these wonderful things happening,” President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni said adding that despite inefficiencies in the tourism sector, it had grown over the years with 1.3 million tourists coming into the country in 2016, up from 700 in the 1980s.
The President further stated that Uganda was ready to receive smart and compelling investment ideas. Such investment efforts will allow visitors to enjoy Uganda’s unique natural habitat and support the economy and communities for generations.
During the Forum, details on a series of new land concessions in the country’s network of conservation areas, some of which are being made available for the first time in 30 years, were shared with the investors.
The government also announced a number of investment incentives, including allowing chartered aircraft to fly directly into the parks from neighboring countries for the first time, and the waiving of a range of government levies.
Among those in attendance was Evgeny Lebedev, the Patron of the Giants Club conservation initiative, which organized the event. Mr Lebedev noted that “ It is only by getting the private sector to invest in these areas can the revenue be generated to pay for the work required and to create the jobs for local communities that will ensure they protect the wildlife too.” Mr. Lebedev who is the Evening Standard proprietor was accompanied by his father, Alexander Lebedev and the Evening Standard editor George Osborne who was also UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer between 2010 and 2016.
The conference was organized in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme and the African Wildlife Foundation and government agencies like Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Tourism Board and Uganda Investment Authority.
Max Graham, founder of the elephant conservation group Space for Giants, was in attendance with Patrick Fitzgibbon, the senior vice-president for development for Europe and Africa at Hilton. Other high profile guests included leading safari lodge operators Wilderness Safaris, Great Plains Conservation, Singita and Asilia Africa.
Space for Giants, which administers the Giants Club, together with its partners is already working with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the National Forestry Authority (NFA) to identify a number of sites offering scope for commercial tourism enterprise as well as Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) for area management.
Identified sites with opportunities for PPPs include; Bugungu Wildlife Reserve, Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve, Kalinzu & Kashoya - Kitumi Forest reserves, Kyambura Wildlife Reserve and Budongo Forests while opportunities for new conservation tourism concessions are available in at least five of Uganda’s major national parks.
Ephraim Kamuntu, the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, hailed the event as a “great success” and said a new chapter had been opened in Uganda’s conservation and tourism efforts.
The Giants Club is an initiative of non-governmental organization Space for Giants. Its founding members were the presidents of Uganda, Kenya, Gabon and Botswana and it works to unite political leaders with enlightened businesses, conservationists and philanthropists in order to protect Africa’s remaining wildernesses.