[email protected]:US Ambassador to Uganda launches UWA Wildlifecard

CAM receiving CNN AWARDThe United States Ambassador to Uganda Mr. Scott DeLisi on August 22,2013 launched the Wildlife card which will be used by visitors to access the national parks and the services therein.Below are his remarks during the function at Kampala Serena Hotel which also served as celebrations to mark 50 years of Kidepo Valley National Park

Good evening.  I am delighted to join you tonight as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Kidepo Valley National Park!  Kidepo is Uganda’s most remote and pristine national park, with abundant wildlife and stunning landscapes. In my first year in Uganda I have visited the park twice and have enjoyed every moment there even in a torrential rainfall last July.  

    In fact, it was during that rainfall that we encountered a leopard who, like us, was just hoping to stay dry and who was most annoyed to have us tagging along snapping pictures despite the downpour.   The same rainfall turned the Kidepo river into a raging torrent rather than a trickle.  And although it kept us from visiting the same hot springs on that trip, it was still quite an adventure.  

Kidepo is a park that has it all….lions and leopards…giraffe and zebra…buffalo and cheetah…rock hyrax and their near cousin (though it is hard to believe) the elephant.  It is also home to an amazing number of bird species, including the elusive Karamoja Apalis, the pursuit of which will continue to draw me back to the park again and again until finally I add it to my life list!

Even without the Karmajo Apalis, however, Kidepo Valley National Park would remain one of my favorite destinations in Uganda. Its pristine beauty shines through, whether in driving rain or brilliant sunshine. And unlike parks in nearby Kenya, every sighting and experience feels like it is yours alone.  You are not surrounded by a dozen other vehicles and flashing cameras of hundreds of other tourists.  This is your experience.  You can be attuned to nature and your environment in a way that is increasingly rare in the world.  It is incredibly special.  And it is here in Uganda.  

Kidepo Valley National Park has the potential to attract many more tourists and contribute much more to the economic development of neighboring communities and of the nation.  But as it enters into the second half of its first century it still needs to be managed effectively.  

Tourists are willing to pay considerably for the chance to visit Kidepo and have a unique, and seemingly exclusive African wildlife experience.  But the day that the park becomes overly developed and the personal experience diminished, that is the day that Kidepo loses its competitive edge and becomes no different than the parks in Kenya. And that is when the visitors stop paying top dollar for the unique experience they enjoy today.

We all want Ugandan tourism to prosper and flourish and contribute significantly to the economic growth of the nation.  But we must recognize and take advantage of the unique attributes that set Ugandan tourism apart from tourism elsewhere in the region.  And those attributes include the exclusivity of parks like Kidepo or the chance to encounter primates, including the mountain gorillas in Bwindi or habituated chimps in Kibale, Kyambura, or Budongo in a very special and personal way.  

It is no secret that my wife and I are frequent visitors to the country’s many national parks and wildlife reserves and we love to share the experience with visiting family and guests.  We know first-hand what an incredible experience it is to sit with the Nkuringo gorilla family in the mountains or to chase after chimps in the Kyambura Gorge.  

We also understand the obstacles you face as you work to maintain and conserve these precious resources, and I assure you that the U.S. Mission is here to face them with you.

Why?  Why do we care?  Because we know that these gifts of nature cannot be replaced.  Places like Kidepo Valley must be preserved.  But we also know that preserving Kidepo, or any other of this nation's other beautiful parks, must also contribute to the broader growth and development of the nation.  While we want these parks to contribute to enrich our planet, they must also enrich Ugandans or there is little incentive here to preserve them and to protect the diverse species that make them such an attraction.

We do not work to preserve these parks solely because we love nature -- although that is an important consideration.  We also act because we want to see Uganda succeed and we believe that to do so we must take advantage of those wonderful natural resources with which this nation is blessed by god. We must respect them, protect them, and develop them appropriately and wisely so that they will benefit the nation for the generations to come.   

Our ultimate goal is to help Uganda become a stable, prosperous, democratic nation that is a leader in the east African region.  As we work to shape that future we are guided by President Obama's strategy for sub-Saharan Africa, which focuses on several critical priorities areas for U.S. engagement on the continent.  These priorities include spurring economic growth, stimulating trade and investment, and promoting opportunity and development.
 Working in partnership to advance Uganda’s enormous tourism potential touches on all three of these priorities. And I am delighted that the U.S. Government, has supported the Uganda Wildlife Authority to encourage the tourism sector of the economy through the introduction of the Wildlife Card which is the key component in a Cashless Revenue Collection System.   The Wildlife Card is an innovative initiative that took some hard work on the part of UWA to make a reality.

 I know, however, that it will absolutely be worth the effort.  We know that this system will improve UWA’s revenue management capability and ultimately increase the availability of funds to support biodiversity conservation in Uganda.  This new system will save time, inhibit corruption and even protect lives.

Visitors to Uganda's parks will now be able to make payments centrally, through a carefully monitored and controlled system.  Their payments will be credited to the new Wildlife Card which they can then used as a cash debit card to pay park fees and related expenses for special park services or guide support.  

Reducing the amount of cash in the field will, of course, help protect what it perhaps the most precious resource - people. Having large amounts of cash on hand represents a serious danger to UWA staff – a threat that the Cashless System can help to reduce.  In 2012 and 2013, UWA rangers were tragically robbed and killed in Queen Elizabeth National Park and the adjacent Ishasha Reserve.  Other robberies were reported in Murchison Falls National Park.  

Without cash payments in the tills, there will be no incentive for theft.  Instead of being a target for robbers, revenues will be available to go back into the parks for conservation, maintenance and improvements.  More importantly, if rangers are at reduced risk, so are the tourists who visit the park.  The stories that matter will be about who had the best wildlife experience and not who had the most harrowing challenges accessing the parks and the game in the first place.  

I am excited that the cashless system will soon be piloted in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Lake Mburo, Queen Elizabeth, Kibale, and Murchison Falls National Parks.  I have visited every one of these parks and they are among my favorite places in Uganda and hope that the cashless system will make them even more accessible to tourists and facilitate their engagement here.  

From the awe-inspiring Murchison Falls, to the amazing fauna of Budongo Forest and from the beautiful savannas of Kidepo, to the grandeur of the Nile, this nation's riches inspire a sense of peace and reverence for the wonder of nature.  There is something to touch everyone's heart and to excite your passion.  

For my wife and me, as some of you are aware, bird watching is a particular attraction and Uganda is one of the finest countries in Africa for birdwatchers, not only because of the unusually high number of species found here, but also because it is relatively easy to get to several bird-rich habitats.  This beautiful environment should be shared with and enjoyed by others and we want to help that to happen.

Tonight I am proud to emphasize how proud we are to be a partner with the Government of Uganda in this important economic sector, and to help Uganda maximize its tourism potential.  

Several months ago, we launched the Tourism for Biodiversity project with those who know first-hand Uganda’s natural beauty and the urgent need to protect it: the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the National Forestry Authority, Nature Uganda, and the Uganda Community Tourism Association.  Through this project, the American people will provide 10 million dollars over the next four years for tourism development and biodiversity conservation in Uganda.   

President’s Obama’s strategy highlights “boosting broad-based economic growth” as critical to Africa’s development.  What better way to contribute to this boost than through tourism and biodiversity?  We can give Uganda a source of revenue for development that will last for all time even as we preserve the natural world around us while making it more accessible to tourism.

And that brings me back to this celebration of Kidepo Valley National Park's 50th year celebration.

You know how those expensive, glossy travel magazines often feature a wonderful tourist destination on their cover, and call it “the best-kept secret”? Well, that is Kidepo …. and I believe that it should show up on the cover of National Geographic magazine, for it truly is an amazing, beautiful and special place.

Of course, now that it won a very prestigious spot on CNN’s list of Africa’s 10 best national parks, Kidepo will not be our little secret any longer.  And that’s a good thing, so long as we manage the park and its future effectively.  As CNN reported, it might be the most picturesque park in Africa.  If you have been there, you will agree. If you have not been there, start planning your trip tonight! The tour companies present this evening will be more than happy to help you, I am sure of that.

I can guarantee that you will cherish the experience and, it will be even better if we work together to address the challenges that Kidepo, like all parks in Uganda, must overcome.  These include challenges of accessibility and limited infrastructure within the park.  In addition we need to work together to ensure that local communities derive enhanced economic benefits from the park or else there will be little reason for them to preserve it or protect the many diverse species that live within its boundaries.    

Our Tourism for Biodiversity Project is working to address these challenges, in Kidepo and in other protected areas as well.  We are working with UWA to increase access to the park by improving internal infrastructure and transport links and by including Kidepo in the UWA international marketing plan.  In that vein, I see a number of our private sector partners here tonight (including international air carriers).  Let’s work together to take the lid off this best kept secret, and help share Kidepo with the rest of the world!

 The Tourism for Biodiversity project is also assisting UWA to diversify the tourism experience through the development of new trails and additional lodging options. The project will also work to expand bird-watching opportunities, not because I believe it is one of the single most enjoyable ways one can spend their time in the bush, but because it is one of the most lucrative markets in Uganda.  My wife and I took some of the bird photos shown here tonight during our last visit to the park and I can promise you that this is a market that has great unexploited potential.  

The American government is fully prepared to invest in tourism promotion and biodiversity protection in partnership with the Ugandan people because we sincerely believe that this will yield excellent returns for Uganda’s future economic growth.  Competition for tourists is fierce, however.  

Now is the time for government, local leaders, park authorities, tour operators, and resort owners to work together to bring tourism infrastructure and services up to international standards.  We all want to see Uganda become the preeminent tourist destination in Africa.  To achieve this common goal, we must work together.  

We look forward to continuing our work with UWA, the National Forestry Authority, the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Heritage, and other partners to put Uganda at the top of more travelers’ lists in the years to come.  More importantly, we look forward to doing our part to create a future in which a peaceful, prosperous, healthy and democratic Uganda is respected throughout the world for its responsible stewardship of some of our planets most precious natural gifts.

  Thank you and good luck to UWA with the launch of the Wildlife Card!  You're going to do great.

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