Uganda’s Mountains hold huge potential for Uganda’s Tourism Sector

December 14, 2021

Dr. Lily Ajarova, Chief Executive Officer, Uganda Tourism Board (Left) and Golola Moses, Uganda’s Kick Boxing Champion (Right) at the Margherita peak.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is delighted to join the Government and people of Uganda to commemorate the International Mountains Day 2021, which happens every 11th day of December. This year’s theme focuses   on “Sustainable Mountain Tourism”.

The tourism sector remains one of the fastest growing economic sectors in Uganda. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism sector was contributing 6.2% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (over USD 2bn) and employing 589,300 people - 3.6 % of total employment. The outbreak of COVID-19 has had devastating impacts on the tourism industry with visitors and number of persons employed by the industry going down to about 473,000 and 386,200 respectively in 2020. 

Dr. Lily Ajarova (second left), Ms. Elsie Attafuah, UNDP (Centre) and the Minister of State for Tourism Geoffrey kiwanda (second right) flagging off the team heading to the top of Mt. Rwenzori in December last year.

Sustainable tourism in mountains can contribute to creating additional and alternative livelihood options and promote poverty alleviation, social inclusion, as well as landscape and biodiversity conservation. It is a way to preserve the natural, cultural, and spiritual heritage, to promote local crafts and high value products, and celebrate many traditional practices such as local festivals.

The lessons we are learning from COVID-19 point at the need to rethink the competitiveness and resilience models of the tourism industry.  UNDP has therefore partnered with the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Uganda Tourism Board, Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Uganda Wildlife Education Center, Cultural Institutions like the Kingdom of Tooro, and the Private Sector to implement the UNDP Rapid Financing Facility (RFF) which is a USD 2 million initiative designed to harness nature, culture, and digital technology and stimulate recovery and build a resilient tourism industry in Uganda. 

Mountaineering enthusiasts before embarking on their journey to the top of Mt. Rwenzori.

The project is being piloted in the Rwenzori Tourism Development Area, in supporting national efforts to recover the tourism sector through greener development pathways to create jobs for the youth, women, and men and to rebuild resilient livelihoods. It is also promoting recovery of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), supporting strategic reorientation of tourism policy towards inclusive green recovery, enhancing capacities of national systems to boost the tourism industry, and building an active innovation ecosystem with accelerated digital transformation.

Journey to the top of Mt. Rwenzori (Margherita peak)

The project commenced through a UNDP and Uganda Tourism Board partnership with Mr. Joshua Cheptegei the 5,000m and 10,000m world record holder, and current 5,000m Olympic Champion leading a team on an expedition in December 2020 to climb the Rwenzori Mountains in Kasese. The expedition included Dr. Lily Ajarova, Chief Executive Officer at Uganda Tourism Board; Moses Golola, champion kickboxer; and other local mountaineering enthusiasts who summited the third tallest mountain range in Africa, to climb the peak of the Rwenzori mountains. This move was intended to illuminate the tourism potential of the Rwenzori and highlight the need for concerted effort to tackle biodiversity loss and combat climate change which has caused rapid loss of the glaciers on Mt.Rwenzori and as well as the endangering of wildlife living in areas around the mountain.


Soon reaching Uganda’s Highest point (Margherita Peak).

The expedition on Mt. Rwenzori has been documented and the film was premiered in November 2021 in Fort Portal during the Ekyooto Ha Mpango Tourism Festival. The Mountains of the Moon Documentary showcases the beauty of the Rwenzori Mountain range and drives domestic and international tourist traffic to experience the mountain and National Park; highlight the need for collective efforts to diversify Uganda’s tourism product range to include mountain communities in the tourism value chain whilst protecting natural and cultural resources; showcase the investment opportunities in the mountain destination; and compliment the efforts of the Government of Uganda and the Private Sector to build an inclusive, sustainable and resilient tourism industry. 

Snow-capped top of Mt. Rwenzori.

Through this initiative to rebuild the tourism industry, UNDP is supporting efforts to broaden community participation in the tourism value chain and effectively harness the country’s rich natural and cultural heritage, while capitalizing on the digital economy.  

UNDP supported the Kingdom of Tooro, working in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities,  as well as the private sector, to launch an exciting tourism product - Ekyooto Ha Mpango – which is a cultural festival showcasing Tooro Kingdom’s rich history and cultural heritage; exhibiting innovations that emanate from the wider Rwenzori region; marketing businesses and investment opportunities in the region; and providing a platform to engage in inclusive conversations on the integration of culture and communities in the tourism business ecosystem.

The Ekyooto Ha Mpango featured events such as a tree planting campaign, Business Clinics to promote community participation in the Tourism Business Ecosystem, Sporting activities such as a mini marathon, a boating regatta, cycling, royal guided tours of the Sempaya Hot Springs, Chimp tracking in Kibaale Forest (the Chimp Capital of the World), and Royal guided tours of King Oyo’s Model Farm to inspire and train youth in modern farming practices. 

View of Uganda’s highest point.

During the Ekyooto Ha Mpango celebrations that happened from the 24th to the 28th of November 2021, Ms. Elsie Attafuah, the UNDP Resident Representative echoed her pleasure, last December, in seeing-off a team to climb to the peak of the spectacular snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains. The expedition funded by UNDP was intended to showcase the beauty of the Rwenzori Mountain; drive tourism traffic to experience the enchanted adventure that the mountain offers; and exhibit the investment opportunities that abound in the mountain destination.

UNDP’s deliberate intention was also to stimulate and harness the power of culture, biodiversity, and tourism to build forward better and greener whilst reducing poverty, creating jobs and livelihood opportunities for young people; and incentivizing environmental conservation – a triple-win for Uganda’s transition towards a more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient economy.

The Rwenzori mountains, is the largest in Africa (120km long /65Km wide) with an altitude range of 1600m to 5109m above Sea Level, making it the highest mountain in Uganda and third in Africa. It is the tallest horst mountain, standing at 5109 m above sea level (Margherita peak).

Dr. Lily Ajarova (Left), Her Royal Highness Queen Best Olimi Kemigisa Akiiki (Centre), Ms. Elsie Attafuah, UNDP (third right) take a group photo with the team that made it to the Margherita peak.

Mountain tourism attracts around 15 to 20 percent of global tourism.  As Uganda and world work to rebuild the tourism sector, there is a huge opportunity in harnessing the potential mountains offer. Uganda is endowed with Mountains – The Mountains of the Moon in Rwenzori in the West, Mountain Elgon in the East, and Mountain Moroto in the North East, these are assets we must work together to conserve while building world class tourism products to ignite the local economies in these respective regions through Sustainable Mountain Tourism.

Happy International Mountains Day!