The city of Jinja in Uganda is counting losses from the lockdown measures which were put in place to curb the spread of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
Jinja, referred to as the “Adventure Capital of East Africa,” is also famously known as the source of the longest river in the world – the River Nile. Activities like sunset cruises, birding, whitewater rafting, and others are built around the Source of River Nile, making it an important tourist destinations and major sources of income for the city.
“In the three months of lockdown, we have collected nothing yet. During the peak periods, we could collect between Shs150 million (USD40,350) and Shs180 million (USD48,400) per month; and between Shs50 million (USD13,445) and Shs60 million (USD16,135) during off-peak periods,’’ Mr Peter Mawerere, the Jinja City Deputy Clerk, said.
However, the site is currently a ghost town, with very few activities taking place, despite remaining open while the country went into lockdown in March.
Instead, most businesses like restaurants and zoo parks have closed because water has submerged the buildings, while craft shops, which have been spared by the rising water levels, remain closed.
“The Source of the Nile mainly receives foreign tourists; but as long as the airspace remains closed, we do not expect much because local tourism is very low in the area and our people do not visit such places,’’ Mr Mawerere said, adding that the rising water levels have also affected tourists, especially those who want to sail.
“Most clients fear fast-running water or using boats because of too much water, which has also submerged some restaurants within the area and the zoo park which was a big source of revenue and employment to tour guides,’’ he explained.
Mr Mawerere said they failed to meet last financial year targets because of COVID-19. “Our financial year budget is Shs8b (USD2.1b) but because of the lockdown, we have not realised even half of it.
“Markets, shops and bars were also shut down during the lockdown and when we fail to collect money, it means many services cannot be delivered,” he feared.
He cited roads, street lights and health centres as areas that have been mostly affected by low revenue collection.
“We are supposed to be maintaining our roads because many of them have potholes due to rain. We also have to light up many of these roads, provide services to our health centres, maintain our own vehicles that are supposed to help us in service delivery, but we cannot do that,’’ he said.
A Jinja City Council revenue collection officer at the Source of River Nile, Mr Kassim Nyende, at the weekend said the Covid-19 pandemic and rising water levels are the ‘double tragedy’ affecting revenue collection.
“These two issues have chased away both international and local tourists. Since the lockdown, international tourists were completely cut off due to closure of hotels and the ban on movement of vehicles which affected accessibility of the site,’’ he said.
According to Mr Nyende, there are no tourists visiting the Source of River Nile. “On Saturdays and Sundays, we can have up to 20 people, but on weekdays, we fail to even get one yet we previously used to be busy throughout. For example, this period is for school tours and the National Agricultural Show, which was also postponed,’’ he said.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Finance, the tourism sector contributes 7.7 per cent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and $1.6b (about Shs6 trillion) to Uganda’s export earnings. But with the Coronavirus outbreak, the 10 per cent projected growth is unlikely.
Government restrictions, including the quarantine of travellers from foreign countries due to coronavirus pandemic, is also causing loss to the tourism sector.
Hotels, tour companies and game parks are affected as several foreign tourists and business travellers postpone or cancel their travel to a country marketed as the Pearl of Africa.
Ms Lillian Ajarova, the Chief Executive Officer of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), said the scourge is frustrating the ambition of the sector to hit the 10 per cent growth rate in this financial year.
“Restriction of entry from category one countries will impact the number of arrivals as we receive most of our visitors from those countries,” Ms Ajarova said.
Uganda gets most of its tourists from German, Switzerland, North America and Canada. Emerging markets for the tourism sector such as China, Japan, UAE and France are also restricted.