Three years ago, the wildlife authorities in the neighboring countries of Kenya and Uganda felt that tourists who climb Mount Elgon that straddles the Uganda-Kenya border, never fully experience the magic of the mountain if they don’t get the opportunity to see the tourist attractions across the border.
It is against that background that a decision was taken to start cross-border tourism for tourists interested in crossing from the country of ascent in order to enjoy the attractions across the border.
The Conservation Area Manager for Mt. Elgon National Park (MENP), Johnson Masereka said that cross-border tourism has performed very well since its inception, and there is huge potential for it to become a money spinner if all the administrative and legal requirements are worked out.
Between July 2005 and June 2008 a total of 113 cross-border tourists were recorded, with the majority crossing from Kenya to Uganda. Masereka said that the number of cross border tourists would have been higher if Kenya had not experienced tribal clashes and election violence between 2007 and 2008.
Kenya receives a higher number of climbers because the mountain terrain is smoother and gentler on the Kenyan side; but many of them usually express interest to cross into Uganda to view the spectacular waterfalls and the huge lake at the peak.
“We receive many tourists from Kenya everyday, and many of them move in groups of 17 or 18,” Masereka said.
The only challenge so far for the park management in both countries is the absence of formal immigration mechanisms that can facilitate the easy movement of tourists from one country to the other.
Masereka said Uganda Wildlife Authority and Kenya Wildlife Services are relying on the East African Community to solve this problem.
There is also the threat of cattle rustlers who hide in the mountain after stealing cattle. Sometimes, they target to shoot at the rangers in order to steal guns. In February 2008, UWA carried out an eviction exercise in order to remove encroachers from the national park, and restore tourist confidence in the security of the park.
During a recent visit to the region last week, President Yoweri Museveni urged the local people to respect the park boundaries, and desist from illegally settling or cultivating in the park. He promised to find them alternative land for settlement.
Mount Elgon is a rich eco-system that benefits nearly 2 million people in the region (eastern Uganda and western Kenya). Tourism revenues from the park have also been growing steadily over the years. The biggest number of foreign Mt. Elgon climbers comes from Britain, United States of America, Germany and Netherlands.