Community development through tourism in Northeast-Uganda

Through sustainable tourism, Kara-Tunga aims to improve livelihoods of the indigenous communities and preserve cultural heritage in the Karamoja region.

The background story of Kara-Tunga

My name is Theo Vos, founding director of Kara-Tunga, Karamoja Tours and the Karamoja Tourism Academy. I am half Dutch and half Karamojong, was raised in the Netherlands and went back Uganda to discover my roots a few years ago. I saw the potential of the area and wanted to positively change its image and to create an income for local communities.

Tourism development at the core

The Karamoja region has been unthinkable as tourism destination due to decades of isolation and conflict. Peace has returned and we now develop community tourism in the region with Kara-Tunga. For long, tourism in Uganda has been focused on wildlife safaris, Gorilla trekking, and other touristic destinations. However, community tourism is a unique opportunity for the local community to participate and benefit from their natural and cultural resources.

Tourism development is therefore at the core of our operations. We concentrate on rural areas affected most by decline in the capacity of agriculture. Degeneration of the countryside is prevented, and cultural heritage preserved by raising additional family income through tourism. We focus on:

  • Identifying potential tourism sites and activities
  • Building community capacity through education
  • Creating demand through marketing and packaging.

Bike adventure in the Karamoja region

Social mission and objectives

Kara-Tunga aims to improve livelihoods of the indigenous communities and preserve cultural heritage in the Karamoja region through sustainable tourism development, regional tourism marketing and capacity building. We have four main objectives:

1. Education through the Karamoja Tourism Academy

We aim to improve the quality of life. To preserve the local Karamojong culture and to let the local communities benefit from the growing tourism industry. By developing more adventure and cultural tours, we create more job opportunities for locals. By training them to be tour guides, we give them the opportunity to build their own future, while offering unique and authentic tourism experiences.

2. Cultural development

We further aim to develop authentic and sustainable tourism products. Products that preserve cultural heritage and improve livelihoods of the local community. We have been training four Restless Development youth groups on how to add value (storytelling, heritage preservation, finishing and inspiration) to their indigenous craft making skills. This enables the groups to sell their crafts on an international market.

3. Promotion

We also focus on changing the negative stigma of the Karamoja region through online storytelling, (inter) national online promotion, hosting journalists and events. Discover Karamoja is founded to positively impact the reputation of the Karamoja region and its people. It thereby support sustainable development through community tourism. We share our stories online, in magazines and in videos.

4. Sustainability

We try to limit our environmental footprint and enlarge our social impact. We do this through sustainable practices; from recycling water to fair wages. We strive to limit any negative impacts of our operations. We have banned plastic bags, are planting trees, collect green waste, recycle water, reduce CO2 and grow our own food.

Treeplanting with Kara-Tunga

5. Spreading impact

Lastly, we collaborate and share our knowledge with other tourism developers to spread the positive impact of sustainable tourism beyond Karamoja. Our latest project is the Warrior Nomad Trail. A cross-border initiative that preserves cultural heritage, creates job opportunities and fosters peace among neighboring tribes in:

  • Uganda
  • South-Sudan
  • Kenya
  • Ethiopia

Celebrating our success

We have positively impacted the image of the region and promoted tourism as income generator for the local community. The region has been developed into a sustainable must-visit, off the beaten track destination where tourists can experience the local Karamojong culture and beautiful Karamoja region.

The good practice has changed the negative stigma of the Karamoja region through online storytelling, marketing and events. It has also built capacity of the local communities to benefit from developed authentic and sustainable tourism. Thereby, it has limited the environmental footprint and enlarged the social impact through sustainable practices.

The current social business model of Kara-Tunga has proven to be inclusive, including low-income people on the supply side as employees, producers and entrepreneurs, bringing the benefits of tourism directly to low-income communities. Also, it has proven to be viable, as demonstrated by the financial figures over the first two years of its operations.

Community tour with Kara-Tunga

There are no lessons learned in Karamoja

Countless situations were challenging, but with patience, hard work and determination we managed to overcome many hurdles. There are no lessons learned in Karamoja, as we always see the positive side of things. We see challenges as a potential to learn from and to develop further. You can’t succeed in Uganda without patience, perseverance and hard work.

We started off with a destination that had a negative image and no existing tourism product or skilled staff. Currently, we have managed to position the destination, develop and diversify tourism products and train indigenous youth to lead the regional tourism sector.

We have greatly benefitted from my background in marketing, advertising and managing youth projects. Thereby, my understanding of the needs of international travellers as well as of my traditional people on the ground helped build this program. At the same time, we managed to find the right people and partners to create a team that can spearhead the development of our destination.

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3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Great story! Hope international tourism will come back soon to make this big potential a real benefit for the local people.

    Reply
    • Anne de Jong

      Thank you for letting us know Martin, hopefully you’ll be inspired! We too hope that the tourism industry will be back on its feet very soon to make a positive impact. Do you have a good tourism practice of your own to share?

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    Wow great article.

    Reply

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