One of the highlights of Uganda’s tourism is no doubt the famous Murchison Falls National Park. Not only is Murchison Falls National Park the biggest national park in Uganda, it is also the most plentiful in animals with the strongest waterfall in the world. In the 1960’s, the park had one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Africa. However, due to poaching activities, many species were wiped out. During our safari game drive, we were still lucky to see numerous elephants, giraffes, waterbucks and antelope. Moreover, most visitors in the park will also take a boat trip on the Nile River where there are abundant hippos, crocodiles, buffaloes and rare bird species.
For our visit to the Murchison Fall, we had joined a day trip with a local tour guide along with a group of local Ugandans for who were on a work retreat. The little adventure we had in the park started when we reached the waterfall on the Nile river cruise. Our tour guide had planned an itinerary where we would visit the waterfall via vehicle, where there would be no additional park fees. However, as our other Ugandan group mates approached the waterfall, they decided to take a walk up to the waterfall without notifying our tour guide. Not only did this delay our trip for at least 2 hours, they were also required to pay an additional fee to the park (approx. $3 USD per head).
As darkness approached, our tour guide was getting more nervous of exiting the park late as there is designated opening hours. When we reached the gate of the park around 9:00pm – 3 hours after the gate had officially closed – the security guides refused to allow us to exit the park as our Ugandan tour group were unable to produce the receipt for their walk to the waterfall. Whilst our Ugandan tour mates argued strongly that they had paid via cash and were not given a receipt, the security guide insisted that they had to pay the fee again. The argument was getting nowhere. Finally, with no better choice, our tour guide paid out of his pocket to avoid camping out in the vehicle at the park gate.
Our Ugandan tour mates felt very strongly that they should not have to pay twice questioning if the officials have pocketed the money, believing that this was a scam run by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority. Indeed, according to the global Corruption Perception Index Uganda is ranked 151th (within the 180 countries surveyed) and is characterized by grand-scale theft of public funds and petty corruption. However, one of the key ingredients in fighting corruption is also in empowering citizens with the knowledge in detecting corruption as well as methods on protecting themselves in such situations. Hopefully next time we visit, Ugandans would have progressed in curbing corruption and learning to protect their rights!