Movers and Shakers: Women making a difference in Uganda’s Tourism Sector

Rt. Hon Rebecca Kadaga, proprietor of Century Hotel, Kamuli. /COURTESY PHOTO
By :
Geoffrey Baluku

Today is the International Women’s Day, a day we have chosen to celebrate by highlighting some of the women who are not only building better futures for themselves but their communities as well through tourism.

This year the International Women’s Day is being celebrated under the global theme Think Equal, Build Smart and Innovate for Change. The theme focuses on creating a paradigm shift for transforming mindsets to the goal of gender equality, as well as identifying new ways of advancing the women’s agenda at all levels.

However, the local theme selected for the national celebrations in Uganda is focused on, Empowering Women through Innovative Approaches to Social Protection; a Pre-requisite for Inclusive and Sustainable Development.

Based on the local theme, it is evident that over the years, tourism has increasingly become instrumental in the socio-economic development of the country.

The majority of people employed in Uganda’s tourism sector and it’s associated value chain are women, both in formal and informal jobs.

Women comprise between 60-70% of the workers in hotels and restaurants, food and catering, housekeeping, laundry, food preparation, guest services and accommodation.

That said, tourism provides pathways to empowerment of women, gender equality, income-generation, entrepreneurship and also gives many the opportunities to make a difference in their lives.

With today being International Women’s day, what better way to commemorate it than by sharing with you some of the powerful women who move and shake Uganda’s Tourism sector.

One thing is for sure – it’s made up of so many wonderful women. Here are afew I have been able to share with you.

Mrs. Doreen Katusiime

Mrs Doreen Katusiime, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities

Mrs. Katusiime is the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, a position she has held since 2016.

She holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration and Management from Uganda Management Institute and a Bachelor’s degree with a diploma in Education from Makerere University.

Mrs. Katusiime has grown through the ranks of the Ugandan Civil service from being a graduate teacher in the early 1980s to the highest rank of Permanent Secretary in 2014.

She has also served in several ministries spending most of her career in the social services sector, including Water, Education, Health and Natural resources. She was part of the pioneer team that started the Ministry of East African Community Affairs and had earlier worked at the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Ms. Lilly Ajarova

Ms Lilly Ajarova, Chief Executive Officer at Uganda Tourism Board

Lilly is the Chief Executive Officer at Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), a government agency that is charged with promoting and marketing the country.

Prior to that, she served as the executive director of the Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust, that is popularly known as Ngamba Island, on Lake Victoria.

She studied at Makerere University, Uganda’s oldest and largest public university, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Sociology. Her second degree is a Master of Business Administration, obtained from the Eastern and Southern African Management Institute (ESAMI), in 2004.

Lilly also holds a post graduate diploma in Hotel and Tourism Management from International Institute of Tourism and Management in Austria and a certificate of competence in Board Matters, awarded by the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences.

For over 8 years, from 1996 until 2005, Ms. Ajarova worked at the Uganda Wildlife Authority, as the Tourism Development and Marketing Manager. In that capacity, she was responsible for the development of tourism services in Uganda’s national parks.

She has also previously served as a member of the board of trustees at UTB and in particular was the chairperson of the committee that classified and graded Uganda’s hotels in 2015.

Ms. Lilly Ajarova is the recipient of the: National Golden Jubilee Award 2015, the tourism excellence award 2017, wildlife conservation Award 2017 and also country Winner in the Welfare & Civil Society Organization sector of CEO Global’s Most Influential Women in Business & Government, 2018 Awards.

Mrs. Pearl Hoareau Kakooza

Mrs. Pearl Hoareau Kakooza, President Uganda Tourism Association (UTA)

Mrs. Kakooza is the managing director at Uganda Travel Bureau, a tour and Travel Company that has been in the ticketing and safari business for over 40 years.

She is the reigning President of the Uganda Tourism Association, an umbrella body that incorporates all tourism associations in Uganda.

Pearl also doubles as Chairperson of the Uganda Association of Travel Agents (TUGATA) – that brings together different Travel Agencies under one roof.

TUGATA’s membership incorporates both IATA and non-IATA members, and is a member of International professional bodies that include among others; United Federation of Travel Agents Association (UFTAA), Federation of Eastern and Southern African Travel Agents Association (FESATA) and APJC (Agency Programme Joint Council).

Pearl has also served as Seychelles “tourism envoy’ for Uganda where her task was to help establish closer ties with the media, travel trade and airlines in Uganda.

Mrs. Jyotsna Ruparelia

Mrs Jyotsna Ruparelia, Chief Executive Officer of the Ruparelia Foundation

Jyotsna is the Chief Executive Officer of the Ruparelia Foundation, a Philanthropic arm of the Ruparelia Group that works to improve and promote health, education, sports, tourism, general welfare, poverty eradication, improve livelihoods, support the welfare of wildlife and preservation of the environment by fostering partnerships among businesses, corporations, with the government, non-governmental organizations and individuals.

Mrs. Ruparelia has been instrumental in the growth and expansion of the Ruparelia group where she has actively participated in operations and management.

She heads the grants division of the Ruparelia foundation. Her expert decision-making and management skills have been instrumental in the success of the Ruparelia group.

Jyotsna is the special woman behind one of Africa’s renowned Billionaires – Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia. The couple was married on February 4, 1977 and together they have three children.

Mrs. Susan Muhwezi

Mrs Susan Muhwezi, Chairperson Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA)

Susan is a Member of the Board of Trustees at Uganda Tourism Board and also serves as the Chairperson of Uganda Hotel Owners’ Association – (UHOA); Africa Travel Association Uganda Chapter President; Senior Presidential Advisor on African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and Trade related matters for the Government of The Republic of Uganda.

She also serves as the Chairperson Uganda Women’s Effort to save orphans (UWESO Rukunjiri District); Chair Person NRM Women’s League (Western Region) and the owner of Agip Motel – Mbarara.

In her words, “Networking between tour operators, tour guides, the business fraternity, transporters and religious leaders is needed if we are to maximize our hotel rooms occupancy.”

Adding that, she is immeasurably proud and supportive of the cultural diversity in Uganda’s Tourism and Hospitality sector, regardless of gender and race: “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change”

Rt. Hon Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga

Rt. Hon Rebecca Kadaga

Hon Kadaga is the owner of Century Hotel, one of the best in Kamuli district (Eastern Uganda). With 28 well-equipped guest rooms that include 12 Century Classic Rooms, 8 Century Standard Rooms and 4 VIP Rooms; Century Hotel remains the ideal place to stay while in Kamuli district.

Rebecca Kadaga, a Ugandan lawyer and politician – is the first female Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda since 19 May 2011.

She is also the current Member of Parliament (MP) for the Kamuli District Women’s Constituency, Busoga sub-region, a position she has served in since 1989.

Between 1984 and 1988, Rebecca Kadaga was in private law practice. She also served as the Chairperson of the University Council for Mbarara University, between 1993 and 1996. In 1996, she served as Secretary General of the East African Women Parliamentarians Association.

From 1996 until 1998, Rebecca Kadaga was the Ugandan Minister of State for Regional Cooperation (Africa and the Middle East). She then served as Minister of State for Communication and Aviation from 1998 until 1999. Between 1999 and 2000 she was the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs.

She was elected Deputy Speaker of Parliament in 2001, a position that she held until 19 May 2011, when she was elected Speaker of Parliament.

In her own words, “Century Hotel took 18 years to build and cost me 3 billion shillings of my own money.”

Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka

Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, a veterinarian and founder of Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH)

In the legacy of the late Dian Fossey, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka has become one of the leading conservationists and scientists working to save the critically endangered mountain gorillas of East Africa. She is founder and Chief Executive Officer of Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), a 14-year old nonprofit organization that promotes conservation by improving the quality of life of people and wildlife to enable them to coexist in and around protected areas in Africa. She became an Ashoka Fellow in 2007 for merging Uganda’s wildlife management and rural public health programs to create common resources for both people and animals.

Dr. Gladys trained as a veterinarian at the University of London’s Royal Veterinary College. Between 1996 and 2000, she set up the first Veterinary Unit at the Uganda Wildlife Authority. From 2000 to 2003, she completed a zoological medicine residency and masters in specialized veterinary medicine at North Carolina State University and North Carolina Zoological Park. Prior to setting up CTPH she also did a certificate in Non-profit management from Duke University. Most recently in 2016, she completed an MBA in Global Business and Sustainability – Social Entrepreneurship Track

Her most recent awards include the 2017 World Wildlife Day Award from the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities (MTWA) for outstanding contribution to conservation in Uganda and 2017 Golden Jubilee Award from the President of Uganda for distinguished service to the nation as a veterinarian and conservationist on International Women’s Day.

Other awards include San Diego Zoo’s 2008 “Conservation in Action Award,” the 2009 Whitley Gold Award for outstanding leadership in grassroots nature conservation; 2011 Wings World Quest Women of Discovery Humanitarian Award, and 2014 CEO Communications Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government Award in Medicine and Veterinary category.

Under her leadership, Conservation Through Public Health won the Global Development Network 2012 Japanese Most Innovative Development Project Award for scaling social service delivery.

Mrs. Charlotte Kamugisha

Mrs Charlotte Kamugisha, Proprietor Bunyonyi Safaris Resort

Charlotte is the current Treasurer for the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) and managing director at Bunyonyi Safaris that has been in operation for more than 20 years.

She is also the proprietor of Bunyonyi Safaris Resort located on the shores of Lake Bunyonyi in Kabale.

As part of her initiatives focused on empowering other women, Charlotte mainly employs women, in addition to personally mentoring them.

In her words, “The best thing to do is to always start with what you have. We all usually have something sometimes it’s just knowledge. Then believe in what you want to do, lack of self-confidence is our biggest enemy. The biggest training I got is one where I was told that as an entrepreneur, I needed change of attitude and that is what I exactly did.”

Hajjat Sarah Nabukalu Kiyimba

Hajjat Sarah Nabukalu Kiyimba, Proprietor Brovad Hotel Masaka

Owner of a number of properties in Masaka inclusive Hotel Brovad with 125 rooms, 7 conference rooms, posh lounges, various types of dishes, a bar, restaurant, swimming pool, fitness center, unisex salon, sauna and steam bath.

Hajjat Kiyimba in her words, “I believe women have a place in business and I hope to help them believe in themselves”.

“Start small, work within your budget, and find people who believe in you. Some people said at first that they did not believe that I was the owner of this hotel. It may be that they had not seen this before, but believe in what you can do not what others tell you cannot do.”

Ms. Maria Baryamujura

Ms Maria Baryamujura, Founder of the Community Based Tourism Initiatives (COBATI)

Founder/ CEO COBATI, Director COBATI Life Skills Training Centre, Trustee Uganda Wildlife Education Centre & an Ashoka Fellow.

As founder & CEO of Community Based Tourism Initiatives (COBATI) Maria has been at the forefront of tourism development in Uganda for over 30 years, with a passion for promoting tourism and sustainable environment for community development.

Maria has created a niche as a capacity developer for communities to come up with innovative ideas that generate income through sustainable tourism. She is an advocate for increased awareness of players in the tourism sector and of the opportunities that can be generated if Uganda and Africa in general, provided market driven programs that protect the environment, preserve cultural heritage and contribute to sustainable economic development. Her work entails working with rural communities especially to preserve and protect the environment and their cultural heritage.

Her unique model of community tourism revolves around households and communities, and their environment. It is centered on conservation, sustainable use, improved livelihoods, education and good leadership. It also promotes responsible tourism practices and attracts travelers who are mindful about local people’s livelihoods, environment and culture. Her current work promoting tourism and cultural heritage within the Nubian community in Bombo is supported by the MTN Uganda Foundation. Maria is a Trustee of Uganda Wildlife Education Center and an Ashoka Fellow who was also inducted into the inaugural African Diaspora World Tourism Awards Hall of Fame. She was recognized for her ‘outstanding contributions and dedicated service in Cultural Heritage Tourism’. With this award, Maria joined honored trailblazers in black culture and heritage as an influence on Tourism.

Mrs Babra Adoso Vanhelputte

Mrs Babra Adoso Vanhelputte, owner Asyanut Safaris & Incentives

Babra owns Asyanut Safaris & Incentives (Tours and Travel Uganda) ; Ruhijja Gorilla Safari Lodge in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Ntoroko Game Lodge, a luxury Tented Camp located in Semuliki Wildlife reserve right at the shores of Lake Albert.

Babra, a Managing Consultant with JHAV Management Development Consultants also serves as the Managing Director at MICE Uganda.

Previously she has served as the Vice President at Uganda Tourism Association (UTA) and as the Chairperson at the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO).

Prior to that, she also served as Secretary to the Board at AUTO and also worked as Human Resource Consultant with Uganda Telecom Limited with a short stint at Uganda Red Cross.

Ms. Nataliey Bitature

Ms Nataliey Bitature, Chief of Staff at Skyz Hotel, Naguru, Kampala

Nataliey is the Chief of Staff at Simba Group of Companiesand also the Founder of Musana Carts, a company that provides urban street vendors with cleaner, safer and more efficient solutions to their cooking, storage and financing needs. Nataliey has experience across East Africa working with The Simba Group overseeing Real Estate Management, Hospitality (Skyz Hotel, Naguru, Protea Hotel Kampala) and Energy projects.

In 2016 she was named by the World Economic Forum as a Top African Innovator; 2017 presented at the World Bank Spring Meetings and in 2018 was named in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for Africa.

Nataliey is launching Ener-Grow, a productive asset financing company for rural entrepreneurs offering necessary business and financial training programs. They are building their model to work hand in hand with, and benefit from, the expansion of the electricity grid to rural areas. Through partnerships with banks, their customers will gain access to the capital markets and as such cheaper loans and assets, whilst banks gain hard-to-reach rural customers whilst assuming zero risk.

She has an undergraduate degree in Business Management and Education from Keele University, UK and a Masters of Social Entrepreneurship from Hult International Business School, San Francisco.

Ms. Wamunga Nabifo (Frida)

Ms. Wamunga Nabifo, Managing Director of Sukali Bistro Tourist Hostel Mbale

Nabifo is the Managing Director of Sukali Bistro Tourist Hostel Mbale located in Namakwekwe, off Kumi – Soroti Road. A lawyer by training, Nabifo also runs a legal consultancy in Kampala.

Her passion for tourism started when she returned from South Africa where she had been based for a period of nine (9) years. Upon return she often visited Mbale her home town and with exposure from other countries she had traveled to, she began thinking of how best to market and promote Mbale and that’s how Sukali Bistro Tourist Hostel and Adventures was started.

Nabifo (Frida) also serves as Vice Chair Eastern Entrepreneurship & Tourism Network (EETN) that has and continues being instrumental in promoting domestic tourism to Eastern Uganda with the most recent being the Tororo Rock Hike.

Best lesson learnt along the way:

Get an awesome Facebook or website from the outset, show samples of your work or what you do and don’t underestimate the value of some generous testimonials from your friends and clients.

“We need more women to be actively involved in Tourism. Iam excited to be creating more opportunities for women and girls and to ensure that they have a chance to build their own future and use their talents to contribute towards the development of the Country”

Ms Christine Mwinike

Mrs Christine Mwinike, Founder & Director at Crystal Safaris

Founder & Director at Crystal Safaris a Ugandan based Tours and Travel Company located at Plot 433, Block 244, Off St. Barnabus Road, Muyenga – Kampala.

She owns Crystal Lodges Uganda; among which are Gorilla Safari Lodge – an up market facility tucked away at the boundary line of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park – home of the endangered Mountain Gorilla. This lodge is one of the ideal bases from which to trek the Gorillas. The lodge offers accommodation in eight, en suite spacious luxurious units with individual verandahs allowing excellent views towards the pristine tropical rain forest.

Christine also owns the Crater Safari Lodge which has 9 ultra-luxurious cottages. The lodge breaks with traditional African style to create a masterpiece of artistry and innovation. Sculpted at the banks of Nyinabulitwa Crater lakes and a few minutes away from Kibale Forest National Park, almost invisible in the landscape, the lodge uses texture, light and space to present a lodge like no other. No wonder Crater Safari Lodge has been described as one of the most environmentally sensitive lodges in Uganda.

Christine has previously served as the Vice President at SKAL Uganda Chapter, Treasurer at Uganda Tourism Association (UTA) and as Committee Member at the Association of Uganda Tour Operators.

Ms. Ether Birungi

Ms Ether Birungi, managing director at Churchill Safaris

Ether is the Managing Director at Churchill Safaris and Guest House located off Mengo – Nateete Road between Ivy’s Hotel and Total Petrol Station.

She also owns Hoima Cultural Lodge & Recreation Centre that is located in Hoima district, north – Western part of Uganda opposite the Bunyoro King’s Palace. This Cultural Lodge has eight cottages with 2 tripple rooms, 6 twins and 4 doubles that can also be used as single rooms. The Hoima Cultural Lodge cottages evoke a feeling of comfort and convenience combined with African design and charm.

Ether has previously served as Treasurer and Committee Member at the Association of Uganda Tour Operators

Ms Eugenie Windt Nsubuga

Ms Eugenie Windt Nsubuga, Proprietor/ Owner of Swanair Travel & Safaris

Eugenie is the Proprietor/ Owner of Swanair Travel & Safaris – an IATA accredited Travel Agency based in Kampala – Uganda.

In 2002 under her stewardship, Swan Air was appointed as a Carlson Wagonlit Travel partner in Uganda earning their services global acceptance.

Eugenie also owns the Lakeside Adventure Park Uganda – currently the only high ropes course in Uganda. Designed for both amateurs and experienced participants of all ages and abilities, it brings the challenge and excitement of a tree-top adventure to the shores of Lake Victoria. Perfect for team building events, corporate groups, school and family fun days out, where they guarantee adventure sport, fun and safety.

She has previously served as the Chairperson of The Uganda Travel Agents Association TUGATA (2002 – 2007); Member of the Board of Trustees at Uganda Tourism Board UTB (2000 – 2003) and Treasurer for Uganda Tourism Association UTA (1998)

Mrs Connie Tumusiime

Mrs Connie Tumusiime, Proprietor Pakuba Safari Lodge – Murchison Falls National Park

Connie is the owner of Pakuba Safari Lodge which is located in North West of Uganda on the Eastern Bank of the Albert Nile – Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda. This Lodge has tastefully furnished rooms that offer comfort, style and serenity.

She is also a member of the Uganda Hotel Owners’ Association Executive Council and has previously served as Committee Member at the Association of Uganda Tour Operators and at Uganda Wildlife Authority Board of Trustees representing the Tour Operators.

Connie has done and continues doing a lot in advocating for best practices in the tourism sector.

Ms Barbara Alapo

Ms Barbara Alapo, an Animal Health Technician at Uganda Wildlife Education (UWEC).

Barbara is an Animal Health Technician at Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) in Entebbe.

In her words, “Conservation requires women’s full support. With all they do-the world will be able to conserve for generations”

Adding that UWEC is committed to empowering & employing African Women to save wildlife for our children

It is also important that on a day like this, we remember those special ladies who served the sector despite the fact that they may not be with us physically today. These include;

Hon (Dr) Maria Emily Lubega Mutagamba

The Late Maria Mutagamba served as Uganda’s Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities. She also served in various other capacities among which include banking officer, with the Bank of Uganda, between 1976 and 1980; Director of the Bank of Uganda, from 1991 until 1999; Constituent assembly delegate between 1994 and 1995. Between 1999 and 2000, she served as the deputy secretary general of the Democratic Party. In 2000, she was appointed minister of state for water resources, a position she held until 2006 when she was appointed Minister of water and environment, a position she held till 2012.

Other responsibilities that Maria Mutagamba held during her time include:

  1. President, African ministers’ council on water (AMCOW), (2004–2012)
  2. Coordinator, global women leaders’ forum for water and sanitation (2005–present)
  3. Member, Nile river council of ministers (2001–present)
  4. Vice chairperson, United Nations task force on integrated water resource management

Mrs Jolly Ngabirano

The Late Jolly Ngabirano was a co-owner at Heritage Coffee Company Limited, a multi-million company that owns Café Pap, a leading chain of coffee houses in Kampala; Ihamba Lakeside Safari Lodge – a mid-range facility located in Queen Elizabeth National Park and Bulago Coffee, a fine grind brand. Cafe Pap – which has outlets at Parliament Avenue, Amadinda House and at Garden City Yusuf Lule Road has been at the forefront of the coffee business in Kampala since 2004.

Ihamba Lakeside Safari Lodge – that offers accommodation, WIFI internet, swimming pool, game drives, Conference facilities, bar and restaurant and Rwenzori mountain climbing services was recently awarded a Gold category award at the just concluded International Quality Summit Awards held in New York, USA.

Other awards to Ihamba Safari Lodge have come from Trip Advisor Travelers who have also consistently given positive reviews to its services hence winning it an accolade as a Top Performing Accommodation.

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