Racing to restore hope in Rwenzori

Event sponsors estimate that at least 3000 runners are expected to participate in this year’s event slated for September 2, 2023, a rise from 800 attracted last year

The Rwenzori marathon is starting to meet the promoter’s expectations by attracting global tourists and also improving the livelihoods of communities leaving near the park.

The once quiet and underdeveloped Kasese town is starting to be vibrant with construction activities taking place. The number of tourists in the area is also picking.

“It is a huge benefit to the people of Kasese and certainly having been to Kasese before the marathon, now we see a whole range of change,” said Moses Rutahingwa, head of consumer banking at Standard Chartered Bank Uganda.

His bank is one of the main sponsors of the event, as a social economic enterprise specifically targeting to uplift the livelihoods of the people of Rwenzori. Life in the Rwenzori sub-region has never remained the same with repeated flash floods, earthquakes, and landslides which have become common occurrences, further putting pressure on household budgets.
The sponsors of the run believe the fastest way to rebuild the livelihoods of communities around the park is to add a marathon as a tourism attraction and generate more revenues.

“Our ultimate goal is to make the Rwenzori Marathon a must-attend event for runners and outdoor enthusiasts from around the world,” said Rutahingwa.

And indeed, the marathon seems to be one of the missing links. Event sponsors estimate that at least 3000 runners are expected to participate in this year’s event slated for September 2, 2023, a rise from 800 attracted last year. And this park has been attracting 2000 tourists annually and generates only $185,635 per year, data from Uganda Wild Life Authority (UWA) indicates.

Comparatively, Ugandan national parks generated $18.5 million (Ush 69 billion) in revenue, according to UWA’s 2021/2022 data and Rwenzori Mountain National Park contributed a paltry 1 percent or $185,635 million to that basket.

In East Africa, Tanzania, Kilimanjaro another Mountain of the moon is a cash cow that generates on average $24.5 million annually with the number of tourists visiting the destination reaching 46,719 in 2022. Uganda’s wish is to earn at least half of what Kilimanjaro generates. And so far, Amos Wekesa is optimistic the tourism numbers are set to increase sharply. Wekesa’s hopes have grown after the event was named among the 30 world’s best half marathons by USA Today, an American daily middle-market newspaper and news broadcasting company.

The region is also lining up for the event with the StanChart family in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda confirming will take part in the build-up to the main event. It is estimated

“Last year Standards Charted Bank injected 50 million in the event but this year it’s more than Ush100 million,” said Rutahingwa

The event is also becoming big and better, with the addition of 42 kilometer run, which offers a full view of Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Equator, two crater lakes, and the majestic Rwenzori Mountains has been added. It is hoped this will plant a lasting impression on runners about attractions in the park.

“At the same time this test the limits of the participants as they enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the Rwenzori Mountain ranges,” he explained.

Besides, there is also the 21km half-marathon and a 5km fun run for fun runners. “Each will provide a unique opportunity for individuals to test their limits and enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the Rwenzori Mountain ranges,” said Rutahingwa.

Another offer is mountain hiking, described as hard, and tourists have to endure extremely very cold weather which requires one to wear three layers of clothes to stay warm as snow welcomes visitors in the area.

Rutahingwa who has hiked Rwenzori Mountain says the place also offers a good training ground for those planning to climb Mount Himalayas and Everest. On one side, Rwenzori is harder and on the other, it is physically challenging, he says.

“People who have hiked Rwenzori say it hard rocky which at times is extremely very cold that you may have to put on three layers of clothes to stay warm and at times you find snow,” according to Moses

There is also support from the government of Uganda to promote tourism. Finance Minister said Matia Kasaija said Uganda has increasingly been recognized as a tourism destination and is ranked by CNN as one of the top 10 best tourist destinations in the World.

“We will continue to promote domestic and inbound tourism, including the use of digital platforms. Uganda will also be marketed as a global and regional center for Meetings, Incentives, Conference and Exhibitions (MICE),” said Kasaija while reading the 2023/2024 Financial Year Budget.