Tourism as a Development Tool in Uganda: The Good and the Bad

As a study abroad student examining the social, economic and political development of East Africa, the streets have become my educator and tourism in Uganda has become the lesson plan.

I have witnessed the unfolding of tourism as a development strategy by living and attending school in the capital and largest city in Uganda — Kampala. And I have seen how tourism has a double-edged sword.

On one side, tourism may cause growth in primary and secondary sectors through the positive multiplier effect. For instance, tourism in Wandegaya, Uganda would create jobs for vital services such as hotels (primary sector), and subsequently leads to increased demand of other industries. Foreign tourists may purchase food, clothes and souvenirs in the community (secondary sector), thereby leading to increased entrepreneurship as locals see opportunities to increase their financial earnings.

Modern tourism is one of the world’s largest industries, serving as one of the main sources for income and employment generation for many countries, including Uganda. Thus, as tourism continues, the Uganda economy boosts and livelihood enhances, right?

Well, not exactly.

Tourism is an unstable industry, since tourism can seize once a natural disaster or political unrest surfaces. Other disadvantages include worker exploitation and increased congestion/pollution; both of which I have seen firsthand in Uganda. Additionally, many entrepreneurs in Uganda do not make a sustainable income through one business.

A beauty salon business owner in Kampala told me “if you only have one source of income, you will not be able to survive (in Kampala).” Although she has been a “successful” business owner for more than 15 years, she had numerous sources of income such as care-taking, recycling and selling shoes and bed sheets. Despite these multiple sources of income, she is barely scraping by with enough money for food and shelter.

Thus, the true question is not “does tourism cause development” but “who reaps the majority of the benefits of tourism?” Tourism as a development strategy is alluring, as it has tangible benefits, such as job creation, income generation and infrastructure development. I understand that tourism has allowed many Ugandans to increase the quality of their life.

But I do not think it has allowed them to do so at the rate they deserve and need. Whereas a small portion of Ugandans thrive, the vast majority still suffer. The issue of the distribution of wealth is not a new phenomenon. After all, according to a 2017 Oxfam report, 10 percent of the richest Ugandans own 35.7 percent of the country’s wealth. Meanwhile, the 10 percent of poorest Ugandans own own 2 percent.

I have seen a small glimpse of how this disparity has played out. Thus, when using tourism as a development strategy, it is imperative to assess which locations and people will benefit in the long run.

Photo courtesy SDSU College of Extended Studies.

Nancy Nguyen is an honors student studying sociology and public administration. She is studying abroad in Kampala, Uganda for an entire semester.


One thought on “Tourism as a Development Tool in Uganda: The Good and the Bad

Add yours

  1. Nancy is an interesting student, flexible and practical enough to cause change. Her entry into African studies, sparked off in Uganda and Rwanda is a golden medal award both for her career and the world at large.
    I, as a Ugandan citizen, younger revolutionary and movement builder, i look forward to the progress set-forth by the 21st Century Youth.
    I have gotten an opportunity to meet with Nancy and share classes with her at SIT Uganda in Wandegaya and far into the villages for experiential and site studies. Therefore, Nancy is an inspiration to me and many Youth with an equivalent and may be worst backgrounds in terms of history and economic backgrounds.
    Nonetheless, critical reflections onto our past life history, helps us to determine and set the future that we wish to live in.

    Thank you Nancy, thank you every one that is ready to change history and bring a smile to a thousand faces that seem to have lost hope. The future is ours, “the vulnerable”, so lets claim it through turning problems into opportunities and utilizing any chance at our disposal.


Comment on this post

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: