By Zurah Nakabugo, The Observer, May29, 2017

South African president Jacob Zuma has spoken glowingly about Uganda’s sprawling scenic beauty, and urged President Yoweri Meseveni to return Lake Victoria to its original name to attract more tourists.

South African president Jacob Zuma has spoken glowingly about Uganda’s sprawling scenic beauty, and urged President Yoweri Meseveni to return Lake Victoria to its original name to attract more tourists.

“Africa is beautiful. One day, I was visiting Uganda and it is a beautiful country – evergreen [with] huge Lake Victoria – and I don’t know why it was called Lake Victoria. I will be negotiating with my brother President Museveni to change it to its original name,” Zuma said during last week’s official opening of the Tourism Indaba 2017 at the Chief Albert Luthuli international convention centre in Durban, South Africa.

Indaba is Africa’s top tourism trade show that brings together more than 7, 000 delegates representing the top tourism products in Africa, as well as the world’s leading travel buyers and tourism media.

“If it is for tourist attraction purposes, you can have a big board with its original name and a small printing aside – that this used to be Lake Victoria… I was there admiring the beauty of Uganda,” he added.

He said Museveni also told him that Uganda is beautiful because it was the last country God created. He quoted Museveni as having said that God had a lot of material leftovers; “So, he played a lot with it to make this country such a beautiful country, and made this lake.”

“Oh, I said, no wonder this country is so beautiful. But this brother of mine [Museveni] continued, and asked me the next question: ‘Do you know where God went after finishing making Uganda?’ He said he went to stay in Cape Town,” Zuma said.

“So, those who believe in God or Allah must know when you come to South Africa, you have a big possibility to see him [God]. He stays in South Africa.”

Zuma said Mt Kilimanjaro, which Tanzania and Kenya use as a tourist attraction, is very beautiful and attracts many tourists from across the world.

“It is very beautiful to see; it is on the side of Tanzania, but also in Kenya. When you are in Kenya, you see Mt Kilimanjaro across. What a beautiful continent!” Zuma said.

Lake Victoria in Uganda was originally called Nalubaale, while Tanzanians originally called it Ukerewe. Lake Victoria was named after Queen Victoria by British explorer John Speke in 1858. She was then reigning in England.

With a surface area of 68,800 square kilometres (26,600 sq mi), Lake Victoria is the largest fresh water lake in Africa, and the second largest in the world.

The lake straddles Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. It is also the chief reservoir of River Nile. Stephen Asiimwe, the chief executive officer of the Uganda Tourism Board, said it might be difficult to revert to Lake Victoria’s original name because all three countries might suggest a name in their local languages.

“But that was his [Zuma’s] opinion,” said Asiimwe. “I wouldn’t go in that direction.”

Asiimwe listed some of the best tourist sights in Uganda, including Murchison Falls national park, which lies in the northern Albertine rift valley, where the sweeping Bunyoro escarpment tumbles into vast, palm-dotted savannah.

“Murchison was first gazetted as a game reserve in 1926. It is Uganda’s largest and oldest conservation area, hosting 76 species of mammals and 451 birds,” Asiimwe said.

“This stretch of river provides one of Uganda’s most remarkable wildlife spectacles. Regular visitors to the riverbanks include elephants, giraffes and buffaloes; while hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds are permanent residents.”

In his speech, Zuma said the tourism industry continues to thrive globally.

“South Africa experienced a 13 per cent increase in international visitors last year. We are happy with this growth because tourism has a substantial potential of changing people’s lives for the better, especially during these depressed economic times globally,” he said, adding that in addition to job creation, tourism also provides opportunities for entrepreneurship.

Zuma said the South African government targets tourism to stimulate inclusive economic growth and job creation, in line with the national development plan, which is his government’s blueprint for growth and development aimed at eliminating poverty and reducing inequality by 2030.

Earlier this month, the country hosted heads of state and government and global captains of industry and commerce, at the World Economic Forum on Africa. This, he said, was another wonderful marketing opportunity for Africa.

“This week [last week], we bring Africa and the world together in this home-grown trade show where Africa markets herself to the world. We are truly pleased to have our 21 sister countries exhibiting at this year’s Travel Indaba,” Zuma said.

“According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, tourism around the world recorded its seventh straight year of sustained growth since the global financial crisis last year.”

Zuma added that more than a billion people now travel around the world every year, and world international tourist arrivals grew by four per cent on average.

“Africa enjoyed an eight per cent increase in international tourist arrivals to reach 58 million arrivals. This means that Africa is growing at twice the rate of the global average,” he said.

“It is indeed most encouraging that more and more world travellers are discovering our continent. It means they see its value as an exceptional destination for holidays and business events.”