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Akwaaba 2019: Uganda Brings African Perspective to MICE

If the just concluded 2019 Akwaaba ATM was a football tournament, Uganda would have been described as the underdog prior to kickoff. Nobody would have given them a chance. But as we all know, underdogs can pull a surprise, and Uganda Tourism Board demonstrated this with a fresh new perspective.

Soldier Go, Soldier Come

Delegates who were hoping to see the usually charming South African Tourism exhibition stand at this year’s Akwaaba, were disappointed and utterly so. For obvious reasons, South African Tourism and South African Airways didn’t show up at the 2019 Akwaaba ATM. Fathoming the reason for this unusual development is not rocket science. If you can put one and two together, you’ll probably be able to come up with a reason why they were absent. But as they say ‘Soldier go, soldier come’. So, Uganda Tourism Board literally took their space, or more appropriately, their place.

Make no mistake about it, the Uganda Tourism Board Exhibition stand was not even nearly as beautiful as the South African Tourism stand would have been. And having physically occupied the space traditionally occupied by South African Tourism, the expectations were high. Definitely, the shoes left by South African Tourism were too big for Uganda Tourism Board, however, they didn’t miss in action. Uganda Tourism Board brought a fresh new African perspective to MICE, they brought something new, something different and something unique. Little wonder they won the best ‘Destination Stand’ at the 2019 Akwaaba.

Uncommon Design and Allure

Perhaps, the very first thing everyone noticed about the Uganda Tourism Board exhibition stand was it’s height, almost intimidating. It was easily and by far, the tallest stand at the 2019 Akwaaba ATM. No other exhibition stand even came close, the rest of the stands were probably intimidated. In fact, Uganda literally and metaphorically stood tall at the annual travel show. And as if to drive a point home, the roof of the exhibition stand was made with the traditional thatch, giving the stand an authentic African identity.

Not only was the exhibition stand tall, it had a certain authentic and undiluted African beauty that complemented its height. The allure was subtle while the lighting concept accentuated its appeal, giving it an uncommon but inviting ambience. Even if the stand didn’t have much in terms of contents, there was something about it that screamed “come in”. Uganda Tourism Board stand was suggestive of a fresh new perspective to Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE). It lent credence to the perspective that emphasizes not only on the content, but also on the container.

Religious Tourism

When 45 Ugandans were executed on the order of King Nwanga between 1885 and 1887 because of their faith, religious tourism was probably the last thing on the minds of Ugandans. But today, Uganda is leveraging on the world-famous Ugandan martyrdom to drive tourism and tourists to the East African country.

Uganda and the Ugandan martyrs have come to be known by each other, you can’t talk about one without talking about the other. Indeed, Uganda whose tourism slogan is “the Pearl of Africa”, is synonymous with martyrdom as it is also known as ‘The Land of the Martyrs’.

It wasn’t surprising then, that Uganda Tourism Board made religious tourism their major selling point and bargaining power at the 2019 Akwaaba. In fact, it was expected. Uganda came with a (catholic) priest and they brought the martyrs along, well their portraits. I spoke with Rev Fr Paul Muwanga from the Archdiocese of Kampala, and he told me quite a lot about the famous Martyrs of Uganda.

By way of portraits, posters, slide presentations, TV screen and direct conversations, Uganda Tourism Board brought Uganda to Nigeria. They brought all the 45 martyrs, including the popular Saint Charlie Lwanga, Saint Kizito and Saint Mulumba. They brought the Uganda Martyrs Museum, they brought the Uganda Martyrs Shrine, and they also brought Birinzi, Kooki and Waluleeta.

New African Perspective

The 2019 Akwaaba may have come and gone, but the impression made by Uganda at the show would last long in the minds of delegates. Did they take South African Tourism space? Yes. Did they take their place? No. Apparently, the big shoes left by South Africa were too big for Uganda, but they will definitely be remembered for bringing a lot to the MICE table. 

Uganda will be remembered for bringing unique and authentic African identity to the 15th Akwaaba. They will be remembered for being unapologetically Ugandan and audaciously African. They will be remembered for preaching that the messenger can be as important as the message, that the eyes eat first. They will be remembered for bringing authenticity and for being real. In the final analysis, Uganda will be remembered for bringing a fresh and new African perspective to MICE at the 2019 Akwaaba ATM. 

The Final Analysis

Perhaps, the biggest lesson from the Ugandan Tourism Board exhibition stand borders on identity. The message seems to be “to sell yourself, you need to be yourself”. They seem to preach that the only (or the best) way to sell Africa is to be authentically African. African destination marketers and tourism boards should borrow a leaf from Uganda and be bold about their identity. Having said that, I’ll be looking forward to the 2020 Akwaaba where all African destination stands will be authentically African. The result will be Pomp and Pageantry.


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