Monday, November 11, 2013

WE DROPPED THE BALL ON THE ECLIPSE




Annually to open the Lenten season Brazil has a series of carnivals, an elaborate display of costumes and dance routines. The most famous one is the one held of six days in Rio de Janiero. 

KCCA is borrowing from this tradition, which is dated back to the beginning of the 19th century.

The Rio carnival can draw in as many as 850,000 tourists to the city, create up to a quarter of a million temporary jobs and attract $628m (sh1,600b) into the city’s economy. The Brazilian government last year estimated that the total impact on the economy amounted to about $3.2b from tourism alone.

The smaller, relatively understated Noting Hill carnival in London, which happens over two days in August, racked in about £93m.

These are contrived events set up, executed and marketed to generate interest in a place and make some money along the way.

On Sunday Uganda played hosts to hundreds of tourists in the country to witness the hybrid solar eclipse.
This eclipse is so rare. The last time it happened was in 1854 and will not happen again until in 2172.
The tourism ministry gleefully estimated the financial benefits to the country -- about sh10b ($4m) from all the tourists who came to the country. It projected that the ripple effect from the 2,000 visitors to the country, spectacularly down from the earlier expected 30,000, would have a long lasting effect on our tourism numbers.

The carnivals in Rio and Notting Hill have as their center pieces gyrating, semi-nude women and the festive atmosphere as selling points. In addition they are an annual event, essentially a variation of the same theme year after year after year. We can even be tempted to say if you have seen one you have seen them all.

The eclipse on the other hand, was unique on various fronts but especially because Uganda would have some of the best viewing points of this phenomenon and secondly, and probably more marketable, is that the next time this even will happen will be in 2172 – 159 years into the future.

Forget CHOGM, this was the event of the century, all two minutes of it. The ingredients of near monopoly, the rarity of the event and the limited duration of the viewing made it a veritable marketers dream. So forgive me if I am not bawled over by the peanuts the country made from the event.

Two things conspire to ensure that such opportunities will always go begging in this country. The first, is the debilitating view that government should always take deal in any such event and secondly, that the private citizens and companies that would be the major beneficiaries of such an event are pulling in different directions as to suggest they would rather cut off their nose to spite their faces.

People don’t want to hear this but the truth is that government’s role in our lives to create an enabling environment for us to prosper and thrive. An enabling environment includes but is not restricted to providing security, provision of basic social services, investing in transport and communication infrastructure and formulating and creating a consensus around a broad national vision.

Some people insist that government should also invest in “strategic” businesses but I think that is just a ploy to sponge off the state by some who can’t qualify to work in or supply the private sector.

These basics are what we should demand from government and then it should get out of our way as we go about leveraging them to improve our own welfare. Through our own diligent effort and/or creative entrepreneurship.

They say time and tide – add the eclipse to this list, wait for no man. Our squandering of the eclipse opportunity is a symptom of our casualness about our affairs and should call for some major soul searching.


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