#WomenInTourismUg: Lilian Kamusiime on her Passion as a Driver, Guide and Birder

In the pursuit of enlarging our territories, we do whatever there is in our might to change the status quo. In most cases, we want things to get better. We aspire to create a difference in our lives and in the lives of those we love and care about. Many territories have been invaded, wars have begun, inventions and innovations have come up all in the assumption of a better life, a more dignified living.

For the same reason, having taught for four years as a teacher of music, religious education and literature, Lililan Kamusiime thought there was more for her to pursue. That in doing so she would emerge a better person. There was a desire to be better, if not at anything else, in the very craft she had drowned herself the previous four years.  She desired to be a better educationist.

Whereas that is what her heart longed for, the scriptwriter of her lifer, her creator, had a better arrangement of life waiting for her all together. In enrolling at the Bishop Balaam University, she was not getting anywhere closer to becoming a better qualified teacher, she was, instead, getting closer to tourism, an industry that she was to be better etched out at for the continuation of her life. And tourism it is to date.

Lilian is the proprietor of Kigezi Biota Tours and at the same time runs the Kabale Backpackers both based in Kabale.

South Western Uganda, the location of Kabale, is the heartbeat of Uganda’s tourism industry covering the famous gorillas in the Bwindi, the scenic Lake Bunyonyi, the deepest lake cupped at the top of the hilltops where it sits showing off her 19 islands all of which are habitable. Not to mention the famous story of the punishment island, perhaps the smallest yet more detailed. The same route is in the close proximity of the Queen Elizabeth National Park where lions run the jungle and in the colder south lays the hilly Kisoro which silently runs with influence reigning supreme among the three mountains of Sabinyo, Mganhinga and the Virunga, the very space where the boundaries with Rwanda and DRC interlock.

The region attracts tourists from far and beyond and is integral in the marketing of the tourism industry of both Uganda and Rwanda given that trips in either country begin or end in this particular location.

It is a very common sight to see tourists vans crossing Kabale town chasing the tarmac to go to one of the destinations the region is well endowed with. For some, the easier way to fully immerse themselves in this iconic beauty, a night in Kabale is called for. Kabale has attracted a number of hotels that have been constructed both in the recent past and also of ages back.

It was one of the hotel owners who identified Lilian and interested her in joining the tourism industry as a guide. Mathew Rukikaire had seen Lilian’s conduct around tourists and he had been convinced she would do a better job as a guide. At that time, she was a student at the university who, once in a while, undertook to showing visiting volunteers around Kabale. She didn’t believe so at first.

A window opened for her to be the head of Muko, a campsite Mathew run at Lake Bunyonyi at the time. It struck her that she knew nothing about this monster called tourism. Tourists were asking her about the gorillas yet herself had never seen one by 2009. However, she was equally baffled to learn that the information she shared on Uganda and Kabale in particular with them (tourists) meant a lot to them. To her, this was common knowledge, everyone had an idea of. But perhaps, not everyone shared that information the way she did. Hers was a different approach.

It was this confusion that led her to deliberately learn about the tourism industry. It was during this search that she participated in a training conducted by Herbert Byaruhanga who opened her eyes to the things she took for granted.

She hungered on for more challenges, Muko couldn’t hold her at all. She wanted more. She ventured out to join hands with a lady guide based in Rwanda, Nulu who took her by hand and led her through.

In the early 2000s, she had learnt to drive. At this time round, a lot of driving opportunities opened up for her. There was a scarcity of well trained and informed drivers in the industry especially in South Western Uganda.  Without an official address, she positioned herself as a fixer. She was the driver and guide tour operators ran to every time there was a crisis and she always showed up.

In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg dedicates a full chapter to Sitting at the table. Until you sit at the table, your opinion may never be heard. This was Lilian’s challenge. She was not at the table where decisions were being made. As a person based in the field, there are things she wished could change but she had no voice. She was only a fixer. She thought she would do more. She had less fear, she knew how to go about the business of the wild, now she needed to get to the boardroom.  That’s when she opened her own tour company.

Today, she is the vice chairperson at USAGA, a platform that trains guides in the business of tourism. Unfortunately, not many women have a command of an all-round understanding of the tourism industry as she does. This has created more hunger for her to see more women in the industry from the boardroom to the wild. Initiatives like Women in Tourism are a good beginning point as there is more work to be done on a whole.

In her area alone of Kabale where there are more than eight higher institutions of learning with each offering a course on tourism. This shows how appreciated tourism is yet there are challenges of creating more practical learning spaces where those students can intern and acquire hands-on experiences.

She believes Uganda’s tourism potential has only been scratched at the surface with more yet to be unveiled. These opportunities are open for both men and women. She is not seated. She is reaching out to children in schools interesting them in tourism. Lilian has taken it upon herself to make use of any open window to train more guides to become professional in their craft.

Lilian is not about to leave the wild. Every other day she is on the road with tourists telling them about a country she is so passionate about and driving them to the sites where nature has a foothold.

Nature heals. It breaks down the blocks in which we live. And for that reason she is persuaded to go the ends of the road wherever it leads to commune with nature, something she wishes every person should consider taking on. You do not need to speak longer with Lilian to be convinced that in tourism she has found her life, a life she wants to share with the rest of the world.


To book your next trip with Lilian, visit her website here.

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