Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi on Wednesday invited owners of media houses to his office for a briefing on the government's plans to upgrade Namugongo Martyrs Shrine, and other martyrs' sites elsewhere.
Mbabazi announced that a fundraising drive would be launched by President Museveni this Friday, at Kampala Serena hotel, to raise Shs 36bn for this effort. Apparently, the government expects Pope Francis to visit Uganda in the near future as Catholics celebrate 50 years since the Uganda martyrs were declared saints, and is, therefore, keen on raising the standard of the shrine to suit the high-profile guest.
There are other reasons too, Mbabazi said. The government is concerned that facilities have not kept up with the ever surging number of people who converge at Namugongo for the June 3 pilgrimage every year, noting that the current estimate is one million. Besides, the multitudes pose a security risk, which can be mitigated through the proposed facelift.
It's a miracle that nothing catastrophic has happened at the shrine under these circumstances, Mbabazi said, quoting Kampala Archbishop Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga. By the end of his address, the prime minister was speaking to a largely converted audience. Not surprising because it is sensible and justifiable that the government should embark on upgrading the shrine. Perhaps, this should have happened a long time ago, but better late than never.
As the prime minister explained, the government has a vested interest in the site, albeit for non-religious reasons. The one million or so people who visit every year, but more so the thousands who come from other countries are a goldmine waiting to be tapped. Mbabazi gave an example of Israel, which he said gets 54 per cent of her tourism revenue from faith tourism alone, let alone the fact that most Israelis are not Christians!
In a nutshell, this is a worthy effort deserving of support. To avoid misunderstandings, however, similar efforts should be made for other religious and cultural sites that are associated with particular communities but are of strategic national importance at the same time.