In 2013, the tourism sector overtook coffee and diaspora remittances as the country's highest foreign exchange earner. It has been number one since then. The sector has been growing steadily over the last 15 years. Between 2008 and 2016, the number of tourists doubled from 650,000 to 1.3 million. The earnings too doubled from $540m (about Shs1.9t)to $1.37b (about Shs5t) in the same period. It is no secret, therefore, that the tourism industry is big business in Uganda.
At the centre of this crucial industry, is Bwindi impenetrable Forest, the home to the largest gorilla population in the world.
Bashir Hangi, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) spokesperson says: "Gorilla tracking contributes 85 per cent of all the UWA earnings, through the sale of gorilla tracking permits. Bwindi is our cash cow."
It is safe to say investing in property in Bwindi makes a lot economic sense. With all those tourists constantly flocking one location, demand for lodging facilities can only continue increasing. The more the industry grows, the more space will be needed for investors to build tourist facilities of all kinds. What does that mean for a property speculator? Your guess is as good as mine.
Even if you are not in the tourism sector, you can still invest in Bwindi. This is one of those times taking a large bank loan for investment would be a great idea. Land prices in Bwindi are understandably high. An acre of land in a remote village of Kanyashogi in Mpungu Sub-County in Kanungu District goes for Shs60 million. Kanyashohi is at the edge of the impenetrable forest, and much of the locations here have perfect views of the forest on one side and the terraced farms of the locals on the other.
The prices are going up very frantically because recently, UWA opened a gorilla tracking point in the area. The Madvhani group and other investors have recently bought land here and this has caused the sellers to hike the prices.
Tina Katushabe, an investor in the area, says she bought one acre of land at Shs10m a year ago, but now it might be impossible to get an acre even at Shs30m.
But those are the prices of land outside the park. There are few patches of private land inside Bwindi forest and most tourist lodges are built on land that was bought from locals. While there is no more land for sale in forest villages such as Ruhija and Buhoma, there are a few villages that still have land for sale. Kyiho village is one of those villages. There is some land for sale here, albeit very limited. It is located in the heart of the Ruhija sector, in the eastern part of the forest.
The area is the coldest part of Bwindi, which happens to be an attraction to some tourists. Kyiho village is a misty, dreamy place. Because of the low temperatures, the hill is almost constantly shrouded in mist. That is how the name Kyiho came about. It means mist in Rukiga.
Three years ago, according to property agents in Bwindi, an acre of land was priced at Shs50m. But a local investor changed that recently. Early last year, an engineer from Kabale came and started building a big tourist lodge. It is still under construction. When it is completed in a few months, it will be the first tourist lodge in Kyiho village. Today, an acre of land here is priced at Shs300m. All the land mentioned in this article is located in the Ruhija sector of the Bwindi National Park.
Ruhija is one of the four gorilla tracking areas. Other areas are Buhoma to the north in Kanungu towards Queen Elizabeth National Park, Rushaga to the south in Kisoro, and Nkuringo to the south in Kisoro. If tickled to invest, visiting other sectors would be wise to find more locations that may have land for sale.
However, if you are to buy land, go through someone the locals know to have any chance of buying land here. The locals tend to be unfriendly to strangers who want to invest here. One more thing to note is that almost all of the land around the forest contains tea plantations. You will not just be paying for the land. In the mind of the seller, you will be buying the lucrative crop, not just the land. Remember that.