Launched in October 2016, by criminologist Dr Diana Peel, Changing Horizons aims to throw light on the dark history of Uganda, writes Nishitha Shrivastava
On an exceptionally hot day in Kampala, I meet Dr Diana Peel, founder of the newly-launched company, Changing Horizons. A few coolers and breezy exchanges later, we found ourselves talking about a lodge adjoining a crater lake. My thought bubble painted a mirage of greens and blues, but Dr Peel’s bubble was an explosion of thoughts about Allied Democratic Forces, the rebel group that was active in the Kasese/Fort Portal region from the mid 1990s.
But that’s Dr Peel! History is her passion, and it is no surprise that she put her money where her heart is.
Changing Horizons is a Dark Tour company, which specialises in travel to sites branded by bloodshed in Uganda. The seeds of this venture were sown during Dr Peel’s myriad trips to Uganda, first as an intern with a human rights organisation and then for her PhD thesis, which was on child soldiers who became commanders in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
“During my trips, which started in 2010, I started learning about the history of the country. I found that there were no real signs of war, other than NGO signs. Gulu, for instance, was war torn for two decades; millions displaced and thousands killed. No monuments, museums. It was really sad. The idea stemmed from being in Gulu. There is so much interesting history, but other than researchers and journals, there was very little reference. You can’t go there and know what the history was. Even Kampala has just one museum. There’s so much history, but no single way to find out about it. I used to take friends and family who visited to all these places that were historical and interested me, and realised that this could be a potential business,” states Dr Peel.
After completing her PhD in January 2015, she moved to Uganda the next month, and started groundwork to set up Changing Horizons.
Dark tourism in Uganda;
What were her initial reactions?
“Unfortunately, many foreigners associate Uganda with Idi Amin, and were curious about it. And Ugandans felt I was going to glorify the bad things that happened in Uganda. Everyone soon realised that what I am actually doing is showing how far Uganda has come,” states the Irish entrepreneur.
The current offering from the company, Kampala Dark Day Tour, covers the last 150 years of Uganda, starting with the Christian Martyrs.
The first stop of the tour is the Protestant Shrine at Namugongo, where 12 Catholics and 13 Protestants were tortured and burnt to death for refusing to renounce their faith. The guide then takes you to the Catholic Shrine, 1.5 km down the road, where one Catholic martyr, Charles Lwanga, was burnt to death, and a fragment of his spine sits in the altar of the church. Next, the tour takes you to the Royal Tombs at Wamala, where Kabaka Ssuuna II of the Buganda Kingdom is buried. The next on the itinerary is Idi Amin’s torture chambers in Mengo, which were built in the grounds of Lubiri Palace. Next and last on the list is an unlikely suspect. The Serena Hotel, a five star luxury hotel, which was formerly the Nile Mansions Hotel, and was used by both Idi Amin and Milton Obote to detain and torture people.
This year will see several pages of history unfolding.
In March 2017, Dr Peel will launch the next tour ‘Buganda before the British’.
“During my current tours, many wanted to know about the pre-colonial history of the country. The Buganda before the British tour is actually going to look at Buganda Kingdom’s struggle to attain sovereignty and how it ended up being a protectorate of the British Empire,” says Dr Peel.
This journey starts at the Ssezibwa Falls, where you will visit the shrines of the pagan deities that were worshiped by the Baganda before the arrival of monotheistic religions. Then to Namugongo to see the site where Muslim converts were executed by Kabaka Muteesa I. The next stop is Buddo, to see the coronation site of the Kabakas (Kings) of Buganda, where kings were – and still are – traditionally crowned. The final stop is Fort Lugard in Old Kampala.
Subsequently, in May 2017, she plans to launch a Jinja Dark Day Tour, which will include a visit to the Jinja War Cemetery, John Hanning Speke’s monument, a boat ride to the source of the Nile, passing the notorious Kirinya prison and the Owen Falls Dams.
“Night tours are also on the cards,” chimes Dr Peel.
So how much do these tours cost?
The Kampala Dark Day Tour costs $60 for residents and $65 for non-residents (this includes entrance fees, lunch and snacks). The Buganda before British Tour will cost the same.
Any ‘dark’ anecdotes to share?
“Not dark, as much as funny,” smiles Dr Peel, “At Wamala Tombs, there is a tomb for royal twins. There is no light in the tomb, which is filled with rows and rows of bark cloth-wrapped remains. On one tour, there was clearly something moving amongst the bark cloth, which caused my visitors to panic. Turns out, it was a black and white cat who likes to sleep in the tomb. He’s often there, and it can be a bit creepy.”For bookings: www.changing-horizons.com