The West Nile region has for long been regarded as a potential tourist destination only bogged down by a combination of poor infrastructure and civil instability.
But the December 2002 peace agreement between the government of Uganda and the Uganda National Rescue Front II, the last major rebel movement in the region ushered in a period of long missed peace.
This too opened the gates for those with entrepreneurial brains to invest in the hotel and hospitality sector anticipating a boom in the tourism industry.
One such entrepreneur was Mr Jackson Atima who in 2007 acquired a small plot of land at sh10m on Arua hill which money he paid in bits using salary loans.
When the landlord got tough, he asked his then fiancée Rose Ayaka to pick another loan using her account to cool the landlord down.
“I forewent most enjoyments my colleagues were doing like having a line of women at discos which is what fails most businesses. I got married and I was contented that I had a family, so, there was no need to blowout money except focus on my business,” he says.
In 2011 he applied to the Arua municipal council to expand the plot size and put up a 10-roomed house.
One room was set aside for a bar lounge, another for restaurant and the rest for lodging services. This then was the birth of the Hill Top hotel.
Expanding the business
With a hotel business of sorts to talk of Mr Atima moved a notch higher from salary to business loans which he used to expand the size of the enterprise.
In 2015, he received a windfall of a loan to the tune of sh260m at 17% interest rate from the Uganda Microfinance support centre which boosted Mr Atima into a multimillion shillings employer of thirty youths.
Currently the Hill Top hotel has 20 bedrooms including two executive rooms that go at sh100,000, double bed rooms are charged sh80,000 and singles at sh60,000.
At the restaurant that also at times serves as the conference hall, visitors are free to choose between ‘a la carte’ where they order individual dishes from a menu or go for the ‘d’hôte’ or buffet. Available are peppered Indian cousins, pizza, chicken, beef, goat meat and fish as well as African traditional dishes.
Smiling across the bar lounge are Olivia Nakazzi and Nancy Bako waiting to sell-out the variety of drinks ranging from soft drinks to whisky, beer and wine.
The plush garden has become a popular evening hangout for the urban working class and businessmen to unwind from the day’s fatigue.
The gently sloping setup of the garden decorated with sculptures of fauna allows a birds-eye view of the Arua town centre.
At the round tables the jolly patrons sit usually with family members and friends. Many of them charting and crushing pork chops prepared by a Moslem chef as others enjoy goat muchomo at tailor made rest areas curved on the hill sides.
Mr Atima comes from a family of preachers in Otravu village, Olufe Sub County in Maracha district. Born in 1975, he attended Otravu primary school and moved to stay with his uncle late Silas Drakua whom he assisted in doing his business while attending secondary school.
After three years, Mr Atima moved on to stay with yet another relative, the late former bishop of Madi and West Nile diocese Rt. Rev Enock Lee Drati, and his maternal uncle. In all these, he was being driven by personal zeal, self determination and search for self realization.
Mr Atima graduated with a bachelor of business administration degree from the Uganda Christian University in 2004 and was immediately called back to be a part time lecturer at the same institution.
It was the little savings from lecturing and a bank loan that he used as a bargaining chip to secure the land in 2007 where he set out to construct a hotel.
He left teaching to become administrator for the Kuluva hospital, a work Mr Atima says he did with the mindset of becoming self-established.
“I realised that I did not need to work for other people for too long. In entrepreneurship you are taught to take risks and that is why I took the risk of obtaining bank loans to start a business,” he says.
Other hotels in the region
While the hotel industry boom has prompted Mr Atima to dream of transforming Hill Top to a three star hotel by 2025, there are lots of other hotels spread across the West Nile region where the amiable serenity such as that at the Hill Top hotel can be enjoyed.
The Windsor hotel in Pakwach for instance, Satellite hotel in Nebbi and Country Cottage in Zombo are fairly modest.
The White Castle, Desert Breeze and the Golden Courts hotel in Arua offer luxurious accommodations and meals rich in international and local flavour.
Koboko’s Country motel presents tranquil gardens and conference facilities for high level meetings and at Hotel Premier in Yumbe every night spent comes with mouth watering continental breakfast.
Travellers to Moyo and Adjumani district will not regret spending a night or two at the Catholic Church run Multi Purpose hotels in both districts. They have rooms equipped with intercom and enhanced with wireless internet networks and well furnished gardens for one to relax at.
This is in addition to, on request, to one of the most adventurous and tedious climbing of Mt Otze, with the highest point of the region where River Nile is seen at the foot of the Mountain once on to.