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Amos’ Life Lessons

Amos Masaba Wekesa, is the founder of Great Lakes Safaris and Uganda Lodges Limited. Born and raised in Eastern Uganda, he has an inspiring and humbling background that reflects the person he is today, and the strong values and vision he has for company and staff.

Great Lakes Safaris celebrates 20 years of operation and to celebrate this anniversary, we asked him to reflect by sharing the life lessons his journey has taught him.

My life could have been very different, being born in abject poverty in rural Uganda it can be very hard to break the cycle. A good dose of luck and chance opportunities are what have led to my success. It is important to have a passion and a dream not just for business but all aspects of life.

Make the most of every opportunity.

My first opportunity came when I was 10 years old, I was chosen by the salvation army to be one of two boys from my village that they sent to school. I had never been to school before and was taken to live in the city. I was not the best student; in fact, I was nearly written off at the end of my studies. I thought to myself I have wasted this opportunity I was given. I was not responsible for where I came from, but I am responsible for where I am going. I asked god to give me a second chance I told him I would work like crazy. A Canadian Dr who worked at Tororo college saw something in me and he enrolled me to do a certificate in tourism in Kampala. This time I worked so hard getting 98% in my work. I felt a passion for tourism, and I started to work on my dream.

Honesty always pays.

I had no family or connections in Kampala, so I walked office to office looking for a job. I found my first job in tourism at Nile Safaris as an office sweeper. I would listen and learn during my duties and after one year of hard work, I was given the job of office messenger. I was in charge of taking money and paperwork to guides and to the post office. My boss said to me I was the longest serving employee in this job not only did I walk fast but I was so trusted with money. I told him that I had a big dream, so I was not going to steal small money.

Dream big and work hard.

My third job as a tour guide was when I discovered my gift. I was earning a USD 1 dollar a day. People rush to earn good money but first you should learn a skill. I could see the beauty of my own country and how much tourists enjoyed it. I guided a group of 15 Dutch tourists on a mobile camping safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park working long days. All the time I had my dream in sight. I was playing chess one night with one of the tourists who was a teacher, he said he saw my passion and potential. I did not have one dissatisfied client. I saved up $200 and I started Great Lakes Safaris working out of my briefcase for 9 months. I eventually got an office under a staircase in a shopping mall. I was still living in a slum, but my dream came first.

Keep the faith. 

Throughout all my life I have been a Christian, I am grateful to god that he made me Ugandan, I love my country. I had tasted poverty and I knew I never wanted to go back. I could see the potential of tourism and how much it was taken for granted by Ugandans. I want to pave the way for Ugandans to believe in themselves, and their country. We have been blessed with the most beautiful natural resources, good weather and flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the world. I will never be found in politics, but I knew that tourism could provide Uganda with a sustainable income one that has a trickle-down effect for everyone to benefit. God have given me the chance to see tourists react to the beauty of Uganda, so I started to use my voice to promote tourism as an investment opportunity. 

The value of networks. 

Like with many of the opportunities I had had in my life they came from meeting people. People who could see my potential, my passion and experienced my hard work. I have been built by people. Two years after setting up Great Lakes Safaris I guided an American lady who worked at world bank. She had seen a recommendation for my safaris in lonely planet. She had an incredible safari and although I did not know it at the time this lady helped me grow. She recommended a group of Americans who came on safari with us one of them loved birds. Uganda has 11% of the world birds over 1170 species. They had a great safari. At that time, I was more interested in building my reputation, not how much money I was making. A tough few months followed and with the costs of an office I contemplated closing my business. A few months later 22nd November 2002 I got a phone call from one of the American guys saying remember me. He was an editor at Washington Times and had written an article about his trip a beautiful country bypassed by tourists. This was a pivotal point for my success and Great Lakes safaris quickly grew.

Our environment is precious.

In the last 20 years I have been lucky to travel the world with my work. I have every reason to be grateful, Uganda has been blessed with one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems in the world. We have ice capped mountains in the Rwenzori’s, 54% of the world’s mountain gorillas, 18% of our country is lakes, rivers, and swamplands, we have pristine rainforests, great weather, great food, and a diverse cultural heritage. Tourism has helped us to protect this heritage. I am using this anniversary to launch the Great lakes safaris Foundation which will support and empower local communities living close to wildlife areas, by directly linking this to tourism my hope is they will learn to positively value wildlife and nature as resources for improving their own well being and achieve long term conservation.