Places To Visit / Top Tourist Attractions
Budongo Forest Reserve
Budongo Forest covers an area of 793 km² of which only 53% is forest. The remaining 47% is grassland (Forest Department 1996a). The altitudinal range is 700-1270m (Reynolds & Reynolds 1965). This forest type is classified as medium altitude semi-deciduous moist forest. Budongo has a high biodiversity with 24 species of small mammals; nine being primates; 465 species of trees and shrubs; 359 species of birds; 289 species of butterflies; and 130 species of moths.
Budongo Forest Reserve was gazetted in 1932. Commercial extraction of timber has been on-going since 1915. It is said that Budongo is in a serious ‘state of degradation’ due to the high levels of illegal pit sawing, hunting, and human encroachment. It is for the above reasons that tourism is so essential for the protection of this vulnerable tropical forest, to create work and generate an income for the local inhabitants to contribute to the preservation of these natural resources.
Kampala is the largest city and capital of Uganda. The city is divided into five boroughs that oversee local planning: Kampala central division; Makindye Division, Nakawa Division and Lubaga Division. The city is coterminous with Kampala District.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is located in southwestern Uganda in East Africa. The park is part of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and is situated along the Democratic Republic of Congo border next to the Virunga National Park and on the edge of the western Great Rift Valley. It comprises 331 Km2 of jungle and forests, containing both montane and lowland forest and is accessible only on foot. The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site.
The forest is one of the richest ecosystems in Africa and the diversity of species is a feature of the park. The park provides habitat for some 120 species of mammals, 348 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos and other endangered species. Floristically Bwindi is amongst the most diverse forests in East Africa, with more than 1,000 flowering plant species including 163 species of trees and 104 species of ferns. The northern (low altitude) sector is rich in species of the Guineo-Congolian flora. These include two species internationally recognized as endangered, Brown mahogany (Lovoa swynnertonii) and Brazzeia longipedicellata. In particular the area shares in the high levels of endemism of the Albertine Rift.
The park is a sanctuary for Colobus monkeys, chimpanzees and many birds (such as hornbills and Turacos). It is perhaps most notable for the 340 Bwindi gorillas, half the world’s population of the critically endangered Mountain Gorillas. There are four habituated Mountain Gorilla groups open to tourism: Mubare; Habinyanja; Rushegura near Buhoma; and the Nkuringo group at Nkuringo.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park occupies an estimated 1,978 Km2 distributed through three districts. The park extends from Lake George in the northeast to Lake Edward in the southwest and includes the Kazinga Channel that connects these two lakes.
Recognised as one of Africa’s biodiversity hotspots, the park is named after Queen Elizabeth 11 and was established in 1954. QENP is known for its wildlife, including large populations of Hippopotamus, Elephant, Leopard, Lion, and Chimpanzee; it is home to 95 species of mammal and over 600 ( 605) species of birds, a bird watchers paradise.
The area around Ishasha in Rukungiri District is famous for its tree-climbing lions, whose males sport black manes, a feature unique to the lions in this area. The park is also famous for its volcanic features, comprising volcanic cones and deep craters, many with crater lakes such as Lake Katwe, from which salt is extracted. The national park includes the Maramagambo ( Unable to talk) Forest and borders Kigezi Game reserve, Kyambura Game Reserve and Kibale National Park in Uganda, and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kibale National Park
Kibale National Park is situated in South Uganda protecting the moist evergreen rain forest. It is 766 km2 in extent and is located between 1100 and 1600 meters above Sea level. Despite encompassing primarily moist evergreen forest, it contains a diverse array of landscapes. Kibale is one of the last remaining expanses to contain both lowland and montane forests. In East Africa, it sustains the last significant expanse of pre-montane forest.
The park was gazetted in 1932 and formally established in 1993 to protect a large area of forest previously managed as a logged Forest Reserve. This park together with Queen Elizabeth National park forms a continuous stretch of conserved forest creating a 180 km protected corridor that forms an important tourism destination, popular for its habituated chimpanzees and 12 other species of primates that occur in these forests.
The Kazinga Channel in the Queen Elizabeth national park in Uganda is a wide, 32 km long natural channel that links Lake Edward and Lake George, and a dominant feature of this National park The channel attracts a wide variety of animals and birds, with one of the world’s highest concentration of hippos and numerous Nile crocodiles.
Lake George is a small lake with an average depth of only 2.4 m and which is fed by streams from the Rwenzori mountains. Its outflow is through the Kazinga Channel which drains into Lake Edward, water levels fluctuating very little.
The Nile River
The Nile is the major north-flowing river in Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is 6 650 km long and runs through ten countries, South Sudan, Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Egypt.
The Nile has two major tributaries, the White Nile and the Blue Nile. The latter is the source of most of the water and fertile soil. The former is the longer. The White Nile rises in the Great Lakes region of central Africa, with the most distant source still undetermined but located in either Rwanda or Burundi. It flows north through Tanzania, Lake Victoria, Uganda and South Sudan. The Blue Nile starts at Lake Tana in Ethiopia and flows into Sudan from the southeast. The two rivers meet near the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. The northern section of the river flows almost entirely through desert, from Sudan into Egypt, a country whose civilization has depended on the river since ancient times.
Most of the population and cities of Egypt lie along those parts of the Nile valley north of Aswan, and nearly all the cultural and historical sites of Ancient Egypt are found along its riverbanks. The Nile ends in a large delta that empties into the Mediterranean Sea.
Murchison Falls National Park
Is the largest national park in Uganda and lies in the northwestern portion of the country spreading inland from the shore of Lake Albert around the Victoria Nile? It is named after the Murchison Falls waterfall on the Nile River, which in turn were named after the president of the Royal Geographical Society. The park is known for its wildlife which has recovered well from a massacre by poachers and troops under Idi Amin regime. Together with the adjacent 748 km2 Bugungu Wildlife Reserve and the 720 Km2 Karuma Wildlife Reserve forms the Murchison Falls Conservation Area.
Lake Albert is located in the center of the continent, on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). Lake Albert is the northernmost of the chain of lakes in the Great Rift Valley; it is about 160 km long and 30 km wide, with a maximum depth of 51 m and a surface elevation of 619 m above sea level.
Lake Albert is part of the complicated system of the upper Nile. Its main sources are the Victoria Nile, ultimately coming from Lake Victoria to the southeast, and the Semliki River, which issues from Lake Edward to the southwest. The water of the Victoria Nile is much less saline than that of Lake Albert. Its outlet, at the northernmost tip of the lake, is the Albert Nile (which becomes known as the Mountain Nile when it enters South Sudan).
Kampala – Things to Experience in Kampala
Bulange and Lubiri
Bulange is the Buganda Kingdom’s parliament. Parliament sessions are held every month and are focused on issues of tradition, cultrure and development. The Kabaka (king) visits Bulange twice a year to open the sessions at the beginning of the year and close the sessions at the end of the year. The Lubiri is located on a stretch covering one mile and is the official residence of the Kabaka.
The Kasubi Tombs are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They serve as a burial ground for some of the kings of Buganda. In Buganda it is believed that the King does not die but rather disappears. You will hear more tales from your guide and see some of the Buganda regalia at the tombs.
This is the national mosque in Uganda and it was built with support from the late Libyan leader, Muammar Gadhafi. It has a rich history with its location on the original colonial capital and one of the original ‘seven hills’ of Kampala. Climb up the many steps of the mosque to see Kampala through a bird’s eye view.
Ndere Centre is located in Kisasi, a suburb of Kampala. It is a cultural centre where you are able to experience a mixture for all the cultures of Uganda is one boiling pot. The centre offers cooking lessons for traditional Ugandan meals, traditional dance classes, and amazing performances.
The Uganda Museum is a one-stop place for a historic tour of Uganda over the years. Different sections in the museum introduce you to nature, culture, technology, tools used by Ugandans over the years and traditional music instruments.
Located on Kikaya Hill in the suburbs of Kampala, this is the only Bahaí Temple on the African continent. Enjoy the sight of the magnificent building and learn about the Baha’i faith in Uganda. Apart from the religious aspect of the temple, it sits on a vast piece of land with beautiful gardens with bird watching opportunities.
There are several craft markets in the city. Some are in permanent locations, whereas others are weekly or monthly markets. Depending on what you are looking for, visit a craft market and purchase a souvenir of Ugandan heritage from prints, to canvas, paintings and postcards. Permanent craft markets include the Buganda Road craft market, the National Theatre craft market and the Uganda Crafts 2000 ltd.
Kampala has accumulated several monuments over the years, which showcase local personalities and national achievements. A walk through the city will lead you to at least six monuments with different stories to tell. The Independence Monument is the most prominent in the city.
Uganda Martyrs Shrine
Uganda Martyrs Shrine is located in Namugongo – 15 kilometres drive from Kampala central. It serves as a remembrance for the Ugandans from the Buganda Kingdom who died for their faith. The shrine offers the opportunity to learn about the history of Christianity in Uganda.
Namirembe and Rubaga Cathedral
The early explorers and missionaries settled in Uganda to share and spread their beliefs. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants (Anglicans) were welcomed by the Kabaka and given land for settlement to establish ‘headquarters’ for their beliefs. Namirembe Cathedral is Anglican and Rubaga Cathedral is Catholic – these are the oldest cathedrals in Uganda and command great views over Kampala.
Ugandans love their food. Each Ugandan tribe has their own unique dishes or at least a unique way of preparing the food. Kampala is the cultural melting point for Uganda. Visit a local restaurant and enjoy the different Ugandan foods on the menu
Uganda is landlocked, bordering Rwanda and Tanzania to the south, Kenya to the east, Sudan to the north and Zaire to the west. Oral tradition describes several African Kingdoms in the area. Uganda has magnificent scenery, including snow-capped mountain, thick tropical forests and semidesert areas. Lakes cover more than a sixth of Uganda. The capital is Kampala which is well worth a visit. Other interesting places to visit are Ssese Islands, Kasese, Entebbe, and Kabale. Highly recommended is also the Bwindi National Park.
Uganda is one of the most beautiful countries in Africa, with fantastic natural scenery and a diverse and abundant ecosystem. Her awesome beauty so much impressed Winston Churchill that he aptly called her the “Pearl Of Africa”. Indeed Uganda’s natural attractions are immense and among the best in the region, and range from an incredible quantity and quality of wildlife including half the world’s remaining population of mountain Gorilla’s; the highest primate density in the world; high proportion of indigenous thick tropical, riverine and afro-montane forests which is higher than those of it’s neighbors; beautiful towering mountains which are some of the continent’s most impressive; and rugged, indenting but interlaced legacies of rifting a teutonic process that took place millions of years ago, and left undulating hills, escarpments, gorges, valleys, distinct and stunning lakes, rivers and lovely and powerful water falls including the most powerful in the world; and much more. With some of the friendliest and most welcoming people you could ever hope to meet anywhere and with one of the lowest crime rates in the region, Uganda for the traveler is a country that beckons invitingly.
The Creation of Uganda and British Colonial rule
Expansion beyond the territory of Buganda was what Lugard embarked on. He signed a treaty with the Omugabe of Ankole in the hope of blocking arms from reaching Bunyoro from the south and drove kabarega’s army which had occupied Toro out, and installed Kasagama an exiled Toro prince to the throne. Lugard then built a line of forts along the southern boundary of Bunyoro a move which effectively stopped Kabarega from invading Toro, but not his deep dislike of foreigners and the British in this particular case.
Kabarega not only welcomed elements opposed to British rule into his kingdom but enlisted their help and engaged the British severally in warfare until December of 1893 when Colonel Colville led a formidable force and confronted him but Kabarega burnt down his palace and fled to Bundongo forest where he continued his aggression. However, he was eventually defeated and forced to flee to Acholi and Lango. Even while there he continued launching attacks albeit unsuccessful ones at the British who appended his Kingdom to the British protectorate in June 1896 and thereafter, a first formal agreement between Britain and Bunyoro followed in 1933.
Ankole kingdom fell more easily to the British for it had been weakened by smallpox, rinderpest, tetanus, and jiggers in the 1870’s and early 1890’s which coupled with the tragic death of the Omugabe and all heirs to the throne in the epidemics, served Britain’s interests to well for they crowned a new young king who was the nephew to the late Omugabe Ntare. Consequently, Britain occupied the Ankole capital at Mbarara and met no resistance.
By the end of the 19th century, the Uganda protectorate formally included the kingdoms of Buganda, Toro, Bunyoro, and Ankole.
British rule commenced in 1900 with Sir Harry Johnston as the first governor. Britain ruled Uganda by using the Baganda as colonial agents, a reward for their collaboration with the administration and Buganda was the only Kingdom granted full federality, a privilege and status quo which elevated Buganda and Baganda above others and he too expanded the protectorate further to incorporate more disparate cultural and linguistic groups (none Bantu) and to prevent unclaimed territories from being claimed by other European powers.
Unlike other African countries like Kenya and to a lesser extent Tanzania which suffered white settlement, the colonial government discouraged white settlement in Uganda and introduced cotton as a cash crop whose growing was left to the indigenous farmers unlike Kenya where tea was introduced but the indigenous people were not allowed to grow it but provide the labour needed to sustain production.
With cotton growing, the indigenous Ugandans sold their cotton themselves to co-operatives and were able to attain economic self-sufficiency except for the north which was neglected in terms of transport linkages to other parts of the country and in education.
Britain granted independence to Uganda in 1962, and the first elections were held on 1 March 1961. Benedicto Kiwanuka of the Democratic Party became the first chief minister. Uganda became a republic the following year, maintaining its Commonwealth membership.
In succeeding years, supporters of a centralized state vied with those in favor of a loose federation and a strong role for tribally-based local kingdoms. Political maneuvering climaxed in February 1966, when Milton Obote, the Prime Minister, suspended the constitution and assumed all government powers, removing the positions of president and vice president. In September 1967, a new constitution proclaimed Uganda a republic, gave the president even greater powers, and abolished the traditional kingdoms.
After a military coup on 25 January 1971, Obote was deposed from power and the dictator Idi Amin seized control of the country. Amin ruled Uganda with the military for the next eight years and carried out mass killings within the country to maintain his rule. An estimated 300,000 Ugandans lost their lives at the hands of his regime, many of them in the north, which he associated with Obote’s loyalists. Aside from his brutalities, he forcibly removed the entrepreneurial Indian minority from Uganda, which left the country’s economy in ruins. Amin’s atrocities were graphically recounted in the 1977 book, A State of Blood, written by one of his former ministers after he fled the country.
In 1972, the so-called “Africanization” of Uganda forced 580,000 Asian Indians with British passports to leave Uganda. Approximately 7,000 were invited to settle in Canada; however, only a limited number accepted the offer, and the 2006 census reported 3,300 people of Ugandan origin in Canada.
Amin’s eight-year rule produced economic decline, social disintegration, and massive human rights violations. The Acholi and Langi ethnic groups were particular objects of Amin’s political persecution because they had supported Obote and made up a large part of the army. In 1978, the International Commission of Jurists estimated that more than 100,000 Ugandans had been murdered during Amin’s reign of terror. Some authorities placed the figure as high as 300,000 — a statistic cited at the end of the 2006 movie The Last King of Scotland, which chronicled part of Amin’s dictatorship.
A border altercation involving Ugandan exiles who had a camp close to the Ugandan border of Mutukula resulted in an attack by the Uganda army into Tanzania. In October 1978, the Tanzanian armed forces repulsed an incursion by Amin’s troops into Tanzanian territory. The Tanzanian army, backed by Ugandan exiles, waged a war of liberation against Amin’s troops and the Libyan soldiers sent to help him. On 11 April 1979, Kampala was captured and Amin fled with his remaining forces to Libya.
Amin’s reign ended after the Uganda-Tanzania War in 1979, in which Tanzanian forces aided by Ugandan exiles invaded Uganda. This led to the return of Obote, who was deposed again in 1985 by General Tito Okello. Okello ruled for six months until he was deposed. This occurred after the so-called “bush war” by the National Resistance Army (NRA) operating under the leadership of Yoweri Museveni, and various rebel groups, including the Federal Democratic Movement of Andrew Kayiira, and another belonging to John Nkwaanga. During the Bush War, the army carried out mass killings of non-combatants.
After Amin’s removal, the Uganda National Liberation Front formed an interim government with Yusuf Lule as president and Jeremiah Lucas Opira as the Secretary-General of the UNLF. This government adopted a ministerial system of administration and created a quasi-parliamentary organ known as the National Consultative Commission (NCC). The NCC and the Lule cabinet reflected widely differing political views. In June 1979, following a dispute over the extent of presidential powers, the NCC replaced Lule with Godfrey Binaisa.
In a continuing dispute over the powers of the interim presidency, Binaisa was removed in May 1980. Thereafter, Uganda was ruled by a military commission chaired by Paulo Muwanga. The December 1980 elections returned the UPC to power under the leadership of President Milton Obote, with Muwanga serving as vice president. Under Obote, the security forces had one of the world’s worst human rights records. In their efforts to stamp out an insurgency led by Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA), they laid waste to a substantial section of the country, especially in the Luwero area north of Kampala.
Obote ruled until 27 July 1985, when an army brigade, composed mostly of ethnic Acholi troops and commanded by Lt. Gen. Bazilio Olara-Okello, took Kampala and proclaimed a military government. Obote fled to exile in Zambia. The new regime, headed by former defense force commander Gen. Tito Okello (no relation to Lt. Gen. Olara-Okello), opened negotiations with Museveni’s insurgent forces and pledged to improve respect for human rights, end tribal rivalry, and conduct free and fair elections. In the meantime, massive human rights violations continued as the Okello government carried out a brutal counterinsurgency in an attempt to destroy the NRA’s support.
Acholiland in the North
Negotiations between the Okello government and the NRA were conducted in Nairobi in the fall of 1985, with Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi seeking a cease-fire and a coalition government in Uganda. Although agreeing in late 1985 to a cease-fire, the NRA continued fighting, and seized Kampala and the country in late January 1986, forcing Okello’s forces to flee north into Sudan. Museveni’s forces organized a government with Museveni as president.
Since assuming power, the government dominated by the political grouping created by Museveni and his followers, the National Resistance Movement (NRM or the “Movement”), has largely put an end to the human rights abuses of earlier governments, initiated substantial political liberalization and general press freedom, and instituted broad economic reforms after consultation with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and donor governments.
In northern areas such as Acholiland, there has been armed resistance against the government since 1986. Acholi-based rebel groups included the Uganda People’s Democratic Army and the Holy Spirit Movement. The only remaining rebel group is the Lord’s Resistance Army headed by Joseph Kony, which has carried out the widespread abduction of children to serve as soldiers or sex slaves.
In 1996, Uganda was a key supporter of the overthrow of Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko in the First Congo War in favor of rebel leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila
Between 1998 and 2003, the Ugandan army was involved in the Second Congo War in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Uganda continues to support rebel groups there such as the Movement for the Liberation of Congo and some factions of the Rally for Congolese Democracy.
August 2005, Parliament voted to change the constitution to lift presidential term limits, allowing Museveni to run for a third term if he wished to do so. In a referendum in July 2005, 92.5 percent of voters supported the restoration of multiparty politics, thereby scrapping the no-party or “movement” system. Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s political rival, returned from exile in October 2005 and was a presidential candidate during the 2006 elections. In the same month, Obote died in South Africa. Museveni won the February 2006 presidential election.
People & Culture
With over 100 tribes, Uganda is a rich mosaic of tribes and cultures. An experience of Uganda’s different cultures is extremely exciting because it a cultural voyage that thrills and enlightens. Uganda is interestingly not only multi- lingual but cultural as well, with tribes having customs and practices that govern all sphere’s of life. Most of these are unique and some similar in the case were tribes share descent.
In traditional society, communities were highly organized in villages headed by village chiefs and at family level by the head of the family who never was a woman. Families were polygamous, extended and large and homesteads sprawling. The village members belonged to age-sets or age groups and clans.
These were common to many of the tribal peoples. Regardless of which age-set one belonged to, respect for one’s seniors was emphasized. Infancy was the first stages of a person’s life and at birth, they immediately belonged to an age-set with those of the same age. Childhood was the next stage boys or girls from about 8-13 years(children) had to respect and obey the youth (unmarrieds) who in turn had to accord the same to adults (marrieds) and these too accorded the same to elders. Junior elders had to observe seniority which comes with the title of ‘senior elder’ which is attained at an advanced age and is the last stage of a person’s life. Disrespect was castigated and punished.
Clans were an extensive network of distant and closely related individuals. These were numerous and served an important function of conflict resolution especially of those problems that have escalated beyond the capacity of the family. It’s only after the clan had failed that such a matter was brought to the attention of the chief and his council of advisors. Women never headed clans. Today, age-sets and clans are still a part of community structuring in most of the Ugandan societies with the exception of urban areas where people are mostly migrants attracted by work, education and greener pastures pull.
Before the advent of foreign religions and colonialism in the second half of the 19th and early part of 20th century, Uganda was a totally traditional society.
Traditional religions were practiced by the various tribes and these involved appeasing and petitioning gods, ancestral and animist spirits both benign and malevolent. The benign spirits were offered sacrifices and gifts as inducements to withhold malignant furies while malevolent spirits were offered the same to ensure fruitful harvests, blessings of good fortune and health.
These gods and spirits were called different names. In traditional Buganda, the Baganda’s god was “katonda” and under him were several spirits both male and female called balubale responsible for all of life’s circumstances – Musoke(rainbows), Walumbe(death), Musisi(earthquakes), Wamala(Lake Wamala), Kawumpuli(plagues), Ndahura(smallpox), Kitinda(prosperity) and Ddunga(hunting). These though are male spirits. Female spirits were fewer and included Nakayage(fertility) and Nagaddya(harvests). In total there were at least 30 recognized balubale. Shrines were built by these gods and spirits and choice foods offered daily.
However, with the advent of foreign religions, particularly Christianity and Islam which preceded colonialism, traditional religions were slowly eroded. These foreign religions described the African ideas about God as erroneous and evil. The Muslims had little difficulty getting a name for their God. Their God was Allah which is Arabic for God and Allah he would remain. The Christians, however, needed an interpretation. They searched for local interpretations and ended up using traditional equivalents to describe their omnipotent God. In this endeavor, they encountered lexical difficulties, especially among the Acholi, Luo, and Lugbara tribes. Their traditional idea of God was Jok but the Europeans associated Jok with evil because, in Nilotic tribes, it is a malignant spirit(s); Ateso, ‘ajokit’(singular) ‘ijokin’(plural), so they forced the people to use the ‘Lubanga’ traditional reference for God and yet in the Luo languages Lubanga means an evil spirit. However, the Europeans had their way for God is now referred to as Lubanga.
In African religions, the indigenous people did not have particular days of worship or of seeking their gods and spirits. They did so whenever they had trouble and needed help, favor or simply felt the need. However, with the introduction of Christianity and Islam, the way of worship changed greatly with days of becoming the norm with Christians praying on Sunday or in the evenings while for the Muslims prayer became regular every Friday. Praying no longer depended on particular instances of want or trouble and shrines were replaced with houses of worship; mosques and churches with seats, church organs, and electricity which facilitated amplified praise and worship.
Dressing also changed. Instead of everyday dress, Muslims dressed in white tunics for prayer while Christians dressed attractively in their ‘Sunday best’ which were their very best clothes set apart from the rest for prayer on Sunday.
Gradually religion became not only a way of belief but also a way of life. Among the Christians, the traditional practice of polygamy was discouraged as unchristian because the Europeans considered barbaric and from a biblical perspective, adultery.
Baptism was mandatory and the sign that symbolized departure from ‘paganism’ to Christianity and involved the taking on of new Christian names taken from the bible. As children of God, Christians were barred from certain cultural practices which the Europeans considered ‘unchristian’. No longer were they to be seen visiting the shrines, drink alcohol or certain rituals surrounding the birth of twins, the death of twins, widowhood amongst others. Although there was a departure from traditional religions, they weren’t totally annihilated for today they still exist and in the rural communities, it’s likely to find miniature huts erected a stone’s throw away from homesteads but are suspiciously regarded as witchcraft and spiritism and those who practice it as consorts of the occult.
The cultural practices of Uganda’s numerous tribes are influenced by distinct norms and values that form the fabric stitches Uganda’s numerous societies and sews Uganda as a culturally cohesive country. In most of Uganda’s tribes, marriage was essential for it was and still is a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. Among the Ateso of eastern Uganda, no matter how old a man or woman is, they will still be regarded as a ‘ boy’ or ‘girl’ if unmarried and because of this status cannot speak equally in the presence of men and women of the same ages. Marriage is also gone about differently by the various tribes although most go about it in a very similar manner. Most tribes a suitor expresses his interest in the girl of his choice and the parents of the girl can accept or refuse in consideration of several issues surrounding eligibility. Interest is expressed by the boy who accompanied by male elders in his family pay the girl’s parents a visit whose objective is to introduce himself and family. When the parents accept, then bride price is discussed and paid. Bride price is the gifts given by a prospective husband and his family to the girl’s family.
In most tribes in Uganda, it was in form of cows. Among the Ateso and Karamojong in the good old days when Teso was a land of milk and cattle abound in unprecedented numbers, the number of animals was not agreed upon for that was belittling. Instead, the girl’s paternal uncles were led to a kraal teeming with cows as far as the eye could see and a spear given the one of the uncles-usually the strongest. He would then throw the spear as far out as he could and wherever the spear fell, the cows behind it( in hundreds) were driven away as bride price. Among the Karamojong of northeastern Uganda, all the cows in the kraal were taken as bride price. Girls did not receive a formal intention from an interested suitor, rather when he liked a particular girl and wanted to marry her, he simply waylaid her on her way to fetch water and chased her. If she outran him, then she survived being brutally raped that day but if she failed to outrun him, then he forced her to the ground, raped her and then notified her to her parents and bride price paid. That’s how the Karamojong married and it’s different from other tribes who go about it in a more civilized way. Today this practice is still practiced but an intrusion of education and modernity is causing a steady dispensation of it by the enlightened.
Traditionally, a man could have as many wives as he pleased and could afford. All of his wives lived in the same compound with their children and shared their husband in turns. Such a man would sire as many children as his wives could bear. The trend has changed somehow with more men now marrying one wife but this doesn’t mean that the practice of polygamy is no more, for it is not. Rather it is inhibitions and principles not culturally propagated but rather by religion and the dawn of an era of enlightenment.
Women did not have the same status as men and neither did they enjoy the same privileges. Their position was that of servitude to and subjugation by the males. This started right in the home and continued in marriage. Culturally, a good wife was that who submitted to the will of her husband even when in disagreement. A woman did not own property and neither did she have a voice. In key aspects of decision making, she had to seek the opinion and permission of her husband before she could act. Today, save for educated women who may have escaped from this, the rural woman is still shackled by culture.
Once married, women ceased to belong to their families and instead belonged to her husband’s family. These had the freedom to use her as they pleased. Apart from being the mainstay of domestic life in the home, a woman could also be inherited upon the death of her husband. This is a cultural practice that most tribes in Uganda practiced in traditional society and still do.
For the Bagisu and Sabiny of Mbale and Kapchorwa respectively, circumcision is the rite of passage into manhood and womanhood. The Bagisu circumcise only males while the Sabiny females. The ritual is carried out in a ceremonious way and involves ample preparation. Among the Bagisu, it is called ‘imbalu’ and is preceded by lengthy dancing that stretches for days and whose culmination is the circumcision in which any show of fear is disgraceful and unflinching bravado is a mark of masculinity. In traditional Gisu society, an uncircumcised man could never marry for he was not considered a man. However, such men were frowned upon by society and could be forcefully circumcised Surgeons were usually male.
Female circumcision also is known as Female Genital Mutilation(FGM) by women activists is believed by the Sabiny to make girls’ good wives because it checks their sexual excesses which are unfortunately true because of the traditional surgeons always female, cut off the labia and clitoris parts of the female genitalia.
Names were very important in traditional society as they are today. Naming was a ceremony that was ritually dispensed with. Among the Ateso, it was believed that a child without a name was at the mercy of roving malignant spirits who could visit them with harm. Therefore it was quickly done. Children were named after dead or old relatives usually of good repute because it was believed their good deeds and character would pass on to the children. Names of disreputable persons were shunned lest the child turn out to be like such people. Also, names were given according to life circumstances that prevailed during pregnancy. A woman who was pregnant during the dry season or gave birth at night would name her child after the season or night.
Being an African country, Uganda is governed by traditions and when it comes to dressing. Dressing was traditionally backcloth and animal skin for the Baganda and other tribes respectively. Modesty was applauded in all societies and was considered a mark of decency and morality. Baganda women wrapped it’s sheets around themselves bosom down, while the men at the waist. However, with the advent of Arab caravan traders who brought amongst their numerous trade items Muslim cloth the material their flowing white tunics were made of. Upon the conversion of natives to Islam, Baganda men began to dress in tunics which they called ‘kanzu’ a name and dress which has stuck and caught up with other tribes to this day. For the women, the ‘busuti’ or ‘gomesi’ is the traditional dress known as such by the Baganda and other tribes respectively, except for western Uganda.
The gomesi is wide flowing dress that wraps almost thrice around the body, has pointed puffed up sleeves and is held in place by a thick sash tied around the waist and whose ends hang proportionately half-way to the ground. The women in western Uganda except the banyankole wear a ‘kiteteyi’ a short dress with a billowing bottom and fitting bosom with an ankle gazing underskirt and a ‘suka’ which is a large cloth slung over one shoulder. Banyankole women wear the gomesi. Today, among the educated and by translation modern, the dressing is more contemporary than cultural.
Traditionally, behavior was largely inhibitive rather than permissive. Public displays of affection between people of the same sex were frowned upon while that between people of the same sex abhorred. However, gay travelers won’t find particular difficulties in Uganda even though the churches have of recent kicked up a storm over gays with a bill being tabled in parliament to criminalize gayism with a maximum sentence of death. Not only did such a proposition draw worldwide condemnation but activists in Uganda have fought it left, right center, backward and forward that for now it has been shelved. Matters relating to sex were not openly discussed and instead euphemisms were and still are used especially among the older generation or rural people. For example, among the Baganda, impotence is referred to as ‘being knocked by a sheep.’
Sexual relations between relatives be it close, distant or those by marriage was prohibited was tabooed.
Respect for elders regardless of their social status was paramount. These were at liberty to dispense advice whether solicited for or not. Their advice though was often welcomed for their voices of reason was ever so right. In all of life’s circumstances, elders were treated differentially. Disrespect was castigated and punished.
The greeting is an important aspect of social relations in traditional Uganda setting, and you don’t have to know someone to be greeted. Failure to dispense with a greeting is considered disrespectful. In Uganda and in most tribal settings, it’s considered polite after proffering a greeting to inquire about the other person’s welfare, and practically anything and anyone of substance. There is a joke about the Bantu tribes in Uganda who can stretch a greeting for almost twenty minutes by inquiring about everyone and everything from the immediate to the extended family, crops in the fields and even the pigs, goats and cows!
Culturally, when greeting someone, especially one older or in-laws however young, it was customary for women to kneel down and women still do so especially in their homes and in rural areas. Men were not required to do so.
There are foods that are cultural staples and these vary from tribe to tribe although some are similar in cases were tribes fall under the same linguistic category. The Nilotes of eastern and northeastern Uganda have millet as their staple (Ateso), the Luo (Acholi, Lango, and Jopadhola) too eat millet while the Bantu of central and partly eastern Uganda (Baganda and Bagisu) have green bananas which are called ‘matooke and kamatore’ respectively but the Basoga’s staple is sweet potatoes. The Karamojong pastoralist tribe of the northeast feed mainly on milk-fresh and sour, meat and animal blood. All these foods are supplemented with meat, fish, chicken, various peas and vegetables.
Traditionally, food was served in baskets (millet bread) and earthenware (soups and sauces).Women and children sat on the ground around the food and ate with their hands. They sat with their legs tucked under their hindquarters or stretched to one side. Men did not seat on the ground even in the absence of chairs but improvised with tree stumps and logs.
Cultural prohibitions surrounded certain foods. Women were not allowed to eat such foods which included chicken and eggs. These were eaten by men-young and old. However, prohibitions and inhibitions that exist today about food are not culturally but religiously imposed. Consumption of pork and alcohol is not allowed by Islam which regards the meat as vile and equally prohibited is eating unhallowed meat. For Christians, it’s in strict accordance with the biblical teachings which forbade the consumption of these.
The range of Uganda’s foods is long and increased with the incorporation of others like rice which was a staple of the Arab traders, beans, sorghum, Irish potatoes, pumpkins, maize, cassava, and groundnuts.
Today, eating habits have changed and become modern. Middle-class families have dispensed with the use of hands and instead eat with forks and knives, do not sit on the ground but on chairs with food served on tables and on individual plates. Instead of the heavy meal eaten traditionally at an odd hour, breakfast is timely and a European one of tea, bread, butter, and jam. However, in rural settings, most of the staples remain and eating habits have hardly changed. Traditional foods are still cultivated in addition to others crops and cash crops.
Song and Dance
In traditional society, song and dance were important aspects of life for they were vehicles of communication and conveyed different emotions that were ceaselessly evoked by life’s many circumstances both joyous and sorrowful. In this regard, various songs served the various circumstances. These ranged from lamentations and soulful songs sang during death, funerals and famine, marriages, naming rituals, and feasts respectively. Somber and vibrant sounds of African percussions accompanied the songs. The dance rhythms to lamentation songs were slow almost rocking and pulsating in celebratory songs. The dress in celebratory songs was ceremonial attire, donned by all tribes and was distinctly different. Among the Ateso, dancers wore animal skin, numerous stringed beads that criss-cross the chest and back, flamboyant headgear of colorful upright feathers and rattlers at the ankle.
In a modern Uganda, the traditional set-up has been greatly transformed so much that a cross-section of Ugandans ape white culture and shun their traditions and Africanness. The extended family system has been replaced by the European size nuclear family. Indigenous names are relegated to secondary status and European names known as Christian names preferred.
The full African body is also considered unattractive and the slimmer figure is coveted. kinky African hair has been subjected to chemical treatments to make it as straight or curled like that of the white woman. Wigs are also worn. Certain Ugandan women also envy white skin and subject their black skins to rigorous skin bleaching rituals which in the vain efforts instead yield yellow color results. Women are the most affected although some men too practice it.
Though most Ugandans have adopted what they consider a modern culture, their traditions are not entirely lost and these can be traced. Others have retained their cultures and traditions and safeguard them from adulteration by foreign influences.
Uganda is blessed with the enviable gift of holiday weather year round. The climate is tropical about 26 degrees Celsius during the day and 16c at night, for most parts of the country except for the mountain regions.
The hottest months are from December to February when the daytime range is 27 to 29 degrees Celsius. This is when you are continually kissed by the African sun that a golden tan will be the indiscriminate mark of her affectations. The highland areas are considerably cooler at night. The rainy seasons differ given the land variations with two seasons which are known as the long and short rains. The short rains are from March to May and the long rains are from September to November. During the wet season, the average rainfall is 175mm per month. However, in western Uganda or around Lake Victoria it can rain almost any time but the rain usually lasts but a short time and the sun comes out.
The dry season is from November to March. There are some dry areas in the country which recieve very small amounts of rainfall of 100mm or less. The best time of the year to visit would be from December to late February and from June to September which is especially ideal for gorilla tracking and hiking. Regardless of when you decide to visit whether, on holiday, wildlife safari or simply a cultural visit, the time is ever right! Don’t let the word ‘rainy’ and ‘dry’ fool you into thinking it endlessly pours in torrents and the earth is all so soggy or that it is as dry and hot as the Sahara. Far from that! Instead in the rainy seasons, you will be treated to the most delightful African thunderstorm often with the rain falling in the early morning hours and at night, lulling you to sleep. Soon after the downpour, the sun’s rays would have soon dried up the earth once again. In the dry season, you will encounter not only the haunting extremes of weather like scorched grass, stripped trees, baking hot and rock-hard ground but whirlwinds that twist and turn carrying all else on a journey to nowhere. You will not only marvel at Uganda’s climate but be enthralled by it.
Uganda’s numerous languages are the wondrous gift of cultural diversity. They are so rich and distinct that it’s a joy to listen to any being spoken. Uganda’s over 100 tribes directly translate into as many languages which originate from the three categories of peoples namely Luo, Bantu, and Nilotes. Some though like the Bantu share certain dialectal similarities and once in linguistic command of one Bantu language, understanding of another is granted. Luo languages are spoken by the northern tribes and a splinter eastern tribe. These are Acholi, Langi, and Jopadhola respectively. The Nilotic languages are spoken by the eastern and northeastern tribes and are Ateso and Akarimojong. Bantu tribes are spoken by the people in central and partly eastern Uganda and include among others Luganda, Lusoga, Lugwere, Lunyolo, Lusamia and by the western peoples, it’s Lunyankore, Lukiga, and Lutoro.
Before colonialism, all of these languages were spoken freely and articulately and none of them was superior. However, with the advent of colonialism and foreign religions, other languages were introduced such as English, Latin, and Arabic as languages of communication during prayer for Christians, Catholics, and Muslims respectively. Today, although the indigenous languages are still widely spoken, English has taken dominance over them for it is now the official language and among the educated it’s the only language of communication because it befits their status to speak ‘the white man’s language’ as English was referred to by the locals; which has led to a worrying trend of a generation of young Ugandans incapable of speaking their indigenous languages and are thus a lost generation. Language is not only a cultural heritage but one’s identity as well for without it not only is communication defeated but as a people, we are lost.
Once in Uganda, the cheapest way to get about is through public transport and there are standard Bus companies in operation and these connect to the major towns on a daily basis and are usually cheaper than minibusses which in Uganda are known for reckless driving. However, traffic policemen stationed along the way and installation of speed governors have helped in the reduction of speed levels but in spite of this, buses remain the better option for they stop less often and take you to your destination unlike Omnibuses that lure passengers then offload them when the route turns out to be unprofitable which is the case if not full. However, although buses have schedules, these are often not strictly followed and they tend to always leave later than their stipulated departure times because they want to leave full. The only buses that are an exception to this are Link which plies the western route and Gaga which plies the Northern route (Arua only and Nairobi). All the buses leave early and some even as early as 5.00 am and as late as 10.00 pm for Gaga.
In addition to the normal buses is the EMS post bus which has a reputation for careful driving and safety. These travel from Kampala to all the major towns in Uganda. They stop less often usually at post offices but there’s only one route and although you may not have to book, in the event that you do, it guarantees you a seat as often they are full to capacity and it’s easy to miss a seat. However, they leave quite early at 8.00 am every day.
All of these buses have exclusive or shared terminals. Akamba’s is on Dewinton street near the National Theatre, Gaga’s is at Arua park, Scandinavian Express’ is at Lumumba Avenue, Kampala Coach is along Jinja road section of the main Kampala City Street and for the rest including Teso Coaches, Kakise, Elgon Flyer and a host of others including omnibuses which ply the eastern route – Mbale, Soroti, north – Gulu, Lira can be found at Quali Cell Bus Terminal near downtown Kampala. It’s usually difficult getting buses to the northeastern route – Moroto, Abim and generally Karamoja region from Kampala. Instead, you can connect from Mbale and Soroti very easily.
For mini taxis, there are two parks; the Old Taxi Park and the New Taxi Park. These are not far from each other and are both near the Qualicell Bus terminal which is in between the two. From both parks, you can get taxis to most destinations.
Motorcycles for hire known as Boda Boda are a most convenient way of getting about in the city and the suburbs and with them too, you will have to haggle over the price quoted and they will always back down and you will be surprised at how much you save. However, don’t fall in love with gaggling to a point that you expect a fair deal at the expense of the person offering the service and always expect bargain prices for it’s worth remembering that they are in business.
However, you can also hire a vehicle if you so desired and the opportunities for this are limitless. Unlike buses and omnibuses whose fares are fixed, you may have to haggle with the drivers of these vehicles to get a fair price because there is no uniformity in their fares. However, even after considerable haggling, they are quite expensive given the high fuel costs which are higher compared to other countries in Africa.
There are also several smaller airlines that offer both scheduled and charter flights from Kampala. One of them is eagle air which offers flights throughout the country. Destinations include Arua, Gulu, Moyo, Nebbi although few tourists go these places. It also flies daily to Pakuba airstrip in Murchison Falls National park daily and once a week to Kasese.
Uganda Rivers, Lakes & Mountains
At the southern end of the lake, where the Semliki comes in, there are swamps. Farther south looms the mighty Ruwenzori Range, while a range of hills called the Blue Mountains tower over the northwestern shore.
The Rwenzori Mountains, previously called the Ruwenzori and sometimes the Mountains of the Moon, is often referred to as Mt. Rwenzori, located on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with heights of up to 5,109 m. The highest of the Rwenzoris are permanently snow-capped, and along with Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya are the only mountains to have a permanent covering of snow and ice on the continent of Africa.
Margherita Peak at a height of 5,109 on Mount Stanley is the highest point in the Rwenzori Mountain range.
The mountains were formed about three million years ago in the late Pliocene as a result of an uplifted block of crystalline rocks such as gneiss, amphibolite granite and quartzite, “pushed up by tremendous forces originating deep within the earth’s crust”. The uplifting divided the large paleolake Obweruka and created three of the present-day African Great Lakes: Albert, Edward, and George on the edge of the Albertine (western) Rift of the East African Rift a part of the Great Rift Valley.
The Rwenzori Mountains are about 120 km long and 65 km wide. They consist of six massifs separated by deep gorges: Mount Stanley (5,109m), Mount Speke (4,890m), Mount Baker (4,843m), Mount Emin (4,798m), Mount Gessi (4,715m) and Mount Luigi di Savoia (4,627m) Mount Stanley is the largest and has several subsidiary summits, with Margherita Peak being the highest point. The rock is metamorphic, and the mountains are believed to have been tilted and squeezed upwards by plate movement. They are in an extremely humid area, and frequently enveloped in clouds.
The Great Rift Valley
The Great Rift Valley is a name given in the late 19th century by British explorer John Walter Gregory to the continuous geographic trench, approximately 6,000 km in length, that runs from northern Syria in Southwest Asia to central Mozambique in South East Africa. The name continues in some usages, although it is today considered geologically imprecise as it combines features that are today regarded as separate, although related, rift and fault systems. Today, the term is most often used to refer to the valley of the East African Rift, the divergent plate boundary which extends from the Afar Triple Junction southward across eastern Africa, and is in the process of splitting the African Plate into two new separate plates. Geologists generally refer to these incipient plates as the Nubian Plate and the Somali Plate.
In eastern Africa, the valley divides into two, the Western Rift Valley and the Eastern Rift Valley. The Western Rift, also called the Albertine Rift, is edged by some of the highest mountains in Africa, including the Virunga Mountains, Mitumba Mountains, and the Ruwenzori Range. It contains the Rift Valley lakes, which include some of the deepest lakes in the world (up to 1,470 meters deep at Lake Tanganyika). Much of this area lies within the boundaries of national parks such as Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwenzori National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Lake Victoria is considered to be part of the rift valley system although it actually lies between the two branches.
All of the African Great Lakes were formed as the result of the rift, and most lie within its rift valley. In Kenya, the valley is deepest to the north of Nairobi. As the lakes in the Eastern Rift have no outlet to the sea and tend to be shallow, they have a high mineral content as the evaporation of water leaves the salts behind. For example, Lake Magadi has high concentrations of soda (sodium carbonate) and Lake Elmenteita, Lake Bogoria, and Lake Nakuru are all strongly alkaline, while the freshwater springs supplying Lake Naivasha are essential to support its current biological diversity.
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