Spanning on an area of 236, 580 sq km in the East African region, Uganda is bordered by South Sudan in the north, Kenya in the East, Democratic republic of Congo to the west Rwanda to the south west and Tanzania to the south. The country lays a stride Equator and is strategically located in the heart of Africa where the East African Savanna meets the West African jungle.
The capital city is Kampala and Entebbe airport is the only international airport in the country and the major gateway into the country.
The country is privileged to harbor Lake Victoria, the second largest in land fresh water lake in the world forming the source of the Nile, the longest river in the world whose great adventure activities are mind blowing and breath taking for those interested in arousing their adrenalin.
The country also shelters more than half of the remaining 880 mountain gorillas in the world with the remaining living in Rwanda and Congo. About 60% of bird species in Africa can be found in this country with both the Albertine rift / Congo forest endemics and the savanna species.
The country is also the mother of the world’s strongest water falls; the Murchison falls where the Nile squeezes through an 8m wide gap between the rocks before pouring 42m deep into the gorge. About 7 % of the mammal species in the world and a diversity of cultures and languages that total to about 66 different cultures are yet other spectacular gifts the country is endowed with.
The 7km wide on top of Mt. Elgon is the world’s largest intact caldera while the Rwenzori glacial peaks are very scenic and a great wonder for their snow caps despite being close to the Equator. The Rwenzori mountains were gazetted as a world heritage site by UNESCO and is one of the best and quite challenging hiking spots in the world.
The country’s spectacular endowment has seen it win several accolades. In 1907, the British prime minister; Sir Winston Church Hill named it the pearl of Africa a brand the country has held since then while his USA counterpart Theodore Roosevelt spent an equivalent of today’s $1.8m on his hunting safari to Murchison while confirming what Winston had described as the ‘great Kew gardens and zoo combined on unlimited scale’. In 2012, Uganda was voted the destination of choice by the Lonely planet while in 2013, Kidepo valley national park was voted among the top 10 best national parks in Africa. Queen Elizabeth National Park has been honored as a Top Performing National Park as Reviewed by Travelers on the World’s Largest Travel Site, Trip Advisor while R. Nile was recognized among the 7 wonders of Africa.
According to the population estimates by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics in 2012, the population of Uganda was at 34 million but the country could be having slightly more people than that though the results of the 2014 census are not yet released.
People and culture
Uganda has long been a cultural melting pot, as evidenced by the existence of more than 60 different indigenous languages belonging to five distinct linguistic groups (Bantu, Nilo-Hamites, Hamites, Luo/ Nilotic and the Hunter-gatherers), and an equally diverse cultural mosaic of music, art and handicrafts. The people of Uganda stem from all the four Africa’s language families that include Bantu, Cushitic, Nilotic, and Khoisan (hunter gatherers)
The Bantu speaking groups are said to have entered the country from the forests of Congo and Cameroon highlands in around 14th and 15th centuries and settled in the southern part of the country. They came along with them iron working, making different tools from iron and introduced agriculture in the region. Today the Bantu groups dominate the area below L. Kyoga and include Baganda, Bantankole, Batooro, Bakiga, Banyoro, Bagwere, Bagisu, Basoga, Basamia and Bakonjo among others. These have unique customs and norms as well as fascinating hand crafts and traditional dances which are enthralling to watch.
The Cushitic groups were categorized in two groups of the Hamites and the Nilo- Hamites. The Hamites and Nilo-Hamites, both originated from the north east around the Ethiopian highlands, and settled in the northeast and eastern parts of the country while some continued to settle in the south western Uganda and into Rwanda. They were mainly pastoralists, herding several numbers of animals with which they would move from one place to another looking for pasture and water. The Hamites tribe was composed of the Hima that are now settled in Ankole and have been absorbed into Banyankole, the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda. The Nilo-Hamites include the Karimajong, Kumam and the Iteso in the eastern and north eastern part of the country. These groups have continued to attach great value to their cows and used to depend on their products for food and survival. Their art facts, stories, traditional dances and lifestyles are quite interesting too.
The Khoisan people are known for their click language and are said to have been the original inhabitants of the land and were hunter-gatherers. These were much interfered with by the migrant groups who displaced and absorbed them. Their remnants are the present day pygmy societies of Batwa and Bambuti in the remote south western Uganda. Their art facts and traditional stories and dances without forgetting their unique lifestyle of staying in small huts and caves and their physical appearance itself are quite amazing to see.
The Nilotic people also known as Luo speaking people entered Uganda from the North, in the present day South Sudan and occupied the northern part of the country including the area west of the Nile. They are believed to have originated from the twin brothers of Gipiri and Labongo who parted ways after a misunderstanding hence giving birth to a range of divergent cultures and tribes that inhabit the northern region. Some of the Luo speaking groups include; the Langi, Acholi, Madi, Kakwa, Alur, and Lugbala among others. These groups too have unique art facts, history and cultural items that define them.
The official language is English though with the formation of East African Community, Swahili has also been accepted as the second Official language.
Other local languages commonly spoken include Luganda in the central region especially in the capital, Kampala while Runyankole, Rukiga or Rutoro are also widely spoken especially in the western side of the country.
Uganda is a God fearing nation which is reflected in its national anthem and Motto. However, the country enjoys great tolerance and freedom of worship, with several religious affiliations Roman Catholics dominate the population with 41%, followed by Anglicans (40%), Islam (5%) while other beliefs make up 14%. The other beliefs include Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists, and cult sects like Bishaka as well as traditionalists among others.
Uganda experiences a temperate climate even though the majority of the country is within the Tropics with temperatures between 16 to 26'C for the majority of the year apart from the mountainous areas that are much cooler. The hottest months are December to February where evenings can feel chilly after the heat of the day with temperatures around 12- 16ºC (54-61°F) while during the day, temperatures may raise to over 30°C. The cooler months are April to May and October to November with the highest amount of rainfall.
The Republic of Uganda is a sovereign democratic state governed by the 1995 Constitution. The President is Head of State and the Executive comprising of 26 cabinet Ministers while the Prime minister is the head of government businesses. The speaker is the head of parliament (legislature) while the chief justice is an overseer of the judiciary. Voting qualifications are universal, for those above 18 years of age while the qualifications for contesting in the top political positions are mainly Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education.
Economic profile and Currency
Consistently ranked among Africa’s fastest growing economies since 1986, Uganda has experienced a steady expansion of infrastructure and a corresponding increase in international investment and tourism. The main foreign exchange earners are agriculture and tourism sectors that bring in foreign exchange to the country.
The main currency is a Uganda shilling (UGX) though foreign currency like US dollars are also accepted and used by those in the travel and tourism industry.
The currency is chiefly controlled by the Bank of Uganda which is the country’s central bank that regulates the work of commercial banks.
New Year's Day - 1 January
NRM Liberation Day - 26 January
Easter Sunday, Good Friday - March - April
Martyrs' Day - 3 June
Heroes Day - 9 June
Independence - 9 October
Christmas Day - 25 December
Boxing Day - 26 December
The earliest human inhabitants in Uganda were hunter-gathers whose remnants are the present day, pygmy societies of Batwa and Bambuti that live in the remote areas of western Uganda. Approximately 2000 to 1500 years ago, Bantu speaking populations from central and western Africa arguably Cameroon highlands, migrated and occupied most of the southern parts of the country. The migrants brought with them agriculture, ironworking skills and new ideas of social and political organization, that by the 15th - 16th century resulted in the development of centralized kingdoms, including the kingdoms of Buganda, Bunyoro and Ankole after the breakup of the Bunyoro- Kitara empire.
Shortly after the coming of Bantu speaking people, other ethnic groups also arrived in the country. The Luo speaking people from present day Southern Sudan entered the country from the north and settled in the northern part of the country with L. Kyoga separating them from the southern group of Bantu speakers. The Kushitic groups of Hamites and Nilo-Hamites also entered the country from the north eastern side as they ended their long journey from Ethiopian highlands. They were mainly cattle keepers and lived on cattle products like milk and meat. They settled in the north east and eastern parts of the country while some continued to live in southwestern Uganda where they were absorbed into Bantu forming the present day Bahima people of Ankole. Some continued to settle in Rwanda and Burundi.
Until the coming of the colonialists in the late 1880s, the country was ruled on the kingdom basis with each kingdom sovereign and independent of each other. Kingdom wars were common as ambitious kings sought to expand their territories and extend their dominance over the others.
Due to its strategic location near L. Victoria and along the trade route from Mombasa to Congo, Buganda rose to dominance and was used by colonialists to take over power and control of other kingdoms, a process that saw the entire country come under the British rule in 1900.
In 1888, control of the emerging British "sphere of interest" in East Africa was assigned by royal charter to William Mackinnon's Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEACO), an arrangement strengthened in 1890 by an Anglo-German agreement confirming British dominance over Kenya and Uganda. The high cost of occupying the territory caused the company to withdraw in 1893, and its administrative functions were taken over by a British commissioner. In 1894, Uganda was placed under a formal British protectorate.
Rebelling kingdoms like Bunyoro under Kabalega and Acholi under chief Awich remained seditious to the colonialists until 1900 when Buganda signed an agreement with the British government acknowledging total control of the country by the British. This came after the British and some collaborators like Kakungulu had crashed the rebellious forces, bringing them to total submission to the British rule.
Early independent Uganda
Political parties began to be formed in late 1930s with Democratic Party (DP) and Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) as the main political parties that began to press for independence through the 40s and 50s. The first elections were held on 1st March 1961 and Benedicto Kiwanuka of the Democratic Party (DP) became the first Chief Minister.
Uganda became a republic the following year when it gained its independence on 9th October 1962 thus acquiring its Commonwealth membership. Sir Edward Mutesa II was appointed as the first president after his party (Kabaka Yekka) merged votes with Obote’s UPC in the 1962 elections to defeat DP’s Kiwanuka who was the initial winner. Obote was made the first prime minister until 1966 when he used the army to usurp the president’s powers as he challenged the rule of a culturakl leader over the whole nation. Political maneuvering climaxed in February 1966, when Prime Minister Apollo Milton Obote suspended the constitution and assumed all government powers, removing the positions of president and vice president. He abolished kingdoms after accusing them of leading people into civil disobedience and dividing the country on tribal lines.
In September 1967, a new constitution proclaimed Uganda a republic, gave the president even greater powers, and abolished the traditional kingdoms.
The president (Kabaka Mutesa 11) was exiled to England and Obote became the second president until 1971 when one of his trusted army officers; Idi Amini Dada led a coup d’état and toppled his government while Obote was away on official duty
Uganda under Idi Amin Dada
On 25 January 1971, Obote's government was ousted in a military coup led by armed forces commander Idi Amin Dada. Amin declared himself 'president,' dissolved the parliament, and amended the constitution to give himself absolute power.
His first year saw Amin expel Indians who owned and ran most of the businesses in the country accusing them of what he called ‘milking a cow without feeding it’ as he embarked on empowering his countrymen to manage their own economy. Indian shops were given over to Ugandans especially those in close relationship with Amin, something that was received with great excitement and praise from his own countrymen.
The economy later suffered a decline as most of the businesses were put in the hands of the illiterate and later had to collapse as the managers were not trained well to manage them which sent the country to its economic knees as inflation shot high.
Idi Amin's eight years’ rule produced economic decline, social disintegration, and massive human rights violations as thousands were detained without trial while others disappeared as they attempted to challenge his legitmacy. 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 place 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 camped close to the Ugandan border of Mutukula resulted in an advance by the Ugandan army into Tanzania. In October 1978, Tanzanian armed forces countered an incursion of 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, most of whom were killed and Amin took refuge in Saudi Arabia.
Uganda between 1979 and 1986
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 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. The minority UPM under Yoweri Museveni was not contented with the results and the manner in which the election was conducted hence resorted to guerilla war against the newly elected government of Obote. 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 where thousands were left homeless; children were left fatherless as the area sank into a dark age.
Post Liberation war (1986 - to date)
Following a misunderstanding between Obote and his army commander; Okello Lutwa, over sectarianism in the army, in 1985, the commander toppled his chief- in -command as Obote made a political record in the region as the only president overthrown by his own army twice. Tensions intensified as National Resistance Army (NRA) under Museveni closed in on the shaky government.
In an attempt to bring peace back in the country, negotiations between the Okello’s government and the National Resistance Army (NRA) under Yoweri Museveni 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 and head of government.
President Museveni led the country into a time of reconciliation and reconstruction of infrastructure by signing peace deals with other rebel groups and absorbing them into NRA which later became Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF). For example Kalangala Action Plan under the leadership of Maj. Roland Kakooza Mutale was absorbed and so did the other groups like Uganda Freedom Movement (UFM) under Andrew Kayiira and Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) led by Gen. Moses Ali.
However, like the other government, the NRM government did not enjoy a picnic era but rather tough resistance from other groups like the Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement that was crashed in the east and then the longest insurgent group of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) under the leadership of Joseph Kony which destabilized the northern region for almost 2 decades until 2005.
Since assuming power, the government dominated by the political grouping created by Yoweri Kaguta 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 (IMF), World Bank, and donor governments.
In 2005, a referendum was held that resulted into the birth of multi party system of governance from the single party system that was existing. People were allowed to belong to a party of their choice as new parties emerged like Forum For Democratic Change (FDC) formerly Reform Agenda, Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) and Democratic Party (DP) came back after a long time of suffocation and denial of breathing space.
President Museveni instituted the rule of law that the country had heard as a myth since independence by initiating together with the house members, the 1996 constitution to help in guiding the government and restoring order to foster peace and development in the then war ravaged country.
He went ahead and restored a number of human rights and freedoms including freedom of worship, expression and a right to belong to any cultural affiliation. He restored kingdoms that were abolished by the Obote regime and allowed the formation of new cultural institutions as kings were inaugurated back to their thrones.
Infrastructure has today greatly improved following a relative peace period the country has enjoyed in the last decade. The economy is growing at a steady speed with tourism and agriculture as the main foreign exchange earners while industries are also taking shape.
Foreigners have been attracted to come and invest and several of them have turned up including the exiled Indians. This has led to growth of industries with several products manufactured with in the country including the essentials in homesteads like soap and salt. The country today enjoys peace and tranquility which has seen the tourism industry boom. With the discovery of oil, the country hopes to get better in a near future.
In 2012, the country won an accolade as the destination of choice for tourists all over the world while in 2013 Kidepo Valley national park was voted among the 10 best national parks in Africa and Queen Elizabeth National park was reviewed among the best performing parks by travelers on the world’s largest travel site; Trip Advisor. With this tourism trend and good international image, in addition to the oil extraction, the sky will be the limit for the country’s growth and development.