BACKGROUND INFORMATION ABOUT UGANDA
GENERAL INFORMATION ON UGANDA'S GEOGRAPHY, CLIMATE etc
Uganda is a sub-Saharan landlocked country bordered by five countries: South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It lies in the Great Western Rift Valley. About the same size as the UK, it has several large lakes, including a share of Lake Victoria, the second largest lake in the world. The River Nile flows northwards out of Lake Victoria into Lake Kyoga, then westwards to Lake Albert before flowing north into South Sudan. The Rwenzori Mountains, on Uganda’s western border with DRC, have permanent snow. Other mountains include Mt Elgon on the eastern border with Kenya and the Virunga Volcanoes on the south-western border with Rwanda.
Apart from the mountains, Uganda varies in height from about 800m above sea level in the north-west to 2,300m plus in the south. There is a great variety of countryside and landscapes, from dry, open, flat savannah to rolling hills; from steep, cultivated terraced hills to plains used for cattle grazing; from tropical rain forest to densely populated and cultivated areas; from lakes and swamps to arid desert-like areas. Most of Uganda is very lush and green and beautiful. There are several large National Parks where wild animals are protected.
The equator passes through Uganda, south of Kampala and Entebbe. So there is no winter and summer and the days are equal. It gets light at about 7.00am and dark about 7.00pm.
Instead of the four seasons of the northern hemisphere, there are wet and dry seasons, which occur at slightly different times in central/southern Uganda and northern Uganda (including Teso). However, is in so many countries, global warming is affecting the seasons.
In Teso and northern Uganda, the main dry season in the north and east is usually from about end of November to end of March. The main wet season is about April to June. From July to November, there are two less well defined dry and wet seasons. During rainy seasons, the mornings are usually bright and sunny with rain during the afternoon and evening for about 2-5 hours.
In central and southern Uganda, the main dry season is June to August, with a secondary dry season (with some rain) from about December to February. April and May are the wettest months, but there can also be a lot of rain from September to November. Around Lake Victoria, it tends to rain early in the morning.
Temperatures in the wet season are more like a good English summer. It can get quite chilly in the evenings during the wet season, especially when it’s raining, but hot and humid when the sun comes out, so be prepared. During the main dry season, it gets much hotter (in the low 30s).
Harvesting and drying food is mainly done in the dry seasons. People are very busy cultivating when it rains.
There are about 40 distinct tribes, each with its own language or dialect. However, they fall into two main groups - the Bantu tribes and languages who are thought to have originated from West Africa, and the Nilo-Hamitic tribes and languages who are believed to have migrated from north eastern Africa. The Bantu and Nilo-Hamitic languages are linguistically completely different and do not share common roots. The Bantu tribes mainly inhabit central, southern and western Uganda, the Baganda being the largest and most powerful tribe. The Nilo-Hamitic tribes live mainly in northern and Eastern Uganda, with the Iteso being the largest tribe.
English is the official language of Uganda. Swahili is spoken by some people, particularly in the Police and Army.
Uganda now has a population of 40 million (compared with only 5 million in 1950) – it has the third highest population growth in the world. 71% are under 25 and only 4.5% are over 55. Life expectancy is 55. 7% of adults have HIV/AIDS.
Uganda is the 19th
poorest country in the world (out of 185), whereas UK is the 26th
richest country. 33% of Ugandans live on less than $2 a day.
20% have never been to school; about 70% are literate. 40% of children aged 10-14 are working (mostly at home, cultivating, looking after livestock and looking after younger siblings).
Only 25% of Ugandans live in towns. Soroti, the main town in Teso, is the 25th
largest town in Uganda and has a population of 50,000. 33% of rural people don’t have access to clean water.
Although Uganda is one of the smallest countries in Africa, it has the third largest population of refugees (about 600,000, which is about 1.5% of Uganda’s population). When measured against the size of its economy (GDP per person), it is the fourth largest refugee-hosting country in the world and is said to be one of the best countries in the world to be a refugee in because of the government's enlightened and generous policies.
BRIEF SUMMARY OF ETHNIC, HISTORICAL AND POLITICAL BACKGROUND
Uganda was first “discovered” by Speke and other European explorers in the 1860s. The first Christian missionaries entered Uganda in 1877. Some of the earliest converts were young page boys in the Kabaka’s court (King of Buganda), many of whom were martyred for their faith between 1885-1886 at Namugongo, just outside Kampala (and are still commemorated in the world-wide Anglican and Catholic Churches on 3rd
June every year).
Unlike most African countries, Uganda was a Protectorate, never a British Colony, which meant that the British could not buy and settle the land, as they did in so many other parts of Africa. There is therefore a very happy relationship between Ugandans and British people. However, European governments drew and re-drew national boundaries in Africa for their own gain and political reasons, and used certain tribes to subdue others, which still has sad repercussions. The policies of the British caused some tensions and prejudices to develop between the two main ethnic groups (Nilo-Hamitic and Bantu) of Uganda. There have also been problems at all the national borders, the best known being due to civil wars in South Sudan, Congo and Rwanda.
Uganda became independent in 1962 and Mutesa (the Kabaka/King of Buganda) was the first President, with Milton Obote as Prime Minister until Obote took over as President in 1966. Multi-party politics increasingly caused problems as parties tended to be aligned to religious (Catholic and Anglican) and ethnic groups. The situation really began to deteriorate from 1966, with increasing disregard for human rights.
The infamous Idi Amin took power in 1971, in a coup which was supported by Britain who wanted to get rid of Obote. Hundreds of thousands were brutally murdered in the next eight years. In a bid to gain popularity, Amin threw out all the Asians (including
those who were Ugandan citizens) during three months in 1972. Most settled in the UK, but also in Canada and other countries. It was during Amin’s regime that Archbishop Janani Luwum was murdered. He is commemorated by the Anglican Church on 17th February and was one of the 20th Century martyrs sculpted on the west front of Westminster Abbey in 1998.
Amin was overthrown in 1979. There were three short-lived Presidential terms in the next eighteen months before Obote regained power in 1980, but, unknown to many in Britain, his second regime (known as Obote II) was even more brutal than Amin’s and resulted in a higher death toll.
During these twenty years (1966-1986), estimates put the number killed at about one million. Hundreds of thousands fled as refugees, many of whom have never returned. The economy, infrastructure and civil society were destroyed. Some tribal groups suffered at the hands of others, fortunes were overturned and there were many revenge killings.
Obote was overthrown in 1985 and there followed two brief presidencies before Museveni, who led the National Resistance Movement and Army (NRM and NRA), overthrew Okello in a relatively ‘bloodless’ coup in 1986. Museveni's army was better disciplined and he managed to repress the cycle of revenge killings. For the first time for about twenty years, there was relative peace and stability throughout much of Uganda. Museveni had the hard task of starting to rebuild the country, whilst the rest of the world had moved on. Most main roads have now been superficially tarmacked again and main towns have electricity again (at least on most days).
Yoweri Museveni has now been President of the Republic of Uganda since 1986.
Uganda is a stable and safe country to visit,
unlike many other African countries at the moment, and Ugandans are very friendly and welcoming.