Uganda was dubbed by Winston Churchill as “the pearl of Africa” for its incredible natural beauty. Indeed, Uganda has riches and lots of it: great lakes, snowcapped mountains, enormous valleys, tropical rainforests, and major rivers. Ecologically, Uganda is the convergence of the West African jungle and the East African savannah. And it is also the source of the world’s greatest river. For years, European explorers scattered all over Africa looking for the source of the Great Nile, eventually finding their way to Uganda’s Lake Victoria. This made the country the center of European interest for much of the late 19th and 20th century. Today, Uganda would definitely be the center of tourism interest if it were not so mired in armed conflict. This is a land, after all, of lush rainforests and mountains where lions, chimpanzees, hippos, and gorillas roam.
The one thing Uganda doesn’t have is a seacoast. This country is landlocked at the center of the East African plateau. Cutting through Uganda is the Great Rift Valley whose valley floor is dotted by a number of lakes, including the George, Albert, and Edward. Between the lakes, you’ll find the Ruwenzori Mountains rising over 16,000 feet; it is said to be the fabled “Mountains of the Moon” that ancient geographers often told stories about. Along the border with Rwanda, the Virunga Range brings a series of active volcanoes that reach over 14,000 feet.
Most of Uganda in the north and east consists of moderate plateaus. The southeast is dominated by Lake Victoria, the source of the White Nile River. Its 91,130 square miles is second only to Lake Superior in North America. North of Lake Victoria is the extinct volcano, Mount Elgon, which forms Uganda’s border with Kenya.
Uganda is one of nature’s wonderlands. It is an ecotourism dream. There are 10 national parks in this beautiful country, along with 10 wildlife reserves and 7 wildlife sanctuaries. Some of these designated areas are considered among the best in Africa. Uganda’s main draw is its rare mountain gorillas. Most of these primates make their home in the southwest at Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park; both parks also feature chimpanzees, monkeys, and other species of primates. Ruwenzori National Park is widely considered one of the most beautiful of the parks while Kibale National Park is noted for its 12 different types of primates.
There are several eco-tourist routes that visitors can use to travel the country’s rainforests, which are dotted with camp sites and African bandas accommodations. Tour guides and rangers can be hired. The most popular of the forest sites is the Budongo Forest Reserve, which is one of the largest mahogany forests in Africa and located near Masindi. Other forest reserves include the Mabira Forest between Kampala and Jinja, the Kasyoha Kitomi Forest near Albertine Rift Valley, Kalinzu Forest Reserve in the southwest, and the Mpanga Forest, which is home to a drum-making tribal village and hundreds of bird species. Also visit the Bwindi Forest if you want to see mountain gorillas in a forest setting.
Uganda is famous for its outdoor opportunities. Murchison Falls National Park is one among numerous inland water sources that provide excellent sport fishing.
Trekkers will find lush hills, high mountains, deserts, lakes, and wetlands that are part of nature trails. Popular treks include the Sasa River Trail on Mount Elgon, Mbale in the lush country near Mount Elgon, and the Central Circuit Trail through the foothills of Karamoja. You should contact the Uganda Wildlife Authority for more information.
Mountain-climbers can brave the challenge of the Ruwenzori Mountains or make expeditions to Mount Mgahinga and Mount Muhavura from the base at Kisoro. Experienced mountaineers will enjoy Mount Elgon and the volcanic Virunga range.
White water rafting over the rapids of the White Nile is a thrilling experience and is set amid heavily forested islands that are inhabited by hippos and monkeys. The volume of water along this stretch is incredible, even though they are lurked by crocodiles. If you are experienced, try the Bujagali Falls, which has Grade 5 rapids.
The climate in Uganda is somewhat temperate and pleasant as a result of its higher altitudes. In the south, there is plenty of rainfall year-round, but the north experiences much less rain and suffers through a dry season between June and July.
Uganda was first inhabited by pygmoid peoples who hunted and gathered. Around 1000 BC, Cushites migrated from Ethiopia to Uganda. They were followed by Bantu tribes who spread throughout central and southern Africa. Eventually, the Cushites were absorbed by the Bantu.
In the 14th century, the Cwezi kings of Kitara ruled over the Bantu in western Uganda. At the end of the 15th century, Nilotic Luo invaders from the north invaded Uganda and overthrew the rulers of Kitara. The invaders ended up adopted the Bantu language and culture over time. During the 16th and 17th century, the kingdoms of Bunyoro, Buganda, Ankole, and Toro were established. The Bunyoro was based on the old Kitara Kingdom and was the most powerful state. In the 18th century, Buganda began to overtake the Bunyoro in dominance.
In the mid-19th century, Uganda was visited by Arab slavers and traders. Some of the Arabs even served as advisers to the Buganda rulers. During the 1850s and 1860s, Europeans arrived in search of the source of the Nile River. It was finally discovered in 1862 by an English explorer.
In the late 19th century, missionaries began to settle the country. The rivalry between the Protestant, Muslim, and Catholic factions resulted in a decade of civil and religious strife. In the 1884 Berlin Conference when the European powers agreed to divide up Africa, Uganda was given to the British. They established a protectorate in Buganda, but a 1900 agreement gave the Buganda Kingdom semi-independence status. The British also made similar agreements with the other kingdoms – Bunyoro, Ankole, and Toro.
In 1962, Uganda was granted full independence. During the 1960s and 1970s, a series of military coups resulted in political instability. President Amin took control in 1971 and ruled for eight years. His reign was brutal; his secret police murdered more than 300,000 people, and many more fled as refugees to Tanzania. In 1978, army units of Amin mutinied and seized lands in the south. The rebel group united with Tanzanian forces to invade Uganda and successfully ousted Amin.
Elections were held in 1980 and Obote became president. His rule was characterized by corruption, ethnic purges, and a breakdown in Uganda’s social order. Just as many people died under Obote as under Amin. Obote was eventually overthrown by guerilla forces in 1986 and Museveni was made president.
Museveni has worked hard to unify the country and rebuild Uganda’s economy. A nonparty system of government was created to end religious and ethnic strife. Human rights have improved greatly. Unfortunately, the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group in the north, has refused to end its fight against the government. The army has perpetrated the massacre and mutilation of hundreds of thousands. More than 1.6 million have been displaced since the late 1980s. The army has also engaged in egregious human rights violations, including rape, torture, kidnapping, and the use of child soldiers.