All About Uganda: Land Of A Thousand Hills and The Pearl Of Africa
Although it is a landlocked country, Uganda has many large lakes. The south of the country is heavily influenced by one of the world's biggest lakes, Lake Victoria, which contains many islands. Uganda's main cities are located in the south, near this lake, including the capital city of Kampala. Besides Lake Victoria there is Lake Albert, Lake Edward, and the smaller Lake George. Lake Kyoga is in the center of the country and is surrounded by extensive marshy areas. Uganda also has 60 protected areas, which includes 10 national parks. These areas are home to many endangered species, such as mountain gorillas and hippos. Over 10% of the world’s bird species can be found in Uganda. The national animal is the Grey Crowned Crane. This bird is featured on the country’s flag. And, Uganda is home to approximately 5,000 chimpanzees – more than any other East African country.
FUN FACT: With a surface area of more than 26,000 square miles, Lake Victoria (named for Queen Victoria) is the biggest lake on the continent of Africa and the globe's second largest freshwater lake, trailing North America's Lake Superior. Also the largest tropical lake on Earth, Lake Victoria is also one of the Nile River's sources and is even said to be where it begins.
Murchison Falls National Park has a grand wilderness feel, where one instinctively senses that nature has not yet been tamed and wildlife reigns. The elephants are bigger than in many other parts of Africa, the buffalo herds larger, and the giraffes more majestic. Kidepo Game Reserve is Karamoja, in the northeast is even wilder, perhaps because of the remoteness.
The southwestern corner of Uganda, including Kabale and Kisoro, has been described as a "little Switzerland", and deservedly so, with its crater lakes and meticulous terracing of the farmlands on the mountain slopes. The scenery of Uganda is varied. There are areas of long elephant grass; elsewhere endless papyrus swamps crisscross the country, picturesque contrast to the green of the banana plantations, the coffee bushes, and the cassava or beans, all planted in small pots known as shambas.
With the exception of the semi-desert in the extreme northeast, most of Uganda is well watered and fertile. Almost 1/4 of the country's surface area is covered by water. Lake Victoria is shared by Uganda with Tanzania and Kenya.
The capital city of Uganda is Kampala, with an official resident population of 2 million people (with the outskirts accounting for 3-4 million people). It is said to be a city set on seven hills, but has actually grown to cover at least 10 hills. Rwanda has four official languages: English, French, Kinyarwanda and Swahili.
FUN FACT: Not only is Uganda one of the youngest countries in Africa, the largest age group (48%) consists of those who are 14 and under, making it the second most youthful country. Only 2% of Ugandans are over the age of 65.
Uganda not only has wildlife and natural beauty to offer; the Ugandan people are what make it different. Drawn from over 20 tribes, they represent a rich blend of traditions and culture.
Kampala is famous as the social capital of East Africa, the city that never sleeps, and Ugandans have been officially rated the happiest people in East Africa by the UN World Happiness Report. It was noted in the report that it is not the high quality of life that made Ugandans happier than their neighbors, but their positive, optimistic outlook on life.
The people of Uganda can be divided according to tribe, with over 20 tribes in existence. The dominant tribe is the Baganda. The Baganda people speak Luganda. When the early colonialists arrived in Buganda more than a century ago, they found that the Kingdom of Buganda had a well-organized hierarchy, under an absolute ruler, the Kabaka (King), and his court. The kingdom was divided into 52 clans, each with its elders and emblems. The totems of the clans can be seen on the walls of the Buganda Parliament in Mengo, Bulange.
FUN FACT: The women of Uganda traditionally build the homes. They are responsible for constructing the walls of mud houses, while men build the roofs of these homes.
Ugandan's identity is both tribal and national: some will put their Ugandan nationality first and then their tribal identity, while others will put tribal identity first. There is no doubt that the Baganda have a very strong loyalty to their Kabaka, since he embodies their long-held traditions. The Kabaka is revered, and in Buganda many official functions commence not only with the Ugandan national anthem but also with the Bugandan national anthem.
Uganda has four traditional kingdoms, two of which can trace their history back to the 14th century, The Buganda Kingdom in the south and Bunyoro Kingdom to the northwest. The Toro kingdom in the west is an offshoot of the Bunyoro kingdom, but did not come into being until 1822. The Ankole Kingdom in the southwest can also be traced back to the 15th century when it was formed by the Bachwezi people from the legendary empire of the that spanned much of Uganda, Rwanda, northern Tanzania, and eastern Congo.
There are an estimated 52 tribes residing in Uganda. These tribes have their own customs that are still practiced to this day. Ugandans are known for their warmth and hospitality. In fact, the African Economist called Uganda one of Africa’s friendliest countries.
Uganda is a rural country with about 90% of the population engaged in (mainly subsistence) agriculture. The country is the second largest producer of bananas in the world, falling second only to India. Uganda produces an estimated 11 million tons annually. It is the most densely populated country in Africa; is landlocked; and has few natural resources and minimal industry.
Ugandan women are expected to dress modestly and should cover their legs. Ugandan men always wear pants, even in the hotter temperatures. Only boys wear shorts. In Uganda, dressing “smart” means wearing clothes that are fashionable (by a variety of standards), clean, well-tailored, and usually colorful. In Kampala especially, most locals dress very smartly, and show their respect for an event or party by dressing up even more to honor the occasion.
Fun Fact: The name Uganda derives from the word Buganda. The most probable reason why the British protectorate came to be known by this abbreviated name is that most Europeans had their initial contact with Buganda through KiSwahili-speaking guides and translators. In KiSwahili, the prefix u- is the equivalent of the Luganda bu-, so that the Swahili speakers would almost certainly have referred to the Ganda kingdom as Uganda.
People in Uganda often live with extended family, raise each others’ children, and attend weddings and birthdays and graduations with impressive regularity. They’re never too busy to answer the phone and talk to a friend. Those who can afford it, give financial support to others in their network, paying school fees for younger siblings or children of cousins. If they need the favor returned someday, they hope someone else in their network will be in a position to help.
Almost one-quarter of Uganda’s GDP comes from agriculture. The area is known for its tea, tobacco, and cotton production. The main export of Uganda is its coffee. It is typically sent to exported to other countries in Africa.
Matooke is a staple food in Uganda. It is made with un-ripened bananas that have been mashed. Another kitchen staple? Meat stews. These dishes don’t just contain traditional meat. Liver, stomach, tongue, and intestines may also be thrown in.
Every society has its idiosyncrasies. Try not to get offended when you're invited to someone's home for fried grasshoppers; It's a sign of endearment because this cuisine is a delicacy in Uganda.
Fun Fact: Ugandans are one of the top consumers of alcohol in all of Africa.
Uganda marches – and dances – to the beat of its own confident and colorful rhythm. If you’ve gotten a taste for some of Uganda’s distinctive cultural flavor, you’re well on your way to being ready for a visit. And, it is easy to understand why Winston Churchill called Uganda "the Pearl of Africa."
PLACES TO VISIT:
Kibale Forest National Park: One of the best safari destinations in Africa for chimpanzee trekking safaris and has the highest number and diversity of primates in East Africa. There are 13 species of primates living within its land cover with the most beautiful and most diversified tracts of tropical forest in the whole of Uganda.
Rwenzori Mountains: Known in ancient times as the Mountains of the Moon. Along the continent's highest range of mountains, ice-bound summits swirl into view then disappear, among them Mt. Stanley, Africa's third highest peak. Rainforest and an extraordinary array of plants, animals and birds - some endemic, a few of them endangered - make for some of East Africa's most challenging yet most rewarding trekking trails.
Kasubi Tombs: The Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi is agricultural, farmed by traditional methods. At its core on the hilltop is the former palace of the Kabakas of Buganda, converted into the royal burial ground in 1884. Four royal tombs now lie within the Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, the main building, which is circular and topped by a dome. It is a major example of an architectural achievement in organic materials, principally wood, thatch, reed, wattle and daub.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park: Located in south-western Uganda, at the junction of the plain and mountain forests, it is the home to around half of the world's eastern mountain gorilla population, and remains one of the top spots to track mountain gorillas. It is known for its exceptional biodiversity, with more than 160 species of trees and over 100 species of ferns. Many types of birds and butterflies can also be found there.
Murchison Falls National Park: Murchison Falls became one of Uganda’s first national parks in 1952. At Murchison Falls, the Nile squeezes through a wide gorge and plunges with a thunderous roar into the "Devil's Cauldron", creating a trademark rainbow. The northern section of the park contains savanna and borassus palms, acacia trees and riverine woodland. The south is dominated by woodland and forest patches. The 1951 film "The African Queen" starring Humphrey Bogart was filmed on Lake Albert and the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park.
Semuliki National Park: The Park sprawls across the floor of the Semliki Valley on the remote, western side of the Rwenzori. The park is dominated by the easternmost extension of the great Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin. This is one of Africa’s most ancient and bio-diverse forests; one of the few to survive the last ice age. The Semliki Valley contains numerous features associated with central rather than eastern Africa. Thatched huts are shaded by West African oil palms; the Semliki River is a miniature version of the Congo River; the forest is home to numerous Central African wildlife species; and the local population includes a Batwa pygmy community that originated from the Ituri. As a result, this park provides a taste of Central Africa without having to leave Uganda.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park: As its name suggests, the Park was created to protect the rare mountain gorillas that inhabit its dense forests, and it is also an important habitat for the endangered golden monkey. As well as being important for wildlife, the park also has a huge cultural significance, in particular for the indigenous Batwa pygmies. This tribe of hunter-gatherers was the forest’s “first people”, and their ancient knowledge of its secrets remains unrivalled. Mgahinga’s most striking features are its three conical, extinct volcanoes, part of the spectacular Virunga Range that lies along the border region of Uganda, Congo and Rwanda.
Queen Elizabeth National Park: The Park was founded in 1952 as Kazinga National Park, and renamed two years later to commemorate a visit by Queen Elizabeth II. The Park is home to over 95 mammal species and over 600 bird species. Queen Elizabeth National Park is understandably Uganda’s most popular tourist destination. The Park’s diverse ecosystems, which include sprawling savanna, shady, humid forests, sparkling lakes and fertile wetlands, make it the ideal habitat for classic big game, 10 primate species, including chimpanzees and over 600 species of birds.
Entebbe: Entebbe is a town on a peninsula in Lake Victoria, in Central Uganda. Area beaches include Lido Beach, near Entebbe International Airport. The lakeside Uganda Wildlife Education Centre protects native animals in wetland, forest and savanna habitats. Nearby, Entebbe Botanical Garden has diverse plants, birds and monkeys. Also close by is the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, which protects orphaned chimps.
Kidepo Valley National Park: Kidepo Valley National Park lies in the rugged, semi-arid valleys between Uganda’s borders with Sudan and Kenya, some 700km from Kampala. Gazetted as a national park in 1962, it has a profusion of big game and hosts over 77 mammal species as well as around 475 bird species. Kidepo is Uganda’s most isolated national park, but the few who make the long journey north through the wild frontier region of Karamoja would agree that it is also the most magnificent. Kidepo ranks among Africa’s finest wildernesses.
FUN FACT: You can't get much more exotic than an African safari. Uganda is one of the best settings for the adventurous spirit seeking first-hand wildlife experience. During a big five safari, you can track rhinos, take a boat ride in the River Nile and hike to the top of Murchison Falls.