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Uganda History, Language and Culture

History of Uganda

Before the arrival of Europeans in the 19th century, the Buganda Kingdom had become the ascendant dynasty in the region, having edged out other contenders with well-developed armed forces and agriculture.

From the 1840s, Muslim traders entered the region from the Indian Ocean coast. In 1862, British explorer John Hanning Speke became the first European to visit the kingdom, soon followed by a number of Christian missionaries, who were welcomed by the Bugandan king, Mutesa. The territory, renamed Uganda, officially became a British protectorate in 1894.

The country officially gained its independence from Britain in 1962, and most of its post-independence history has been characterised by politically inspired violence. President Obote, who banned opposition parties in 1969, was overthrown by the notorious and murderous Idi Amin, who remained in power until he was deposed by a joint force of Tanzanian forces and Ugandan exiles in 1979.

Obote subsequently returned to office but he too found himself fighting guerrilla groups – the remnants of Amin's army and Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Army (NRA). The third major military force in the country was the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), led by Tito Okello.

In July 1985, Obote was overthrown once again, this time by a military council with Okello at its head. The Okello government lasted just six months, and the NRA took control of the capital in 1986, establishing the National Resistance Council to govern the country.

By the early 1990s, Museveni had succeeded in restoring order and a measure of prosperity to most of the country. Presidential elections, comfortably won by Museveni, were held in 1989. Museveni continues to hold the presidency today, having won subsequent elections in 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2011.

For decades after Museveni came to power in 1986, two regions of northern Uganda, Gulu and Kitgum, continued to be embroiled in a civil war. This resulted in a civilian death toll of 10,000 people, most at the hands of the extremely violent Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a quasi-religious anti-government outfit that terrorised the border regions of northern Uganda by deliberately targeting civilians.

While the Ugandan army failed to formally end the war, the LRA hasn't been active in northern Uganda since 2005 and the region and its people have finally been able to join the rest of the country in a prolonged period of relative peace and stability.

Did you know?
• Winston Churchill dubbed Uganda the “Pearl of Africa” when he visited in 1907.
• Uganda has repeatedly been ranked in the top 25% in alcohol consumption.
• In 2016 nearly half of Uganda’s population were under the age of 14, making it the youngest country in the world after Niger.

Uganda Culture

Religion in Uganda

84.5% Christian and 13.7% Muslim with the remaining being atheist, or belonging to traditional religions. There are tiny minorities that practice Hinduism and Judaism.

Social Conventions in Uganda

Visitors to the country will generally find Ugandans to be warm, friendly and relaxed.Shaking hands is the normal form of greeting and it’s considered rude not to greet a person properly before rushing into asking them a question. Most people will know ‘Hello’, but the Swahili ‘Jambo’ is also used. Casual dress is usual for most occasions in the daytime or evening.

Ugandans have adopted a socially conservative culture and expressing emotions or affection in public is best avoided. Expressing anger is also frowned on and generally counter-productive, so try and keep calm in frustrating situations. 

Drug abuse is illegal and widely condemned, as is homosexuality. There has been much publicity in recent years regarding Uganda’s hardline approach to homosexuality, with the government proposing in 2009 – it was later overturned in 2014 – an Anti-Homosexuality Bill which would have included death penalties for anyone proved to be indulging in same-sex activities. While the bill provoked strong international condemnation, homosexuals in Uganda still regularly face persecution, outings in the media or through the church, eviction, arrests and violence. As such, any LGBTQ+ travellers to the country are advised to be extremely cautious.

Photography: Since 1992, photography has been allowed in all areas with the exception of airports or military installations. However, some areas are still sensitive and it is advisable to take local advice. Commercial photographers should consult the Ministry of Information for a permit. If taking a photograph of people, ask their permission first.

Language in Uganda

English is the official language, with Swahili, Luganda and other Bantu languages like Nyoro (by the Banyoro) and Tooro (by the Toro people) are also spoken.

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