Country, eastern Africa.
Area: 93,065 sq mi (241,038 sq km). Population (2005 est.):
27,269,000. Capital: Kampala. Uganda is home to dozens of African ethnic
groups, as well as a small Asian community. Languages: English
(official), Swahili. Religions: Christianity (mostly Roman Catholic;
also Protestant); also Islam, traditional beliefs. Currency: Uganda
shilling. A landlocked country on the Equator, Uganda is largely
situated on a plateau, with volcanic mountains edging its eastern and
western borders; Margherita Peak, at 16,795 ft (5,119 m), is the highest
mountain. Part of Lake Victoria occupies virtually all of southeastern
Uganda; other major lakes are Lakes Albert, Kyoga, Edward, George, and
Bisina. The Nile River traverses the country. Huge tracts of land are
devoted to national parks and game reserves. The economy is based
largely on agriculture and food processing. Livestock raising and
fishing are also important, and there is some manufacturing and mining.
Uganda is a republic with one legislative house; its head of state and
government is the president. By the 19th century the region was divided
into several separate local kingdoms inhabited by various Bantu- and
Nilotic-speaking peoples. Arab traders reached the area in the 1840s.
The kingdom of Buganda was visited by the first European explorers in
1862. Protestant and Catholic missionaries arrived in the 1870s, and the
development of religious factions led to persecution and civil strife.
In 1894 Buganda was formally proclaimed a British protectorate. As
Uganda, it gained independence in 1962, and in 1967 it adopted a
republican constitution. The civilian government was overthrown in 1971
and replaced by a military regime under Idi Amin. His invasion of
Tanzania in 1978 resulted in the collapse of his regime. The civilian
government was again deposed by the military in 1985, but the military
government was in turn overthrown in 1986. A constituent assembly
enacted a new constitution in 1995.
Official name Republic of Uganda
Form of government multiparty republic with one legislative house
Head of state and government President assisted by the Prime Minister
Official languages English; Swahili2
Official religion none
Monetary unit Ugandan shilling (UGX)
Population estimate (2008) 29,166,000
Total area (sq mi) 93,263
Total area (sq km) 241,551
1Statutory number; includes 13 ex officio members.
2Swahili became official in September 2005.
country in east-central Africa. About the size of Great Britain,
Uganda is populated by dozens of ethnic groups. The English language and
Christianity help unite these diverse peoples, who come together in the
cosmopolitan capital of Kampala, a verdant city whose plan includes
dozens of small parks and public gardens and a scenic promenade along
the shore of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest freshwater lake. The
Swahili language unites the country with its East African neighbours of
Kenya and Tanzania.
“Uganda is a fairy-tale. You climb up a railway instead of a
beanstalk, and at the end there is a wonderful new world,” wrote Sir
Winston Churchill, who visited the country during its years under
British rule and who called it “the pearl of Africa.” Indeed, Uganda
embraces many ecosystems, from the tall volcanic mountains of the
eastern and western frontiers to the densely forested swamps of the
Albert Nile River and the rainforests of the country’s central plateau.
The land is richly fertile, and Ugandan coffee has become both a
mainstay of the agricultural economy and a favourite of connoisseurs
around the world.
Uganda obtained formal independence on Oct. 9, 1962. Its borders,
drawn in an artificial and arbitrary manner in the late 19th century,
encompassed two essentially different types of society: the relatively
centralized Bantu kingdoms of the south and the more decentralized
Nilotic and Sudanic peoples to the north. The country’s sad record of
political conflict since then, coupled with environmental problems and
the ravages of the countrywide AIDS epidemic, hindered progress and
growth for many years. Yet even so, at the beginning of the 21st century
a popularly elected civilian government ruled Uganda, which had attained
political stability, had set an example for tackling the AIDS crisis
that threatened to overwhelm the continent, and enjoyed one of the
fastest-growing economies in Africa.
Uganda is bordered by The Sudan to the north, Kenya to the east,
Tanzania and Rwanda to the south, and the Democratic Republic of the
Congo to the west. The capital city, Kampala, is built around seven
hills not far from the shores of Lake Victoria, which forms part of the
frontier with Kenya and Tanzania.
Most of Uganda is situated on a plateau, a large expanse that drops
gently from about 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) in the south to
approximately 3,000 feet (900 metres) in the north. The limits of
Uganda’s plateau region are marked by mountains and valleys.
To the west a natural boundary is composed of the Virunga (Mufumbiro)
Mountains, the Ruwenzori Range, and the Western Rift Valley (see East
African Rift System). The volcanic Virunga Mountains rise to 13,540 feet
(4,125 metres) at Mount Muhavura and include Mount Sabinio (11,959 feet
[3,645 metres]), where the borders of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of
the Congo, and Rwanda meet. Farther north the Ruwenzori Range—popularly
believed to be Ptolemy’s Mountains of the Moon—rises to 16,762 feet
(5,109 metres) at Margherita Peak, Uganda’s highest point; its heights
are often hidden by clouds, and its peaks are capped by snow and
glaciers. Between the Virunga and Ruwenzori mountains lie Lakes Edward
and George. The rest of the boundary is composed of the Western Rift
Valley, which contains Lake Albert and the Albert Nile River.
The northeastern border of the plateau is defined by a string of
volcanic mountains that include Mounts Morungole, Moroto, and Kadam, all
of which exceed 9,000 feet (2,750 metres) in elevation. The southernmost
mountain—Mount Elgon—is also the highest of the chain, reaching 14,178
feet (4,321 metres). South and west of these mountains is an eastern
extension of the Rift Valley, as well as Lake Victoria. To the north the
plateau is marked on the Sudanese border by the Imatong Mountains, with
an elevation of about 6,000 feet (1,800 metres).
Uganda’s Lake Victoria (26,828 square miles [69,484 square km]), in
the southeastern part of the country, is the world’s second largest
inland freshwater lake by size after Lake Superior in North America,
although Lake Baikal in Siberia is larger by volume and depth. Victoria
is also one of the sources of the Nile River. Five other major lakes
exist in the country: Edward and George to the southwest; Albert to the
west; Kyoga in central Uganda; and Bisina in the east. Together with the
lakes, there are eight major rivers. These are the Victoria Nile in
central Uganda; the Achwa, Okok, and Pager in the north; the Albert Nile
in the northwest; and the Kafu, Katonga, and Mpongo in the west.
The southern rivers empty into Lake Victoria, the waters of which
escape through Owen Falls near Jinja and form the Victoria Nile. This
river flows northward through the eastern extension of Lake Kyoga. It
then turns west and north to drop over Karuma Falls and Murchison Falls
before emptying into Lake Albert.
Lake Albert is drained to the north by the Albert Nile, which is
known as the Al-Jabal River, or Mountain Nile, after it enters The Sudan
at Nimule. Rivers that rise to the north of Lake Victoria flow into Lake
Kyoga, while those in the southwest flow into Lakes George and Edward.
Except for the Victoria and Albert Niles, the rivers are sluggish and
often swampy. Clear streams are found only in the mountains and on the
slopes of the Rift Valley. Most of the rivers are seasonal and flow only
during the wet season, and even the few permanent rivers are subject to
seasonal changes in their rates of flow.
The soils, in general, are fertile (and primarily lateritic), and
those in the region of Lake Victoria are among the most productive in
the world. Interspersed with these are the waterlogged clays
characteristic of the northwest and of the western shores of Lake
The tropical climate of Uganda is modified by elevation and,
locally, by the presence of the lakes. The major air currents are
northeasterly and southwesterly. Because of Uganda’s equatorial
location, there is little variation in the sun’s declination at midday,
and the length of daylight is nearly always 12 hours. All of these
factors, combined with a fairly constant cloud cover, ensure an equable
climate throughout the year.
Most parts of Uganda receive adequate precipitation; annual amounts
range from less than 20 inches (500 mm) in the northeast to a high of 80
inches (2,000 mm) in the Sese Islands of Lake Victoria. In the south,
two wet seasons (April to May and October to November) are separated by
dry periods, although the occasional tropical thunderstorm still occurs.
In the north, a wet season occurs between April and October, followed by
a dry season that lasts from November to March.
Plant and animal life
Vegetation is heaviest in the south and typically becomes wooded
savanna (grassy parkland) in central and northern Uganda. Where
conditions are less favourable, dry acacia woodland, dotted with the
occasional candelabra (tropical African shrubs or trees with huge
spreading heads of foliage) and euphorbia (plants often resembling cacti
and containing a milky juice) and interspersed with grassland, occurs in
the south. Similar components are found in the vegetation of the Rift
Valley floors. The steppes (treeless plains) and thickets of the
northeast represent the driest regions of Uganda. In the Lake Victoria
region and the western highlands, forest covering has been replaced by
elephant grass and forest remnants because of human incursions. The
medium-elevation forests contain a rich variety of species. The
high-elevation forests of Mount Elgon and the Ruwenzori Range occur
above 6,000 feet (1,800 metres); on their upper margins they give way,
through transitional zones of mixed bamboo and tree heath, to high
mountain moorland. Uganda’s 5,600 square miles (14,500 square km) of
swamplands include both papyrus and seasonal grassy swamp.
Lions and leopards are now present mainly in animal preserves and
national parks, but they are occasionally seen outside these places.
Hippopotamuses and crocodiles inhabit most lakes and rivers, although
the latter are not found in Lakes Edward and George. Mountain gorillas,
chimpanzees, and small forest elephants appear only in the extreme west.
Elephants, buffalo, and the Uganda kob (an antelope) are limited to the
west and north, while the black rhinoceros and giraffes are confined to
the north. Zebras, topis, elands, and roan antelopes live in both the
northeastern and southern grasslands, while other kinds of antelopes
(oryx, greater and lesser kudu, and Grant’s gazelle) are found only in
the northeastern area. Uganda is home to diverse variety of birdlife,
including threatened species. Most of the country’s national parks
provide excellent bird-watching opportunities. The country’s varied fish
life includes ngege (a freshwater, nest-building species of Tilapia),
tiger fish, barbels, and Nile perch.
Insects are a significant element in the biological environment.
Elevations below 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) are the domain of the female
Anopheles mosquito, which carries malaria, while the presence of tsetse
flies has closed extensive areas of good grazing land to cattle.
Butterflies are also very prevalent in Uganda. Many different species,
including those which are endemic, can be found in the country.
Much of southern Uganda has been deforested, but a significant
portion of the country’s area has been placed in its 10 national parks.
Murchison Falls National Park—the largest such park in Uganda, with an
area of 1,480 square miles (3,840 square km)—is bisected by the Victoria
Nile. Queen Elizabeth National Park is about half the size of Murchison
Falls and is in the Lake Edward–Lake George basin. Bwindi Impenetrable
Forest, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994, contains about
half of the world’s population of endangered mountain gorillas, and
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is also home to this rare mammal.
Ruwenzori Mountains National Park (designated a UNESCO World Heritage
site in 1994) contains the country’s highest mountain, Margherita Peak.
The region was occupied by rebel forces in the late 1990s.
M. Semakula M. Kiwanuka
Although Uganda is inhabited by a large variety of ethnic groups, a
division is usually made between the “Nilotic North” and the “Bantu
South.” Bantu speakers are the largest portion of Uganda’s population.
Of these, the Ganda remain the largest single ethnic group, constituting
almost one-fifth of the total national population. Other Bantu speakers
are the Soga, Gwere, Gisu, Nyole, Samia, Toro, Nyoro, Kiga, Nyankole,
Amba, and Konjo. A sizable population of Rwanda (Banyarwanda) speakers,
who had fled Rwanda in the late 1960s and early ′70s, also lived in
Uganda until the mid-1990s.
Nilotic languages are represented by Acholi (Acoli), Lango (Langi),
Alur, Padhola, Kumam, Teso, Karimojong, Kakwa, and Sebei and represent
more than one-tenth of the population. Central Sudanic peoples are also
found in the north and include the Lendu, Lugbara, and Madi. Together
they constitute less than one-tenth of the population.
Under British colonial rule, economic power and education were
concentrated in the south. As a result, the Bantu came to dominate
modern Uganda, occupying most of the high academic, judicial,
bureaucratic, and religious positions and a whole range of other
prestigious roles. However, the British recruited overwhelmingly from
the north for the armed forces, police, and paramilitary forces. This
meant that while economic power lay in the south, military power was
concentrated in the north, and this imbalance has to a large extent
shaped the political events of postcolonial Uganda.
South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis) came to Uganda
largely in the 19th and 20th centuries and by 1969 numbered more than
50,000. Although Ugandan citizenship was made available to them when
Uganda became independent, most Asians chose not to accept this offer.
The population declined drastically when Idi Amin, head of government
from 1971 to 1979, ordered the expulsion in 1972 of all noncitizen
Asians and later even those Asians who held Ugandan citizenship.
Although the latter group’s expulsion order was eventually rescinded,
the majority still left the country. By the end of the year, only a
small number of Asians remained in Uganda. Amin commandeered both the
businesses and personal goods of the expelled Asian community and
redistributed them to the remaining African population. For a relatively
short time, his actions proved immensely popular with most Ugandans, but
the country has recovered slowly from the economic consequences of the
expulsions. In the early 1990s, the Ugandan government formally invited
the expelled Asian community to return; thousands did so, and some had
their property returned to them.
There are at least 32 languages spoken in Uganda, but English and
Swahili—both official languages—and Ganda are the most commonly used.
English is the language of education and of government, and, although
only a fraction of the populace speaks English well, access to high
office, prestige, and economic and political power is almost impossible
without an adequate command of that language. Swahili was chosen as
another official national language because of its potential for
facilitating regional integration, although Ugandans’ command of Swahili
falls substantially below that of Tanzania, Kenya, and even eastern
Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition, Swahili is unpopular with
a large proportion of Ugandans who consider it the language of past
dictators and armies.
Uganda’s indigenous languages are coextensive with its different
ethnic groups. In addition to English, French, and Swahili, Radio Uganda
broadcasts in more than 20 indigenous languages including Alur, Ganda,
Lugbara, Masaba, Rwanda, Nyankole, Nyole, Soga, and Teso (Iteso). Most
Ugandans can understand several languages.
Uganda’s religious heritage is tripartite: indigenous religions,
Islam, and Christianity. About four-fifths of the population is
Christian, primarily divided between Roman Catholics and Protestants
(mostly Anglicans). Other Christian denominations include the
Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, Greek Orthodoxy, Jehovah’s Witnesses,
Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and Presbyterians. About one-tenth of the
population is Muslim, and, of the remainder, most practice traditional
religions. As in other parts of Africa, Islam and Christianity have been
combined with indigenous religions to form various syncretic religious
Islam was the first of the exogenous religions to arrive, and it
became politically significant in the 1970s. Christianity came during
the colonial period through spirited missionary activity—especially in
the south, where Catholics were called bafaransa (“the French”) and
Protestants bangerezza (“the British”). Rivalry and even hostility
between adherents of these two branches of Christianity, which have
always been sharper and deeper than those between Christians and
Muslims, are still alive today. In the early 1930s a breakaway group of
Anglican missionaries together with several Ugandans initiated the
balokole (“born again”) revival, which spread throughout eastern Africa
and beyond and has remained a powerful force of Pentecostalism in
A small number of Abayudaya Jews live in communities in eastern
Uganda, the descendants of converts to Judaism in the 1920s. Until 1972,
when Asians were expelled from Uganda, large numbers of Sikhs and Hindus
lived throughout the country; in recent years, with returning South
Asian practitioners, Sikhism and Hinduism have been reestablished in the
country. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the 1995 constitution.
Uganda’s population remains basically rural, although the number of
urban dwellers, constituting about one-tenth of the total population, is
growing. A few northern societies, such as the Karimojong, are mainly
pastoralists, but most northern societies combine cattle keeping with
some cultivation. Between the mid-1970s and late ’80s the cattle
population declined significantly because of disease, rustling, and
malnutrition; restocking projects were subsequently initiated. In the
south, sedentary agriculture is widely practiced. Most cultivators keep
some livestock in the form of goats, chickens, and occasionally ducks
and even rabbits and geese. The prosperous farmers keep one or two
local-breed cattle, while the more wealthy own imported breeds. In
central, eastern, and southern Uganda, well-spaced homesteads have farms
Kampala, the capital, is the largest city; others include Jinja,
Mbale, Masaka, Entebbe, and Gulu, all except for Gulu located in the
south. Urban centres have grown because of a rural-urban movement within
the south itself as well as a migration from the north to southern
towns. During colonial times, the British were not encouraged to settle
widely in what was then the Uganda Protectorate (as they were in the
settler colony of Kenya), and British and Asian immigrants generally
lived in towns. Only gradually did a minority of black urbanites begin
Since 1986, urban centres in Uganda have been rehabilitated and
expanded, especially in the eastern, central, and western portions of
the country. In addition, numerous small trading centres have emerged
along major routes, serving as important points for trade and access to
Urban areas often contain large numbers of mainly younger
people—usually many more men than women—who have come to town seeking
whatever work they can find. Many are engaged in manual labour or
service-related jobs such as food preparation, while a good many are
jobless or are only occasionally employed. There are also, however, a
growing middle class of Ugandans and visible signs of urban progress,
such as good housing around the outskirts of towns. Yet, these
improvements notwithstanding, since about the mid-1990s there has been a
noticeable increase in the number of street children and other
impoverished individuals in Kampala. Several agencies have established
programs to resettle and educate the children who have no homes or whose
families refuse to care for them.
The Ugandan population has grown rapidly since independence, when it
was approximately seven million, to now total more than three times that
number. Like many other African countries, the population is
predominantly young, with roughly half under 15 years of age and more
than one-fourth between the ages of 15 and 29. Uganda’s birth rate is
about twice that of the world average, and the death rate is also higher
than the world average. Life expectancy in Uganda, while higher than or
similar to that of most neighbouring countries, is below the world
The number of Ugandans residing in cities or towns has grown slowly
since the 1980s. Kampala, the political and commercial capital, contains
nearly one-third of the country’s urban population. Uganda’s other major
cities have considerably smaller populations, among them Jinja, which
contains a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. The most densely populated areas
are in the south, especially around Lake Victoria and Mount Elgon.
The economy is basically agricultural, and it occupies some
four-fifths of the working population. Uganda’s moderate climate is
especially congenial to the production of both livestock and crops.
As has been the case with most African countries, economic
development and modernization have been enormous tasks that have been
impeded by the country’s political instability. In order to repair the
damage done to the economy by the governments of Idi Amin and Milton
Obote, foreign investment in agriculture and core industries, mainly
from Western countries and former Asian residents, was encouraged. The
1991 Investment Code offered tax and other incentives to local and
foreign investors and created the Uganda Investment Authority, which
made it easier for potential investors to procure licenses and
The economy improved rapidly during the 1990s, and Uganda has been
acclaimed for its economic stability and high rates of growth. It is one
of the few African countries praised by the World Bank, the
International Monetary Fund, and the international financial community
for its economic policies of government divestiture and privatization
and currency reform. Uganda has been particularly successful in
soliciting international support and loans. In 1997 it was selected as
one of the few countries to receive debt relief for its successful
implementation of stringent economic reform projects and has continued
to qualify for significant debt relief since then. Because of this,
Uganda has been able to focus on eradicating poverty and expanding
resource exploitation, industries, and tourism.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Agriculture accounts for a large share of Uganda’s export earnings
and its gross domestic product, as well as providing the main source of
income for the vast majority of the adult population. Farmers, working
an average of less than 3 acres (1 hectare), provide more than half of
the agricultural production. They are largely based in the south, where
there is more rainfall and fertile soil. Significantly, a considerable
number of women own the land on which they work. Small-scale mixed
farming predominates, while production methods employ largely
rudimentary technology; farmers rely heavily on the hand hoe and
associated tools and have minimal access to and use of fertilizers and
herbicides. Two important cash crops for export are coffee and cotton.
Tea and horticultural products (including fresh-cut flowers) are also
grown for export. Food crops include corn (maize), millet, beans,
sorghum, cassava, sweet potatoes, plantains, peanuts (groundnuts),
soybeans, and such vegetables as cabbages, greens, carrots, onions,
tomatoes, and numerous peppers.
Livestock include cattle, both indigenous varieties and those known
as exotics (mainly Fresians), plus experimental cross-breeds, sheep,
goats, pigs, chickens, ducks, and turkeys. There have been several
projects to introduce rabbits. Cattle ranching has been encouraged in
the western region of the country. The average Ugandan consumes a modest
amount of meat, mainly in the form of poultry. Dairy farming is another
expanding sector with Uganda producing pasteurized and “long-life” milk,
butter, yogurt, and cheeses.
While Uganda contains adequate timber reserves, exports were banned
in 1987 until legislation could be put in place to regulate forestry. In
addition to concerns over exports, the domestic use of timber for
firewood and charcoal was rapidly depleting reserves. Projects financed
by the United Nations beginning in the late 1980s attempted to
rehabilitate the sector. Exports of forest products had resumed by the
mid-1990s, although the domestic use of timber was not totally under
Because lakes and rivers cover nearly 20 percent of Uganda, fishing
holds considerable potential for the country. Foreign investment in fish
processing centres, begun in the late 1980s, was halted amid concerns
over the depletion of fish stocks. Some lakes became clogged with water
hyacinth. Herbicides used to destroy the plant apparently also
contaminated the fish, and most fish exports were banned into the
beginning of the 21st century. The bans were subsequently removed, and
fish and fish products are now an important export.
Resources and power
Uganda’s reserves include copper, tungsten, cobalt,
columbite-tantalite, gold, phosphate, iron ore, and limestone. Gold,
cobalt, and columbite-tantalite are mined. Gold is an important export,
but it is complicated by the fact that gold has been smuggled into
Uganda from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Exploration for
petroleum, while showing geological potential, particularly under Lakes
Albert and Edward, has proceeded slowly.
The majority of the country’s power is provided by the Nalubaale
(formerly Owens Falls) and Kiira hydroelectric stations on the Victoria
Nile at Jinja, in the southern part of Uganda. Under an agreement signed
in the mid-1950s, a portion of the power generated was exported to
Kenya. By the early 21st century, however, Uganda faced severe power
shortages and was not only unable to honour the agreement but had to
begin importing power from Kenya when it was available. Plans to expand
hydroelectric capacity by adding more power plants are under
development. Firewood and charcoal still provide a significant amount of
Manufacturing contributes only a small portion of the gross domestic
product. The major industries are based on processing such agricultural
products as tea, tobacco, sugar, coffee, cotton, grains, dairy products,
and edible oils. Also important are beer brewing and the manufacture of
cement, fertilizers, matches, metal products, paints, shoes, soap,
steel, textiles, and motor vehicles.
Industrial production grew dramatically in the years following
independence but then declined precipitously from the early 1970s. Since
1990, with the return of stability to the country, foreign companies and
lending institutions have invested in such businesses as textile and
steel mills, a car assembly plant, a tannery, bottling and brewing
plants, and cement factories.
There are a number of cottage industries, which produce a wide
variety of domestic and commercial iron and wooden products ranging from
security doors, household and farm goods, numerous spare parts, and
furniture. Ugandans are creative and manage to utilize iron and other
waste materials in the manufacture of useful implements.
Finance and trade
Uganda’s central bank, the Bank of Uganda, was founded in 1966. It
monitors Uganda’s commercial banks, serves as the government’s bank, and
issues the national currency, the Uganda shilling. The government sets
the shilling’s official exchange rate against foreign currencies.
The Uganda Commercial Bank and the Uganda Development Bank serve most
of the commercial and financial needs of the country. There are also
commercial banks owned by Ugandan, British, South African, Indian,
Egyptian, and Libyan firms. There is a stock exchange in Kampala.
Uganda has participated in several regional economic organizations,
including the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the Cotonou
Convention, the Kagera Basin Organization, the Intergovernmental
Authority on Development, and the East African Community Customs Union.
Its principal exports are coffee, fish and fish products, gold, tobacco,
cotton, and tea. The main imports are machinery and transport equipment,
basic manufactures, food and live animals, and chemicals. Its principal
trading partners are Kenya, South Africa, The Netherlands, Japan, India,
and the United States. Uganda has had an annual trade deficit since the
With its numerous national parks that contain a wide variety of
animals, Uganda is a natural tourist destination. From independence
until the early 1970s, tourism was a major part of the economy and
ranked third after coffee and cotton in producing foreign exchange.
Under President Amin, however, tourism ceased and the national parks
were neglected. Since the mid-1980s tourism has slowly increased, and
foreign investment in new hotels has also expanded. However, Uganda’s
tourist industry was affected by political instability in surrounding
regions during the 1990s, although it rebounded in the early 21st
Labour and taxation
The government is the country’s largest employer. Attempts to
decrease the number of government workers in the early 1990s met with
failure. The Museveni government attempted to increase the status of
wage labourers after it took power in the mid-1980s. Cooperative
societies, largely focused on agricultural export products, numbered in
the thousands at the beginning of the 21st century.
Tax revenue in the form of customs duties, sales taxes, and income
taxes provides the majority of Uganda’s budget, and grants provide the
remainder. The majority of the budget goes to capital expenditures,
wages and salaries, education and security, with health receiving less
than 5 percent.
Transportation and telecommunications
Being a landlocked state, Uganda relies heavily on Kenya and
Tanzania (particularly the former) for access to the sea. The country
has more than 620 miles (1,000 km) of rail line, but rail travel is now
infrequently used by the public. Linking Kampala with Kilindini Harbour
at Mombasa, Kenya, is a rail line that passes via Jinja, Tororo, Leseru,
Nakuru, and Naivasha. Kampala is also connected to the north by a rail
line that crosses the Pakwach bridge and to the western parts of the
country by a line that reaches the border town of Kasese.
The main international airport is at Entebbe, Uganda’s former
capital, about 20 miles (30 km) west of Kampala. By the end of the 20th
century, air travel had expanded to include major international carriers
as well as numerous local air companies, which serviced the interior of
the country. Kisoro in the far southwestern corner of the country,
bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, gained an
airstrip in 1999.
There are about 16,650 miles (26,800 km) of roads in Uganda, but only
a small fraction of them are paved. A number of road-repair projects are
under way, but much of Uganda’s road system is in great need of repair.
There is limited shipping service on the Kagera River and on Lakes
Albert and Victoria.
The number of telephone lines is being expanded under foreign
consortium agreements and has more than doubled since the mid-1990s.
Much more prevalent, however, is cellular service; in existence in
Uganda since the mid-1990s, cell phone use had rapidly expanded by the
early 21st century, as did the number of Ugandans using the Internet.
Government and society
Until 1967 Uganda was a quasi-federal polity that included five
subregional monarchies, non-monarchical districts, and a central
government. The republican constitution adopted in 1967 abolished the
monarchies and assigned ultimate political power to an elected
president. The president was to be aided by a ministerial cabinet drawn,
in the British tradition, from among members of the unicameral National
Assembly. In theory, the judiciary, legislature, and executive were to
be autonomous, if coordinate, institutions of governance, but in reality
the powers of the different branches of government have varied widely
with each president. Under Idi Amin’s presidency (1971–79),
representative institutions were abolished altogether, and, with the
first of several military coups in 1985, the constitution was suspended.
Under the new constitution promulgated in October 1995, the president
is the head of state, government, and the armed forces and is assisted
by a cabinet. Legislative power is vested in a unicameral parliament.
Most members of parliament are directly elected to five-year terms; the
remaining seats are reserved for one female representative from every
district and representatives of specific groups, such as the army,
youth, labour, and persons with disabilities. The constitution also
recognizes the right of ethnic groups to pursue their own cultural
practices. Uganda had a “no-party” political system until a 2005
referendum overwhelmingly supported a return to multiparty politics. The
next year the country held its first multiparty elections since 1980.
Uganda is divided into districts. Each district is administered by
an elected chairperson and a district council. Subdistrict
administrative units are governed by a tiered structure of elected
councils. Each council consists of elected members with the political
and judicial power to manage local affairs.
The Supreme Court is the court of highest appeal; it also acts as a
constitutional court. Below the Supreme Court is the Court of Appeal and
the High Court. The Magistrates’ Courts were established in 1970 and
decide criminal and civil matters. Islamic and customary law also exist
in the country.
Nonparty elections were held in May 1996, the first popular election
since 1962. Lieutenant General Yoweri Kaguta Museveni came to power in
1986 as the leader of the National Resistance Movement (NRM). He was
elected president in 1996, although he ostensibly represented no
political party. The country does have many parties, however, such as
the Democratic Party, the Uganda People’s Congress, and the Forum for
Women played a significant role in the formulation of the 1995
constitution, and the NRM government has assisted them in a number of
ways. The Ministry of Women in Development was established in 1988 to
formulate and implement women’s programs and especially to make the
public aware of women’s issues. By 1990 eight women held ministerial
posts in the government, and the first woman vice president in
sub-Saharan Africa, Specioza Wandira Kazibwe, was appointed in 1994. In
the early 21st century, women held about one-fourth of the seats in
parliament and about one-fourth of the cabinet positions.
Uganda’s armed forces, named the Uganda People’s Defense Forces,
consist of air force, marine, and army contingents as well as
paramilitary forces. Security problems in the north of the country have
kept them active, as have foreign engagements in such countries as the
Democratic Republic of the Congo. Border disputes with Kenya (in the
1980s) and The Sudan (in the 1990s) have also occupied Uganda’s
military. Ugandan troops have participated in United Nations-led
international peacekeeping missions and are part of the African Union’s
standby peacekeeping force.
Health and welfare
Only about half of the population has access to medical facilities,
though since 1986 an internationally funded program has been under way
to improve health-care infrastructure, training, and supplies. There are
more than 100 hospitals; slightly more than one-half are
government-operated. In addition, numerous health centres provide
medical care throughout the country.
Malaria, measles, anemia, acute respiratory infections and pneumonia,
gastrointestinal diseases, sleeping sickness, venereal diseases,
schistosomiasis, guinea worm (dracunculiasis), tuberculosis, chicken
pox, and typhoid are all serious problems in Uganda. At the root of many
of these diseases is a lack of clean water.
AIDS, known locally as “slim” because of its debilitating effects,
spread widely in the early 1980s and has placed stress on families and
an already frail health-care infrastructure. However, there has been a
vigorous campaign to educate and inform the public about AIDS and
sexually transmitted diseases, and in 1998 Uganda became the first
country in sub-Saharan Africa to report a significant decrease in the
rate of HIV infection.
The government has sponsored housing development projects in urban
areas such as Kampala, where there is a tremendous need to provide new
housing units in order to keep up with the rising population.
Rural houses are often made of mud and wattle. For the Nyoro, houses
were traditionally built around a central courtyard. Ganda settlements,
usually located on hillsides, can include as many as 40 to 50 homes.
Primary education begins at six years of age and continues for seven
years. Secondary education begins at 13 years of age and consists of a
four-year segment followed by a two-year segment.
In early 1997 Uganda revolutionized education policy by introducing
an initiative called Universal Primary Education, under which the
government would pay tuition fees for all orphans and for up to four
children per family. The policy, aimed at rapidly expanding literacy
throughout the population, resulted in an increase in school attendance.
A similar program for post-primary education was initiated in early
Many of the oldest schools in Uganda were established by Christian
missionaries from Europe. Since independence their role has been
superseded by that of the government, but, because of the limited number
of secondary schools, private schools have remained an important
component of Uganda’s educational system.
Makerere University in Kampala, which began as a technical school in
1922, was the first major institution of higher learning in East and
Central Africa. In addition to its medical school, Makerere’s faculties
include those of agriculture and forestry, arts, education, technology,
law, science, social sciences, and veterinary medicine.
A number of new institutions of higher learning have opened since the
late 1980s, including Mbarara University of Science and Technology
(1989), Uganda Christian University (founded as Bishop Tucker
Theological College in 1913; present name and university status
conferred in 1997), Uganda Martyrs University (1993), and Islamic
University in Uganda (1988). In addition to these, there are
primary-teacher training colleges, technical schools and colleges, and
Cultural diversity—from the Ganda culture in the south and Acholi
and Lango cultures in the north to the influence of South Asians past
and present—has produced a wide variety of lifestyles and interests
among Ugandans. The country possesses a rich tradition of theatre,
ranging from the very active National Theatre in Kampala to hundreds of
small, local theatrical groups. Theatre has played an important role in
educating and informing the public on a range of issues from gender
relations to sexually transmitted diseases. Another popular and
widespread form of entertainment is the small video booth, many hundreds
of which are spread throughout the towns and small rural trading
centres. A video booth, which can operate on a vehicle battery, provides
an opportunity—mainly for young people—to see a variety of films; but,
more important, the booths also show occasional short informative films
supplied by government agencies. Television is widely available in urban
centres and in some smaller rural centres, where it is not uncommon to
see a large group of people clustered in front of one set.
Daily life and social customs
In the countryside, the year is filled with a variety of festivals
and ritual celebrations, including marriage “introductions,” weddings,
births, christenings, and other familial gatherings. As in other places,
the agricultural year is marked by a number of important events that
require social gatherings. Other holidays, celebrated nationwide, are
drawn from the Christian and Muslim calendars or commemorate events in
Ugandan history, such as Martyrs’ Day (June 3rd), Heroes’ Day (June
9th), and Independence Day (October 9th).
The staple diet in most of the south is a kind of plantain called
matoke, which is cooked in stews and curries; a Buganda legend relates
that one of the first acts of the first man on earth, Kintu, was to
plant a matoke tree for his descendants to enjoy. Sweet potatoes, Irish
potatoes, and cassava are consumed along with a variety of vegetables.
The central market in Kampala—Nakasero—offers an extensive array of
vegetables and fruits, some of which are imported from neighbouring
countries. Most northerners eat millet, sorghum, cornmeal, and cassava
together with local vegetables. The pastoral communities tend to consume
animal-derived products, especially butter, meat, and animal blood. Fish
is eaten by a number of groups, and a favourite dish is luombo, a spicy
stew steamed in banana leaves. Banana leaves also figure in another
favourite, oluwombo, made of rice, chicken, and tomatoes.
The Westernized elites are virtually the sole consumers and
practitioners of the fine arts. Nevertheless, there is a small but
active group of local artists—painters, sculptors, poets, and
playwrights—who exhibit their works in local galleries and theatres.
Folk art is widely collected and provides an important source of
revenue. Uganda’s ethnic arts are prized by collectors around the world.
Carving is an especially popular form, with scenes from Ugandan history
and legend incised on hardwood shields or screens. Other popular forms
are ironworking, ceramics, and batik, a technique of textile painting
introduced to Uganda by Southeast Asian immigrants. David Kibuuka and
Henry Lutalo Lumu (1939–89), two Ugandan painters, adopted elements of
Western painting such as oil-based paints to express African themes and
lived outside the African continent.
Ugandan traditional music makes use of instruments such as the lyre,
marimba (xylophone), and thumb piano (see lamellaphone). There is a wide
audience within the country for both Ugandan and foreign music. Uganda’s
well-known Afrigo Band, which combines traditional and popular musical
elements, regularly tours abroad and has produced a number of
recordings. The singer and composer Geoffrey Oryema has earned
international recognition for his music, which combines the Acholi,
Swahili, and English languages and Acholi musical traditions (the nangu
[harp]) with Western musical techniques. Congolese music is extremely
popular in the country and represents a return of musicians from that
region, a cultural exchange that previously had been active until the
1970s. There are many discos, pubs, and bars in most towns and trading
centres where live music is performed.
Although Uganda has several writers of note, oral traditions remain a
popular form of entertainment. Rajat Neogy, a Ugandan of Indian descent,
started the literary magazine Transition in 1961. Okot p’Bitek developed
a literary technique that combined the written word with oral
traditions. An Acholi born in Gulu, he wrote several novels including
Song of Lawino (1966).
The largest and most important museum in the country is the Uganda
Museum in Kampala. Others include those at Murchison Falls and Queen
Elizabeth national parks. The Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi
(designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001), a former palace
converted into a royal burial ground in the 19th century, provides a
glimpse into Ganda history and cultural traditions. National parks, such
as Bwindi Impenetrable, Ruwenzori Mountains (both designated UNESCO
World Heritage sites in 1994), and Mgahinga Gorilla, are an important
part of Uganda’s emerging ecotourism industry.
Sports and recreation
Sports is a vastly popular cultural activity, with millions of
Ugandans supporting their favourite football (soccer) teams. Kampala is
home to one of the largest sports stadiums on the continent, completed
in the late 1990s. Boxing and wrestling are also immensely popular. The
country’s first Olympic gold medal was earned by John Akii-Bua, who
competed in the men’s 400-metre hurdles at the 1972 Summer Olympics in
Media and publishing
Radio stations have proliferated since 1990. In addition to the
government-run Radio Uganda, there are more than 100 privately owned
stations, including Sanyu (established 1993), the first private station.
Uganda Television is operated by the government, and there are also
private local stations and satellite television from South Africa.
Television is transmitted over a radius of 200 miles (320 km) from
Kampala, with relay stations around the country.
A fluctuating number of daily newspapers are published in Uganda.
Those published in English include Telecast, The Star, The Monitor, and
the state-owned New Vision. Popular vernacular papers include Munno,
Etop, and Orumuri, while other papers appear sporadically. In addition,
daily papers published in Kenya are available.
The degree of government control and censorship of the press has
varied under different regimes. Since the early 1990s, however, there
has been considerable freedom of expression in the country.
Omari H. Kokole
This discussion focuses on the history of Uganda since the 19th
century. For a detailed treatment of Uganda’s early history and of the
country in its regional context, see Eastern Africa, history of.
The early history of Uganda, like much of sub-Saharan Africa, is a
saga of movements of small groups of cultivators and herders over
centuries. Cultures and languages changed continuously as peoples slowly
migrated to other regions and intermingled. By the mid-19th century,
when the first non-African visitors entered the region later to become
the Uganda Protectorate, there were a number of distinct languages and
cultures within the territory. The northern areas were occupied
generally by peoples speaking Nilotic and Sudanic languages, while the
central, western, and southern portions of the territory were
predominantly occupied by Bantu-speaking peoples.
Bunyoro and Buganda
The organization of the peoples who came to inhabit the area
north of the Nile River was mainly based on their clan structures. In
this respect the northerners differed markedly from the peoples to the
southwest of the Nile. There, peoples were organized into states—or
“kingdoms,” as they were labeled by the earliest European visitors. The
dominant state was Bunyoro-Kitara, which originated at the end of the
15th century and, under able rulers, extended its influence eastward and
southward over a considerable area. To the south there were a number of
lesser states, each with a chief who, like the ruler of Bunyoro-Kitara,
combined priestly functions with those of a secular leader. To the
southeast of Bunyoro-Kitara, the smaller state of Buganda grew as an
offshoot of its larger neighbour. By the end of the 18th century,
however, the boundaries of Bunyoro-Kitara had been stretched so far that
the authority of the ruler began to weaken, and a succession of pacific
chiefs accelerated this decline. Simultaneously the smaller, more
compact state of Buganda enjoyed a succession of able and aggressive
kabakas (rulers), who began to expand at the expense of Bunyoro-Kitara.
It was during the period of Buganda’s rise that the first
Swahili-speaking traders from the east coast of Africa reached the
country in the 1840s. Their object was to trade in ivory and slaves.
Kabaka Mutesa I, who took office about 1856, admitted the first European
explorer, the Briton John Hanning Speke, who crossed into the kabaka’s
territory in 1862.
Henry Morton Stanley, the British-American explorer who reached
Buganda in 1875, met Mutesa I. Although Buganda had not been attacked,
Achoiland, to the north, had been ravaged by slavers from Egypt and the
Sudan since the early 1860s, and, on the death of Kamrasi, the ruler of
Bunyoro, his successor, Kabarega, had defeated his rivals only with the
aid of the slavers’ guns. Moreover, an emissary from the Egyptian
government, Linant de Bellefonds, had reached Mutesa’s palace before
Stanley, so the kabaka was anxious to obtain allies. He readily agreed
to Stanley’s proposal to invite Christian missionaries to Uganda, but he
was disappointed, after the first agents of the Church Missionary
Society arrived in 1877, to find that they had no interest in military
matters. In 1879 representatives of the Roman Catholic White Fathers
Mission also reached Buganda. Although Mutesa I attempted to limit their
movements, their influence rapidly spread through their contact with the
chiefs whom the kabaka kept around him, and inevitably the missionaries
became drawn into the politics of the country. Mutesa I was not
concerned about these new influences, however, and, when Egyptian
expansion was checked by the Mahdist rising in the Sudan, he was able to
deal brusquely with the handful of missionaries in his country. His
successor, Mwanga, who became kabaka in 1884, was less successful: he
was deposed in 1888 while attempting to drive the missionaries and their
supporters from the country.
The Uganda Protectorate
Mwanga, who was restored to his throne with the assistance of the
Christian (both Roman Catholic and Protestant) Ganda, soon faced
European imperialism. Carl Peters, the German adventurer, made a treaty
of protection with Mwanga in 1889, but this was revoked when the
Anglo-German agreement of 1890 declared all the country north of
latitude 1° S to be in the British sphere of influence. The Imperial
British East Africa Company agreed to administer the region on behalf of
the British government, and in 1890 Captain F.D. Lugard, the company’s
agent, signed another treaty with Mwanga, whose kingdom of Buganda was
now placed under the company’s protection. Lugard also made treaties of
protection with two other chiefs, the rulers of the western states of
Ankole and Toro. However, when the company did not have the funds to
continue its administrative position, the British government, for
strategic reasons and partly through pressure from missionary
sympathizers in Britain, declared Buganda its protectorate in 1894.
Britain inherited a country that was divided into politico-religious
factions, which had erupted into civil war in 1892. Buganda was also
threatened by Kabarega, the ruler of Bunyoro, but a military expedition
in 1894 deprived him of his headquarters and made him a refugee for the
rest of his career in Uganda. Two years later the protectorate included
Bunyoro, Toro, Ankole, and Busoga, and treaties were also made with
chiefs to the north of the Nile. Mwanga, who revolted against British
overlordship in 1897, was overthrown again and replaced by his infant
A mutiny in 1897 of the Sudanese troops used by the colonial
government led Britain to take a more active interest in the Uganda
Protectorate, and in 1899 Sir Harry Johnston was commissioned to visit
the country and to make recommendations on its future administration.
The main outcome of his mission was the Buganda Agreement of 1900, which
formed the basis of British relations with Buganda for more than 50
years. Under its terms the kabaka was recognized as ruler of Buganda as
long as he remained faithful to the protecting authority. His council of
chiefs, the lukiko, was given statutory recognition. The leading chiefs
benefited most from the agreement, since, in addition to acquiring
greater authority, they were also granted land in freehold to ensure
their support for the negotiations. Johnston made another agreement of a
less-detailed nature with the ruler of Toro (1900), and subsequently a
third agreement was made with the ruler of Ankole (1901).
Meanwhile, British administration was being gradually extended north
and east of the Nile. However, in these areas, where a centralized
authority was unknown, no agreements were made, and British officers,
frequently assisted by agents of Buganda, administered the country
directly. By 1914 Uganda’s boundaries had been fixed, and British
control had reached most areas.
Growth of a peasant economy
Early in the 20th century Sir James Hayes Sadler, who succeeded
Johnston as commissioner, concluded that the country was unlikely to
prove attractive to European settlers. Sadler’s own successor, Sir
Hesketh Bell, announced that he wished to develop Uganda as an African
state. In this he was opposed by a number of his more senior officials
and in particular by the chief justice, William Morris Carter. Carter
was chairman of a land commission whose activities continued until after
World War I. Again and again the commission urged that provision be made
for European planters, but their efforts were unsuccessful. Bell himself
had laid the foundations for a peasant economy by encouraging the
Africans to cultivate cotton, which had been introduced into the
protectorate as a cash crop in 1904. It was mainly because of the wealth
derived from cotton that Uganda became independent of a grant-in-aid
from the British Treasury in 1914.
In 1914, at the outset of World War I, there were a few skirmishes
between the British and Germans on the southwestern frontier, but Uganda
was never in danger of invasion. The war, however, did retard the
country’s development. Soon after the war it was decided that the
protectorate authorities should concentrate, as Bell had suggested, on
expanding African agriculture, and Africans were encouraged to grow
coffee in addition to cotton. The British government’s decision to
forbid the alienation of land in freehold, and the economic depression
of the early 1920s, dealt a further blow to the hopes of European
planters. The part to be played by Europeans, as well as Asians, was now
mainly on the commercial and processing side of the protectorate’s
As the output of primary produce increased, it became necessary to
extend and improve communications. Just before World War I a railway had
been built running northward from Jinja, on Lake Victoria, to
Namasagali, the intent being to open up the Eastern Province. In the
1920s a railway from Mombasa, on the Kenyan coast, was extended to
Soroti, and in 1931 a rail link was also completed between Kampala, the
industrial capital of Uganda, and the coast.
The depression of the early 1930s interrupted Uganda’s economic
progress, but the protectorate’s recovery was more rapid than that of
its neighbours, so that the later years of the decade were a period of
Political and administrative development
In 1921 a Legislative Council was instituted, but its membership
was so small (four official and two nonofficial members) that it made
little impact on the protectorate. The Indian community, which played an
important part in the commercial life of the region, resented the fact
that it was not to have equal representation with Europeans on the
unofficial side of the council and so refused to participate until 1926.
There was no evidence of a desire on the part of the Africans to sit in
the council, since the most politically advanced group in the community,
the Ganda, regarded its own lukiko as the most important council in the
In light of the Africans’ indifference toward the protectorate
legislature, it is not surprising that they opposed the suggestion, made
in the later 1920s, that there should be some form of closer union
between the East African territories. An interest in “tribal” traditions
was one source of this opposition, but there was also fear, among
Africans as well as Asians, that they would be dominated by Kenya’s
An important development was the beginning of government interest in
education. The protectorate administration set up an education
department in 1925, and, while aid was given to the missionary
societies, which had already opened a number of good schools in Buganda,
the government also established schools. This led to the gradual
replacement of older chiefs (men of strong personality who usually
lacked a Western-style education) by younger, Western-educated men who
were more capable of carrying out government policy and more amenable to
British control. In Buganda, too, the government began to interfere more
actively in the kingdom’s affairs in order to increase efficiency. The
main result was that the people showed less respect to non-Bugandan
chiefs, which caused some of the chiefs to resent the curtailment of
World War II and its aftermath
During World War II the protectorate faced the task of becoming
as self-sufficient as it could. More important for Uganda was the
attempt by the governor, Sir Charles Dundas, to reverse his
predecessors’ policy and to give more freedom to the factions striving
for power in Buganda. The old policy was revived, however, after an
outbreak of rioting in 1945. Also in that year the first Africans were
nominated to the Legislative Council, and in succeeding years African
representation steadily increased. An important step was taken in 1954
when the African council membership increased to 14 out of a total of 28
nonofficial members; the 14 were selected from districts thought to be
more natural units of representation than the provinces that had
previously existed. In 1955 a ministerial system was introduced, with 5
nonofficial African ministers out of a total of 11. The success of the
council was undermined, however, by the erratic participation of
Buganda, which viewed a central legislature as a threat to its autonomy.
This feeling reinforced the resentment Bugandans harboured after Mutesa
II had been deported in 1953 for refusing to cooperate with the
protectorate government. He returned two years later as a constitutional
ruler, but the rapprochement between Buganda and the protectorate
government was lukewarm.
In the immediate postwar years the protectorate administration placed
greater emphasis on economic and social development than on political
advance. From 1952 the government rapidly expanded secondary education,
while legislation was enacted and a loan fund established to encourage
Africans to participate in trade. A relatively ambitious development
program was greatly assisted by the high prices realized for cotton and
coffee; coffee overtook cotton as Uganda’s most valuable export in 1957.
In 1954 a large hydroelectric project was inaugurated at Owen Falls on
the Nile near Jinja, and in 1962 a five-year development plan was
The Republic of Uganda
In the late 1950s, as a few political parties emerged, the
African population concentrated its attention on achieving
self-government, with focus on the Legislative Council. The kingdom of
Buganda intermittently pressed for independence from Uganda, which
raised the question of the protectorate’s future status. Discussions in
London in 1961 led to full internal self-government in March 1962.
Benedicto Kiwanuka, a Roman Catholic Ganda who was formerly chief
minister, became the first prime minister, but in the elections in April
1962 he was displaced by Milton Obote, a Lango (Langi) who headed the
Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) party. At further discussions in London in
June 1962, it was agreed that Buganda should receive a wide degree of
autonomy within a federal relationship. Faced with the emergence of
Obote’s UPC, which claimed support throughout the country apart from
Buganda, and of the Democratic Party (DP), which was based in Buganda
and led by Kiwanuka, conservative Ganda leaders set up their own rival
organization, Kabaka Yekka (KY), “King Alone.”
Obote’s first presidency
Uganda became independent on October 9, 1962, although it was
divided politically on a geographic as well as an ethnic basis. By
accepting a constitution that conceded what amounted to federal status
to Buganda, Obote contrived an unlikely alliance with the Ganda
establishment. Together the UPC and KY were able to form a government
with Obote as prime minister and with the DP in opposition. Obote agreed
to replace the British governor-general by appointing Mutesa II as the
country’s first president in an attempt to unify the alliance further,
but this move was unsuccessful. Although Obote was able to win over some
of the members of the KY and even of the DP so that they joined the UPC,
tension grew steadily between the kabaka on the one hand and the UPC on
the other. The Ganda leaders particularly resented their inability to
dominate a government composed mainly of members of other ethnic groups.
There were also divisions within the UPC, because each member of
parliament owed his election to local ethnic supporters rather than to
his membership in a political party. Those supporters frequently put
pressure on their representatives to redress what they saw as an
imbalance in the distribution of the material benefits of independence.
Faced with this dissatisfaction among some of his followers and with
increasingly overt hostility in Buganda, Obote arrested five of his
ministers and suspended the constitution in 1966. Outraged, the Ganda
leaders ordered him to remove his government from the kingdom. Obote
responded by sending troops under the leadership of Colonel Idi Amin to
arrest the kabaka, who escaped to England, where he died in 1969. When
Obote imposed a new republican constitution—appointing himself executive
president, abolishing all the kingdoms, and dividing Buganda into
administrative districts—he also lost the support of the peoples of
southwestern Uganda. Internal friction subsequently grew in intensity,
fostered by mutual suspicion between the rival groups, by assassination
attempts against the president, and by the increasingly oppressive
methods employed by the government to silence its critics.
At independence the export economy was flourishing without adversely
affecting subsistence agriculture, and the economy continued to improve,
largely because of the high demand and high prices for coffee. To answer
accusations that the profits from exports did not benefit the producers
enough, Obote attempted in 1969 to distribute the benefits from the
prospering economy more widely. To this end he published a “common man’s
charter,” which focused on removing the last vestiges of feudalism by
having the government take a majority holding in the shares of the
larger, mainly foreign-owned companies. In order to unite the country
more firmly, he also produced a plan for a new electoral system in 1970
that would require successful candidates for parliament to secure votes
in constituencies outside their home districts.
These proposals met with a cynical response in some quarters, but the
government was overthrown before they could be put into effect. Obote
had relied heavily on the loyalty of Idi Amin, but Amin had been
building support for himself within the army by recruiting from his own
Kakwa ethnic group in the northwest. The army, which had previously been
composed of Acholi and their neighbours, Obote’s own Lango people, now
became sharply divided. Simultaneously, a rift developed between Obote
and Amin, and in January 1971 Amin took advantage of the president’s
absence from the country to seize power.
Tyranny under Amin
Idi Amin’s coup was widely welcomed, as there was hope that the
country would finally be unified. Several Western nations, including
Britain, who feared the spread of communism, were also relieved at
Obote’s overthrow: they had become suspicious that his policies were
moving to the left. Amin promised a return to civilian government in
five years, but problems with his leadership were soon apparent. Amin
had little Western-style education and virtually no officer training, so
he often resorted to arbitrary violence in order to maintain his
position. In one incident, he destroyed the one potential centre of
effective opposition by a wholesale slaughter of senior army officers
loyal to Obote.
To win more general support among the Ugandan population, Amin
ordered all Asians who had not taken Ugandan nationality to leave the
country in 1972. His move won considerable approval in the country
because many Africans believed that they had been exploited by the
Asians, who controlled the middle and some of the higher levels of the
economy, but the action isolated Uganda from the rest of the world
community. Although a few wealthy Ugandans profited from Amin’s actions,
the majority of the commercial enterprises formerly owned by Asians were
given to senior army officers who rapidly squandered the proceeds and
then allowed the businesses to collapse.
Most people in the countryside were able to survive the total
breakdown of the economy that followed in the mid- and late 1970s
because the fertility of Uganda’s soil allowed them to continue growing
food. In the towns an all-pervading black market developed, and
dishonesty became the only means of survival. This economic and moral
collapse stirred up criticism of the government, and during this period
the country experienced several serious coup attempts.
In an attempt to divert attention from Uganda’s internal problems,
Amin launched an attack on Tanzania in October 1978. Tanzanian troops,
assisted by armed Ugandan exiles, quickly put Amin’s demoralized army to
flight and invaded Uganda. With these troops closing in, Amin escaped
the capital. A coalition government of former exiles, calling itself the
Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF), with a former leading figure in
the DP, Yusufu Lule, as president, took office in April 1979. Because of
disagreement over economic strategy and the fear that Lule was promoting
the interests of his own Ganda people, he was replaced in June by
Godfrey Binaisa, but Binaisa’s term of office was also short-lived.
Supporters of Obote plotted Binaisa’s overthrow, and Obote returned to
Uganda in May 1980.
Obote’s second presidency
In December 1980 Obote’s party, the UPC, won a majority in highly
controversial elections for parliament. The DP leadership reluctantly
agreed to act as a constitutional opposition, but Yoweri Museveni, who
had played a significant part in the military overthrow of Amin, refused
to accept the UPC victory. He formed a guerrilla group in the bush near
Kampala and waged an increasingly effective campaign against the
With the support of the International Monetary Fund and other
external donors, Obote tried hard to rebuild the economy. Initially his
efforts seemed successful, but the extraordinary inflation rate
resulting from an entrenched black market system worked against him. It
was impossible for urban wage earners to keep pace with rising prices,
and salaried civil servants grew frustrated at the government’s
inability to increase their pay in line with their needs. In addition,
the guerrilla war drew strength from the fact that it was based in
Buganda, among people already suspicious of Obote. That strength grew as
an ill-paid, ill-disciplined, and vengeful army, consisting largely of
Acholi and Lango, ravaged the countryside for loot and took vengeance on
their longtime Ganda enemies.
Museveni in office
A split within the army itself—in particular, between its Acholi
and Lango members—led to Obote’s overthrow and exile in 1985 and to the
seizure of power by an Acholi general, Tito Okello. This, however, could
not prevent a victory for Museveni’s force of southern fighters, who now
called themselves the National Resistance Army (NRA), and Museveni
became president on January 29, 1986. While a new constitution was being
drafted, an indirectly elected National Resistance Council, dominated by
the National Resistance Movement, acted as the national legislature.
Faced with the same problems that had confronted the UNLF in 1979 and
Obote in 1980, Museveni announced a policy of moral as well as economic
reconstruction, although it was not easy to enforce. Sporadic military
resistance to the new government continued, particularly in the north
and east. Arms were plentiful, and dissatisfied persons were willing to
use them to promote their ends. The NRA, despite the president’s
injunctions, sometimes proved as heavy-handed in dealing with opponents
as Obote’s forces had been.
Security did improve, however, at least in most of central, southern,
and western Uganda, and observers claimed that human rights were more
widely protected. A constitutional amendment in 1993 led to the
restoration of the monarchies, and the Ganda, Toro, Bunyoro, and Soga
crowned their traditional rulers. The new constitution was promulgated
in 1995, and presidential elections were held in May 1996; Museveni
easily won the majority of votes. He was reelected in 2001 and 2006,
although the 2006 contest was clouded by allegations that Kizza Besigye,
the leader of the opposition group Forum for Democratic Change, was
imprisoned in the months leading up to the presidential election to stop
him from participating. Besigye was ultimately released in January 2006
and able to stand for election in February; although he lost, he
garnered almost two-fifths of the vote. Meanwhile, in the late 1990s
Uganda faced international criticism over its involvement in the
Democratic Republic of the Congo’s civil war; after many attempts at
resolution, the last of the Ugandan troops withdrew from Congo in 2003.
In December 2005 the International Court of Justice determined that
Uganda was guilty of unlawful military intervention in Congo and that
Uganda’s military violated international human rights law and
international humanitarian law and exploited Congo’s natural resources;
the court ruled that Uganda owed reparations to the country.
During the 1990s and continuing into the 2000s, Uganda was faced with
an increase in rebel activity, particularly from the Lord’s Resistance
Army (LRA). Established in the late 1980s, the LRA abducted tens of
thousands of children to serve as slaves or soldiers in its fight
against Museveni’s government. Its vicious attacks on civilians in the
northern part of the country—including rape, murder, and acts of
mutilation, such as cutting off the ears, noses, lips, and limbs of
their victims—terrorized and displaced more than one million Ugandans,
creating a humanitarian crisis in the early 2000s. After years of
refusal, the LRA agreed to meet with government officials for peace
talks in late December 2004. However, the talks broke down in early
2005, and the LRA resumed their brutal attacks on civilians. Peace talks
resumed in July 2006, and although a cease-fire agreement was reached in
late August, talks again broke down, and negotiations to end the
decades-old conflict continued intermittently. In late 2007 there was
some concern that the quest for peace might be hindered by a rift
between Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, and some of the group’s
high-ranking leadership; another concern was that some of the northern
communities that had been terrorized by the LRA would refuse to accept
any type of reconciliation agreement with the group.
Although the country’s continued economic growth was praised by the
West, inflation and unemployment continued to be problems, especially
given Uganda’s dependence on fluctuating markets for its agricultural
produce. In an effort to enhance economic activity in the region,
Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya launched the East African Community Customs
Union on January 1, 2005.