As Seen in…
Places to visit in Uganda and on our African tours
Why visit Uganda?
The origins of humanity seem almost certainly to have been amidst the lush expanses of the Great Rift Valley which forges its course through Uganda and certainly some of the stone age finds here indicate a culture that was well established on the abundant shores of Lake Victoria by 150,000 B.C. In a deep irony, it is in this region about 6 million years ago where the chimpanzee and homo sapiens divergence probably occurred and today the intrepid traveller is drawn inexorably to the wonderful opportunities that Kibale National Park affords those keen to reconnect with their ancient evolutionary cousins, clinging on to survival in this very special corner of the planet.
By 200 B.C. Bantu iron-age tribes had flooded into the region and these developed village cultures which form the basis for today’s rural identities. The first real knowledge of such communities is not recored until oral traditions that claim heritage from the semi-legendary Batembuzi of the 12th century who are still spoken of in reverential tones by those who adhere to the ancient religions. By the 14th century the Bacwezi had arrived from the north and their colossal earthworks can still be viewed near Ntusi. The development of the subsequent kingdoms had a seismic effect on what Uganda was to become and indeed still resonate through everyday life. By the arrival of Arab traders in the 1830s, the Buganda, Toro, Ankele, Busoga and, most dominant of all, the Bunyoro-Kitara kingdoms were in place and each strongly resisted outside influence: from the Swahili people in the east came Islam which reached a frontier at Gondoroko where slaving was centred; meanwhile the first Europeans were met with scepticism in 1862 and outright hostility after Samuel Baker, guest of the king of Bunyoro in 1864, returned to attempt to annex the region from his base as Governor General of the notional ‘Equatoria’.
His efforts were rebuffed, as were Gordon’s in the following decade, but the remains of the forts both built stand as testament to the imperial forces that were irresistibly now focused on the area. The divide-and-conquer technique worked well amongst Uganda’s then kingdoms and from the east white settlers came and, after a prolonged religion war with the Muslims, Christian Britain sent missionaries, diplomats and military might to force first Buganda and then neighbouring realms to join the British East India Company as a protectorate in 1894.
Puppet rulers from the existing monarchies were tolerated and a form of semi-autonomy made the new colony of Uganda notionally more free than in other African nations, yet also sowed the seeds for huge political upheaval when the nation was formally granted independence in 1962. Initial democracy almost led to civil war over contested Bugandan provinces and the whole political scene altered catastrophically with the coup and subsequent brutal regime of Idi Amin in the 1970s, leading to the murder of 300,000 people and the expulsion of the entire Asian population. Since the 1980s, Uganda has had a single leader and has been embroiled in a series of neighbouring conflicts and even a northern uprising. However, political stability and peace has coincided with a genuine engagement with the need to conserve the landscape and wildlife that has always characterised this beautiful country.
The 60 protected regions and the government’s funding for protection of species – most famously in its efforts to raise the elephant population from 700 to 5,000 since the 1980s – has made this a country that is a wonderful prospect for nature lovers. Over a thousand bird species can be viewed here and efforts to re-establish white rhino populations at Ziwa and guard against poaching of the rare Rothschild giraffe in Murchison Falls are excellent examples of unique opportunities to salvage the homelands of endangered mammals.
Whilst the success of these projects depends largely on the co-operation and coexistence of cocoa, coffee and sugar plantations with true wilderness species, the nation is truly awakening to the notion of educating local people in the benefits of small-scale and sensitive tourism, opening up incredible experiences for generations of visitors to come.