‘The pearl of Africa’. Ugandans are proud of this description, reputedly first coined by the young Winston Churchill. Straddling the Equator and flanked by Mount Elgon in the west and the Ruwenzori Mountain range in the east, landlocked Uganda is, with the exception of the arid north, one of the most fertile places in Africa. In the south of the country the four kingdoms of Buganda, Bunyoro, Ankole and Toro have strong surviving political structures; but there are many other ethnic groups and languages.
The common language is English; but Luganda is widely spoken. Some people speak Swahili, although the Baganda people especially prefer not to. A small country by the continent’s standards, Uganda contains great natural diversity: unique plant life on the fabled Mountains of the Moon; big game in the Queen Elizabeth National Park; and mountain gorillas and chimpanzees in the impenetrable forests of Bwindi and Kibale.
Its history has been turbulent: the atrocities of Idi Amin and Milton Obote during the 1970s and 1980s are well known. Many of the 35,000 Ugandan Asians who were expelled by Amin have since regained their property; but they are less visible than they used to be. Uganda has enjoyed stability and growing prosperity since Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986; but political tensions have increased as Museveni has tried to hang on to power. The long running war in the north against the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by the notorious Joseph Kony, has cost many lives, a great deal of money and traumatized numbers of abducted children.
Uganda has been ravaged by Aids, which has left close to 1 million children orphaned. However, it faced the problem openly and was the first country to seriously reverse the advance of the pandemic. Uganda has a lot to offer the visitor and caters for all pockets, and you will not forget local people’s hospitality and generosity.
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of friendly local people is a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.