On his tour of the country in 1907, Winston Churchill called the East African territory now known as the Republic of Uganda, the "Pearl of Africa," largely because of the breathtaking landscape. Uganda enjoys one of the world's great waterfalls, Murchison Falls, which runs from the Nile and plunges several hundred feet into Lake Albert. Another highlight is Queen Elizabeth National Park, where the combination of plains, tropical forests, lakes, and volcanic craters provides a diversity of wildlife unlike that seen anywhere else in the world.
Uganda is bordered by Kenya and Lake Victoria to the east, Sudan to the north, the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, Rwanda to the southwest and Tanzania to the south. It gets its name from the Swahili term for "Buganda," the kingdom of the Baganda people, who are the largest present-day ethnic group.
The country is known for its wealth of resources, its democratically elected president and its pioneering AIDS policies. The republic is also notorious for its dangerous northern countryside, where rebels threaten stability and continue human rights abuses against many children, who are abducted and forced to serve in a growing anti-government army.
In 1888, the British referred to the 52-clan Buganda Kingdom as "Uganda" when they established their royal charter to the Imperial British East Africa Company. Like many other early arrivals to Uganda, the original British explorers came to find the source of the Nile. When the English first arrived in the 1860s, the territory controlled by the Buganda had already seen Arab traders, who entered the country from the Indian Ocean in the 1830s. Protestant and Catholic missionaries from Europe arrived later, in the 1870s.
Uganda won self-rule from the British in 1962, when Edward Muteesa II, the king of Buganda, became president. At the same time, Milton Obote became prime minister.
Within four years, Obote, who has been called the founding father of modern Uganda, overthrew Muteesa II and declared an end to the kingdom. In 1967, the following year, Obote created a new constitution, which officially declared Uganda a republic.
In further political upheaval in 1971, Obote was ousted in a military coup by Gen. Idi Amin, the military dictator who came to define Uganda for the next decade. Between 1971 and 1979, his regime cost the lives of up to 300,000 Ugandans. The period was also marked by the expulsion or killing of approximately 50,000 Indians, who had settled in Uganda under the British. During Amin's rule, his "State Research Bureau," a death squad used to murder opponents, silenced Obote's supporters as well as any members of the intelligentsia who disagreed with his policies or threatened his dominance.
Obote regained power after another coup in 1979, but he was unseated again in 1985 by Tito Okello. Okello had served in Obote's own army during the ousting of Amin.
Six months later, Okello was overthrown by the National Resistance Army, run by Yoweri Museveni, the current president of Uganda. In early 2006, seeking a third term in office, Museveni defeated Dr. Kizza Besigye, a politician who gained international attention for allegations of raping an HIV-positive woman and committing treason. The case has not yet been resolved.
The reign of Amin in the 1970s and the civil war that lasted until 1985 stunted Uganda's economic growth. One of the achievements of Yoweri Museveni's presidency has been turning around Uganda's flagging economy. Approximately 36 percent of Uganda's wealth comes from agriculture, which employs about 80 percent of the population. Coffee is the country's main export and accounts for about 37 percent of the country's GDP, putting Uganda ahead of all other African coffee producers.
When Museveni took power in 1986, inflation was running at more than 250 percent. By 2005, after Uganda had worked for years with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other international financial institutions, inflation was just over 8 percent.
Uganda has benefited from a package of debt write-offs in recent years. In 2000, the international finance community in effect waived Uganda's debt through the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief, worth $1.3 billion, and the Paris Club debt relief, worth $145 million. Today, as Uganda decreases its debt and continues to grow, there is potential to move away from relief toward full-fledged trade and self-reliance.
In 1992, under President Yoweri Museveni, the Uganda AIDS Commission was created. At the time, Uganda was arguably the first African country to tackle AIDS publicly. The effort brought international funding and helped to organize nationwide assessments of the epidemic. It is difficult to know the exact prevalence of AIDS because estimates are taken from averages at major hospitals and often do not take rural cases into account. It is estimated that between 1993 and 2006, as much as 27 percent of the population was infected, but that number has decreased to just under 10 percent today. Nevertheless, in the north, where anti-government rebel groups have control, AIDS affects as much as 30 percent of the population.
Even though there have been two decades of "steady" rule, Uganda is still plagued by notorious rebel groups, such as the Holy Spirit Movement of Alice Auma, which rose to dominance in the 1980s. The oldest and most brutal of these groups is the Lord's Resistance Army, which controls a large portion of northern Uganda to this day.
In 1986, when ethnic Acholi president Okello was overthrown by Museveni, the Acholi feared that they would lose control. This led to continual fighting between a group of militant Acholi in the north, the Lord's Resistance Army, and the national military of Uganda. The Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, an Acholi religious zealot, was established in 1987. It has used abduction, maiming, rape and killing, especially of children, as a means of controlling civilians who live and work in the northern parts of Uganda. Two decades of violence in the region has displaced approximately 1.6 million people. Some humanitarian and relief organizations have called the situation one of the worst -- but also least internationally recognized -- problems facing Uganda today.
Some sources say that the Lord's Resistance Army has support from the Sudanese government. Likewise, it has been suggested by news organizations covering the region that rebel groups in Sudan are supported by Uganda under Museveni. None of these agreements are verified, but if they are a reality, and the region continues to destabilize, they have the potential to erupt into full-scale war. It remains to be seen how the politics will play out.
Several coinciding events led Museveni to offer amnesty to Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army in early 2006. Sudan, often suspected of funding the LRA, signed a peace deal earlier this year with Sudanese rebels in the east of the country. The deal may increase southern Sudan's separation from Khartoum (Sudan's capital) or even lead to southern Sudan's gaining independence. This has possibly lessened Sudan's interest in the LRA and may come to show the extent of LRA's dependence on Sudan's support.
Faltering reinforcement from past allies in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, which the United Nations military helps to fortify, has left few options for the LRA. At the same time, the International Criminal Court at The Hague indicted Kony in 2005 and may win the right to bring him to justice despite possible backlash from his followers. According to the BBC, other news organizations, and relief organizations on the ground, the people of Uganda may now have to choose between peace and justice.
Another major event this year in Uganda was the presidential election. In 2006, the constitution was changed in order to allow Museveni to run for a third term. The BBC called this and other signs of possible corruption "warning lights," and Museveni's reputation has often been equally divided between positive and negative.
After Museveni visited Zimbabwe to meet with President Robert Mugabe earlier this year, parallels were drawn between the two, and international concern has increased. Like Mugabe, Museveni started as a freedom fighter. His opposition was arrested for treason weeks before the most recent election. The constitution was changed; public money was spent on international PR teams, hired to promote political ends; freedom of the press has been challenged; and anti-colonialism has been used as a means of gaining support from the general population.
The Daily Monitor
The Daily Monitor has been a privately owned independent national newspaper since 1992. It covers all African news but especially focuses on business, politics and culture in Uganda.
MyUganda is a Ugandan community Web site that highlights information on popular culture and business.
New Vision is a government-owned national newspaper with in-depth reporting from every region in Uganda. It covers all industries in Uganda and has original content and reporting. Neutral coverage is not guaranteed.
This pan-African portal posts news articles from 125 major local and regional services across Africa.
Plus News is a nonprofit organization providing up-to-date information on HIV/AIDS throughout the African continent. The site posts news briefs from its own service as well as statistical information by geographic region. The Web site is also a useful portal for regional and international AIDS organizations.
Uganda: President for Life?
In this dispatch from 2004, FRONTLINE/World correspondent Jonathan Jones reports from Uganda about a U.S. ally and a hero in the fight against AIDS, President Yoweri Museveni, who may be letting power go to his head.
Travelblog -- Uganda
This Ugandan blog hosts images, discussion forums and facts about the country, posted by members from many different cities. It provides insights about each region from an intimate local level.
Kevin Sites, Yahoo's "In the Hot Zone"
Kevin Sites traveled through Uganda from October 16 to 24, 2005. His blog and video entries take a local perspective, bringing the stories of individuals and families to the broader international public. His Web page, hosted by Yahoo, also offers an array of news links and public welfare sites for Uganda.
Uganda Since Independence: A Story of Unfulfilled Hopes
(By Phares Mutibwa, September 1992)
During the publication of Uganda Since Independence, Mutibwa, former head of the department of history at Makerere University, was a member of Uganda's Constitutional Commission. An academic and a resident who lived through the time of Idi Amin's rule, he gives a first-hand account and analysis of that tragic period in Uganda's history.
Alice Lakwena & Holy Spirits: War in Northern Uganda
(By Heike Behrend, March 2000)
Alice Lakwena covers the Holy Spirit rebel movement from its early days to its dissolution.
Aboke Girls: Children Abducted in Northern Uganda
(By Els De Temmerman, April 2001)
Author Els De Temmerman is an Italian nun at the Ugandan Catholic School at Aboke, where more than 40 girls were abducted by rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army. Temmerman gives a background of the LRA and its founder, Joseph Kony, as she follows the rebels in her quest to bring the children back to their school.
Idi Amin Dada
French filmmaker Barbet Schroeder got unprecedented access to the Ugandan president in 1974, when he created a personal portrait of Idi Amin at the height of his power. It's a fascinating, humorous, and sometimes bizarrely staged look at the daily life of the leader who became vilified by the rest of the world for his increasingly brutal rule.
The Last King of Scotland
Based on the novel by British journalist Giles Foden, the story of Idi Amin is told through the eyes of a fictional character, Nicholas Garrigan, who is Amin's personal doctor. In what is often seen as a Heart of Darkness tale, Garrigan is caught between duty and morality as he experiences firsthand Amin's mercurial power and the tragedies of his eight years in office.
This documentary looks at the problems facing the Acholi children of northern Uganda, who, for two decades, have been abducted and forced into sexual or military service with the rebel faction, the Lord's Resistance Army. The film takes a broad look at the displacement and abuse of these children, while presenting the perspectives of the players in the conflict.
The Skoll Foundation helps to advance systemic change to benefit communities around the world by investing in and connecting social entrepreneurs. By identifying the people and programs already bringing positive changes to communities throughout the world, the foundation helps extend their reach and deepen their impact on society.
Survey for War-Affected Youth (SWAY)
SWAY-Uganda is a not-for-profit group currently documenting the extent of abuse and humanitarian problems in the northern, rebel-held territory. Through its documentation, SWAY explores the short- and long-term consequences for youth involved in militant groups -- specifically those children who were forced to join the Lord's Resistance Army against their will.
Visit Uganda is the country's national tourism Web site. Anyone interested in traveling to Uganda can find information about airports, safaris and other recreational activities. There are links to various tours and a link to updated information about tourism in Uganda.
Uganda Conflict Action Network
This grassroots blog and news service was founded in 2005 by two American students. With help from the Africa Faith and Justice Network, UCAN provides on-the-ground information about Ugandan conflict and advocates an end to the war in the north. UCAN's main goal is to raise international awareness and promote international activism to end human rights abuses in the north.
Refugee Law Project (RLP)
Established in 1999, the RLP focuses on legal aid and counseling, research and advocacy, and education and training in Uganda.
This community Web site run from Masaka, Uganda, serves as a network for social and cultural welfare. Local projects highlighted include support for housing, school construction and child sponsoring. The group also prints a weekly newsletter about its progress in the region.
Human Rights Watch in Uganda
This site features the latest articles and reports from local and international rights organizations. It also reports on larger news events from the standpoint of human rights issues. You can find information about any country in the world at HRW, and it is translated into 19 languages.
The United Nations organization has been working to fight global poverty and inequalities, and to promote health and child protection for more than 60 years and in more than 191 countries. In Uganda, UNICEF is specifically working to help women and children affected by conflict and HIV/AIDS. The UNICEF Web site provides useful, up-to-date social and political statistics on Uganda.
Doctors Without Borders (DWB)
The medical humanitarian organization, founded in 1971, serves in more than 70 countries. DWB provides care during conflict and in the aftermath of emergencies. DWB provides yearly reports on its service in Uganda, highlighting improvements and needs, especially in the northern region of the country.
CARE is a humanitarian organization that fights global poverty, supports women's safety and rights, and helps expand infrastructure in areas of need.
International Criminal Court
The ICC in The Hague provides up-to-date information about trials, public records and press releases concerning human rights abuses and the court's criminal investigations into war crimes. The site can be viewed in French and English.
Sources: Ministry of Health, the Republic of Uganda; Globalsecurity.org; BBC; Yahoo News (Kevin Sites "In the Hot Zone"); The New York Times; Africa Point; Amnesty International.
Researched and written by Rob KriegerBack to top