Back

Country Reports

Uganda Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Conditions in Uganda (population 37 million) are relatively calm. Uganda has mostly shed its violent and tumultuous past - which included a brutal military dictatorship, a five-year civil war that ended in 1986, and a violent 20-year insurgency in the northeast of the country - to develop into a relatively stable and prosperous country. Nevertheless, individuals traveling to Uganda should take the following endemic security threats into consideration, as well as the surrounding region's sensitive security context.

AREAS TO AVOID

Some Western governments advise against nonessential travel to the northeastern region of Karamoja (namely the districts of Kaabong, Kotido, Abim, Moroto, Napak, Katakwi, Amudat, Nakapiripirit, Kapchorwa, Kween, and Bukwo), with the notable exception of the Kidepo Valley National Park (if reached by air). This is due mostly to poor road conditions and a lack of emergency response services.

Policing of Uganda's borders is inadequate, facilitating a significant flow in illicit trade and migration. There is a significant risk of spillover insecurity from neighboring countries; rebel groups have been known to travel across Uganda's western border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and at the northern border with South Sudan. Due to ongoing conflicts in both countries, in addition to high levels of immigration into the country, travel close to these border zones is not recommended. The border with Kenya should also be avoided.

SECURITY 

Rural areas of the country, particularly in the north, suffer from cattle theft, banditry, and sporadic tribal clashes. Though such incidents rarely target non-Ugandans, localized outbreaks of violence can occasionally engage foreigners.

Small arms and other weapons are in circulation throughout the country - a legacy of the 20-year insurgency in the north led by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), and as a result of porous borders with South Sudan and DRC. As a result, there are regular reports of death and injury from gunshot wounds. There have also been reports of cross-border clashes from both South Sudan and the DRC involving rebel groups and criminal groups. Travel in the northwest of the country should be conducted with a reputable local guide outside of the towns of Lira, Gulu, Kitgum, Pader, and Arua.

The LRA was active across northern Uganda until 2006. The group, while no longer active in Uganda, continues to launch attacks against civilians in the DRC, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan.

In the west of the country, deadly clashes broke out in Kasese district in 2016 between Ugandan security forces and the royal guards - accused by the government of supporting a separatist movement (the traditional Rwenzururu Kingdom, a traditional monarchy that enjoys a local autonomy) - and associated tensions continued into 2017. In the same region, violent clashes broke out in Bundibugyo and Kasese districts during and after the February 2016 elections. Bundibugyo, Kasese, and Ntoroko districts also witnessed violent attacks by local militants against security forces and civilians in July 2014, leaving over 90 people dead. Though foreigners have not been directly targeted in these incidents, travelers should exercise vigilance and monitor the local security situation as a precaution.

There have previously been reports of violent clashes between Ugandan security forces and the members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group in and around the Rwenzori Mountains. Although clashes between the ADF and Ugandan security forces have largely subsided, the risk of a resurgence of ADF rebel activity remains.

Violence stemming from political instability and a security vacuum in the DRC threatens to spill over into the southwestern districts of Kisoro and Kanugu. Outbreaks of violence have previously resulted in large numbers of refugees crossing the border from the DRC into the Mgahinga and Bwindi national parks, and consequent unrest.  

SOCIOPOLITICAL RISKS                   

General elections took place in February and March 2016, during which President Yoweri Museveni was reelected for a fourth consecutive term. Though the country is, ostensibly, a democratic republic with a multi-party system, Museveni and the National Resistance Movement (NRM) have remained in power since 1986. Both domestic and international observers have been critical of aspects of Ugandan elections, with some levying allegations of fraud. There was some violence during the latest electoral period in February-March 2016, including the use of live ammunition and tear gas by police against opposition demonstrators. Much of the unrest was focused in Kampala, where at least one person died during protests, in addition to violent clashes in the districts of Wakiso, Jinja, Mukono, Gulu, and Kasese. As of late 2017, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) opposition party continued to organize protests, which have been violently suppressed by security forces.

Though the next general and presidential elections will not be held until 2021, political tensions remain on both the local and national level. Such tensions have recently crystallized around the president's push to again amend the constitution - notably, an article on the age limits for presidential candidates, the removal of which would allow him to run for another term in 2021. The constitution was previously amended in 2005 to remove a two-term limit. Opposition groups have fiercely opposed the proposed amendment to the presidential candidate age limit, introduced in September 2017, and several related demonstrations in the capital Kampala were repressed by police. On September 20, 2017, authorities banned all public gatherings in Kampala. Cases of violence against opposition supporters have also been reported. In December 2017, the parliament approved the draft law.

Political demonstrations may become violent with little warning and security forces may crack down with excessive force, particularly in Kampala. Travelers to the country should thus avoid all demonstrations and rallies.

SOCIOECONOMIC RISKS

Uganda's economy remains predominantly dependent upon the agricultural sector, employing over one-third of the country's workforce, though oil and tax revenues are expected to become a larger source of government funding in coming years.

Uganda has witnessed a massive influx of refugees over the past few years as a result of lenient refugee laws, porous borders, and proximity to ongoing conflicts in the DRC and South Sudan. Such population inflows have placed significant financial burdens on the Ugandan government. As the government struggles to address this influx, there has been increasing anti-refugee sentiment in Ugandan society, adding to the potential for both localized and country-wide protests and unrest in the coming months and years.

TERRORISM

There is a significant threat of terrorism in Uganda, and places frequented by foreigners could be specifically targeted. In 2010, Al-Shabaab carried out bomb attacks at venues screening the FIFA World Cup final in Kampala; over 76 people were killed in the attacks. Al-Shabaab stated the attacks were in retaliation to Uganda's military presence in Somalia as part of the African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM), and have threatened further attacks in the country and elsewhere in the East African region. 

The Ugandan police force frequently issues alerts regarding possible terrorist threats to specific locations in Kampala and the surrounding area, including airports, hotels, government buildings, churches, business districts, religious events, and sports venues. Visitors to the country should exercise vigilance at all times because of this heightened threat, particularly in locations that are crowded or otherwise considered potential high-risk targets for terrorist activity, such as transportation hubs, hotels, and restaurants during major gatherings (e.g. sporting or religious events).

There is also a threat from regional rebel groups and terrorist organizations. The ADF, formed in 1996 as a Ugandan-based Islamist rebel group, engaged in clashes with Ugandan security forces throughout 2007 and 2008. As of late 2017, the ADF continues to operate in eastern DRC and maintains networks and a limited physical presence in Uganda. Ugandan authorities believe the ADF maintains connections with Al-Shabaab.

CRIME

Crimes of opportunity - such as pickpocketing, burglaries, muggings, drive-by bag snatchings, and theft from vehicles - are common, particularly in Kampala and Entebbe. There have been reports of individuals being drugged and robbed on public transportation and in bars. Accordingly, travelers should take basic cautionary measures: drive with doors locked and windows closed, avoid carrying a purse to prevent falling victim to purse snatchers (cell phones are particularly targeted), avoid carrying large amounts of cash, keep passports and important papers in a safe place and carry photocopies, and dress in a way to avoid attracting attention. Individuals - especially women and those traveling alone - are advised against walking at night, particularly in Kampala and Entebbe.

If attacked, never offer resistance or attempt to fight back.

There have also been reports of credit card fraud, including in international hotels.

TRANSPORTATION

Road infrastructure in the country is often in a state of disrepair and the country reports high rates of traffic fatalities. Never travel by car at night, except on the Kampala-Entebbe road (e.g. to the airport), and exercise caution when doing so during the day. There is a risk of being violently attacked by surrounding crowds following a road accident; after a collision, remain in your vehicle and drive to a police station to report the incident.

Police checkpoints are common and may be used to extort bribes.

Public transportation should be avoided, including Matatu minibus taxis and Boda Boda motorcycle taxis, which are frequently involved in serious, and often fatal, road collisions. Foreigners have frequently been mugged while using Boda Bodas.

In the past several years, there have been several fatal ferry accidents on Lake Albert and Lake Victoria. Travelers are advised to ensure that they are using a reputable ferry company and to not board a ferry that seems overloaded or unseaworthy.

NATURAL RISKS

Much of the country is vulnerable to flooding during the two rainy seasons (normally from March to May and October to November). The northeast of the country is particularly susceptible to flooding and there is a high risk of landslides in Bulecheke sub-county of Bududa district.

LEGAL

Public displays of homosexuality (such as kissing in public places) are not tolerated and individuals engaging in such activity risk arrest and imprisonment.

Travelers to the country should be sensitive to local culture. Women in particularly are advised to dress modestly and should avoid wearing shorts and sleeveless tops. Ugandan society is conservative and public displays of affection, though not illegal if between a man and a women, should be avoided.

There are severe penalties for drug trafficking.

It is illegal to sell, kill, buy, or capture any protected wild animal or trade its parts without a license. Those caught trafficking goods, including ivory, will be prosecuted and could face a significant prison sentences or fines.

Do not take photos of diplomatic, military, or government sites (including Owen Falls Dam at the source of the White Nile, near Jinja).

Travelers to the country should always carry identification (e.g. copies of your passport ID page and visa).

OTHER

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park are both located near the borders with the DRC and Rwanda. It is thus commonplace for security personnel to accompany gorilla trekking tours in these regions due to risks from poachers, rebel groups, and criminal groups. Some gorilla trekking operators have been known to cross into the DRC; these tours should be avoided.

HEALTH

Travel to Uganda poses several health risks. Travelers should seek professional medical advice at least four to six weeks prior to departure. Medical facilities and emergency services in the country are limited, though there are a number of hospitals in Kampala providing high-quality healthcare.  Prior to departure, travelers should purchase health insurance covering overseas care and medical repatriation.

Food- and water-borne diseases are rampant in the country, including cholera and typhoid fever. To reduce the risk of infection, wash hands regularly, drink only bottled or decontaminated water, and avoid eating raw or undercooked foods.

Various mosquito-borne diseases are present throughout the country, including malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya, and the Zika virus. Other insect-borne diseases also pose health risks, including trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness, transmitted by the bite of the tsetse fly), visceral leishmaniasis (transmitted by sand flies), onchocerciasis (river blindness, transmitted by black flies), and Crimean-Congo fever (transmitted by ticks). Protect yourself from insect bites to reduce the risk of contracting these diseases.

Cases of Rift Valley fever have been reported in the past.

There is a risk of exposure to animal rabies in Uganda. To reduce the risk of contracting rabies, avoid contact with both domestic and wild mammals (e.g. street dogs). If you are scratched or bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Plague is endemic to the country; domestic cats may carry the disease.

Human cases of the cutaneous form of anthrax are regularly reported in Uganda. The infection is contracted from exposure to spores from infected animals, dead or alive, or products from infected animals. To avoid the risk of contamination, it is advised to not eat bush meat.

There is a risk of exposure to bilharziasis. Infection occurs when the larvae of a parasite released by freshwater snails penetrate the skin of a person exposed to contaminated water. It is recommended to avoid contact with bodies of freshwater (e.g. ponds, lakes) as parasitic larvae may be present; this includes areas frequented by tourists, including the source of the White Nile River in Jinja and beaches on Lake Victoria and Lake Albert.

There is a significant risk of exposure to meningitis, particularly during the dry season (December to June); the country is located along Africa's "meningitis belt." Transmission occurs by inhaling air-borne bacteria, direct mouth-to-mouth contact with an infected person, or contamination via infected nasal secretions.

Cases of Marburg virus are regularly reported. The disease is transmitted via contact with contaminated body fluids.

Climate

Uganda is located in a tropical zone but its climate is relatively temperate due to its high elevation. The hot season lasts from December until January, with temperatures higher in the north than in the south. There are two rainy seasons, from March until May and again from October until December.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +256 Police: 999, 0414 342 222 or 0414 342 223 Fire Dept.: 999, 0414 342 222 or 0414 342 223 Ambulance: 999, 0414 342 222 or 0414 342 223

Electricity

Voltage: 240 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

More