Uganda, officially the Republic of Uganda, is a land-locked country in East Africa. Uganda is the world's second most populous landlocked country after Ethiopia. The southern part of the country includes a substantial portion of Lake Victoria, shared with Kenya and Tanzania. Uganda is in the African Great Lakes region. Uganda also lies within the Nile basin, and has a varied but generally a modified equatorial climate.
Uganda takes its name from the Buganda kingdom, which encompasses a large portion of the south of the country, including the capital Kampala. The people of Uganda were hunter-gatherers until 1,700 to 2,300 years ago, when Bantu-speaking populations migrated to the southern parts of the country.
Beginning in 1894, the area was ruled as a protectorate by the British, who established administrative law across the territory. Uganda gained independence from Britain on 9 October 1962. The period since then has been marked by intermittent conflicts, including a lengthy civil war against the Lord's Resistance Army, which has caused tens of thousands of casualties and displaced more than a million people.
The official language is English. Luganda, a central language, is widely spoken across the country, and several other languages are also spoken including Runyoro, Runyankole, Rukiga, and Lango. The president of Uganda is Yoweri Museveni, who came to power in January 1986 after a protracted six-year guerrilla war.
While we aim to provide useful information to help volunteers prepare for their placement, we do also recommend that volunteers undertake some research of their own into Uganda. This allows the opportunity to learn more about the aspects of this country that you find interesting, help you set your expectations realistically and enriches your experience once you actually arrive in country.
Culture and Customs
Please keep in mind when you are traveling to any country, that social conventions are often quite different to what we are used to. You could find yourself in situations in Ugandan where you think local people are being rude but the Ugandan culture is quite a contrast to 'western culture' generally speaking, and so becoming aware of issues that you may encounter can help you to be understanding and tolerant, if not respectful of these differences.
As in many African countries, dance is an important part of ceremonies and special occasions. Uganda’s different peoples have their own special dances.
Probably the most widely recognized Ugandan dance is the Kiganda, where the performers move their lower body to a drum-beat. It’s a tricky dance, requiring great skill to keep the upper torso controlled and rotate to the music from the waist down. The dance has many variations for different occasions, but the version often seen is the one performed in honor of the Baganda king.
Religion plays an important part of daily life in Uganda. Over four-fifths of Ugandans are Christian, either Protestant or Catholic. Around 10% are Muslims, a legacy of the Arab traders who came here in the 19th century.
Ugandans are strong in their faith and see no conflict in holding to some traditional beliefs. In times of trouble, people may also consult a local oracle or healer. Many shrines to the spirits are still in active use.
Belonging to many ethnic groups, Ugandans speak over 30 different African languages. English and Swahili are the country’s official languages.
Swahili is a useful communication link with the country’s Eastern neighbors of Kenya and Tanzania, where it's also spoken.
The largest group in Uganda (around a fifth of the population) are the Baganda, who live in the Kampala region and speak Luganda.
- Jebale ko - well done (used as a short greeting)
- Kale, nawe jebale ko - ok (response to jebale ko)
- Oli otya - how are you?
- Wasuze otya nno - how was the night? (morning greeting)
- Osiibye otya nno - how is/was the day? (afternoon/evening greeting)
- Gendi - fine
- Bulungi - good/well
- Mulimutya - how are you? (to a group of people)
- Jetuuli - we are fine
- Kyi kyi - what's up? (pronounced "chi chi")
- Eh Banange! - My friends! (used like "for heaven's sake")
- Sula bulungi - good night
- Weraba - good-bye
- Nnyo - very (as in "bulungi nnyo")
- Webale (nnyo) - thank you (very much)
- Wange - pardon me?
- Ye - yes Nedda - no
The majority of Uganda has a tropical climate which varies according to altitude. Although the country lies astride the equator, temperatures in some areas can be quite cool due to the country's high altitude; most of Uganda is on a plateau 3,600-6,000 ft/900-1,830 m above sea level. The mountain areas become much cooler, and the top of Mount Elgon is often covered with snow. Other parts of the country are much warmer.
During the year the hottest months are from December to February when the temperature reaches 29 degrees Celsius. December-February and June-July are the driest times, when things can even be a bit dusty. The rainy seasons are from March to May and October to November, and the wettest month is April. There is heavy rain between March and May and between October and November. Basically, the best times to visit are December-February and June-September. It can be somewhat rainy then, but not as rainy as in the March-June rainy season. Although the country lies astride the equator, most of Uganda is on a plateau 3,600-6,000 ft/900-1,830 m above sea level.