What makes Uganda a unique country to travel to?
Uganda is a landlocked republic with a developing economy in central eastern Africa. Tourist facilities abound, but while infrastructure is adequate in Kampala, the capital, it is limited in other areas.
Crimes such as pick pocketing, purse snatching, and thefts from hotels and parked vehicles or vehicles stalled in traffic jams are common. The Embassy receives frequent reports of theft of items from locked vehicles, even when the stolen items were secured out of sight and the vehicle was parked in an area patrolled by uniformed security personnel. Pick pocketing and the theft of purses and bags is also very common on public transportation. Armed robberies of pedestrians also occur, sometimes during daylight hours and in public places. Although infrequent, the Embassy has received reports of armed carjackings and highway robbery. In May 2007, two U.S. citizens reported an attempted robbery when they were traveling near the town of Bugiri in eastern Uganda. They reported that a second vehicle with at least one armed assailant tried to stop their vehicle by forcing it off the road. This incident occurred during daylight hours. On June 27, 2007, two U.S. citizens were robbed and held at gunpoint when the vehicle transporting them to Entebbe Airport was stopped by a group of armed men. This incident occurred during the early morning hours on Entebbe Road. Although some of these attacks are violent, victims are generally injured only if they resist. U.S. Embassy employees are prohibited from driving during hours of darkness on roads outside the limits of cities and large towns. Home burglaries also occur and sometimes turn violent. In April 2008, the Ugandan police reported an increase in armed robberies in the Kampala neighborhoods of Bukoto, Kisaasi, Kiwatule, Naalya, Najera, and Ntinda. Several of these robberies occurred as the victims were arriving at their residences after nightfall and the assailants struck as they were entering their residential compounds.
Women traveling alone are particularly susceptible to crime. In November 2009, there were two reported violent sexual assaults against expatriate females. The victims were single passengers on one of the common modes of public transport known as "boda boda" motorcycle taxis. Due to inherent traffic and crime risks associated with boda bodas, U.S. Mission employees and their dependents are strongly discouraged from using them during daylight hours and prohibited from doing so after dark. If you are the victim of a sexual assault, seek medical assistance and counseling immediately regarding prophylactic treatment to help prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. A list of local medical providers can be found on the U.S. Embassy website.
In addition, patrons of bars, casinos, nightclubs, and other entertainment centers should never leave their drink or food unattended. When visiting such establishments, it is advisable to remain with a group of friends, as single individuals are more likely to be targeted. Victims have included female patrons who reported they were drugged, and taken to another location and sexually assaulted. Robberies have been facilitated on public transportation under similar circumstances. In 2006, a U.S. citizen traveling by bus from Kenya to Uganda was incapacitated and robbed on the bus when the passenger accepted a sealed beverage from a fellow traveler. Expatriates traveling by bus to the popular tourist destination of Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest in southwest Uganda were also incapacitated and robbed when they accepted snacks from fellow bus passengers.
There has been a recent, marked increase in financial crime, including fraud involving wire transfers, credit cards, ATM machines, checks, and advance fee fraud perpetrated via email. The U.S. Embassy recommends using money orders for all fund transfers and protecting all bank account and personally identifiable information such as social security numbers and other types of information.
An increasing number of U.S. exporters (primarily vendors of expensive consumer goods such as computers, stereo equipment, and electronics) have been targeted by a sophisticated check fraud scheme. A fictitious company in Uganda locates a vendor on the Internet, makes e-mail contact to order goods, and pays with a third-party check. The checks, written on U.S. accounts and made out to entities in Uganda for small amounts, are intercepted, chemically "washed," and presented for payment of the goods with the U.S. vendor as payee and an altered amount. If the goods are shipped before the check clears, the U.S. shipper will have little recourse, as the goods are picked up at the airport and the company cannot be traced. U.S. companies receiving orders from Uganda are encouraged to check with the Embassy’s Political - Economic Section to verify the legitimacy of the company. The Embassy strongly cautions U.S. vendors against accepting third-party checks as payment for any goods to be shipped to Uganda.
While you are traveling in Uganda, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. Persons violating Ugandan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.In Uganda, you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport, or a copy of it, together with your Ugandan visa. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Uganda are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Photography in tourist locations is permitted, however, taking pictures of military/police installations or personnel is prohibited. Military and police officers have detained tourists for taking photographs of Entebbe Airport and of the area around Owen Falls Dam, near Jinja, although the prohibition on taking photographs is not publicly displayed on signs. In Uganda, driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. There are also some things that might be legal in Uganda, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Uganda, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not wherever you go.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical facilities in Uganda, including Kampala, are limited and not equipped to handle most emergencies, especially those requiring surgery. Outside Kampala, hospitals are scarce and offer only basic services. Recently, U.S. citizens involved in automobile accidents required immediate evacuation from Uganda, as surgery could not be performed due to insufficient blood supplies at the hospital where they sought treatment. Equipment and medicines are also often in short supply or unavailable. Travelers should carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines.
Malaria is prevalent in Uganda. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what antimalarials they have been taking.
In July and November 2012, Uganda experienced outbreaks of Ebola hemorrhagic fever, and in October 2012 an outbreak of Marburg hemorrhagic fever occurred. There have been recent outbreaks of pneumonic plague, meningitis, yellow fever, and other types of infectious diseases. U.S. citizens are advised to be aware of the potential for disease outbreaks in Uganda and to always follow health guidelines to minimize risk or exposure.
Due to a polio outbreak, children under the age of five crossing from endemic neighboring countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Kenya (as well as Nigeria, India and Pakistan where the disease is also prevalent), may be required to receive an oral polio drop vaccination upon entry if not already vaccinated.
In December 2010, as many as seven districts in northern Uganda reported occurrences of yellow fever - including two possible cases from southern Sudan. Almost all of the reported severe cases (characterized by fever, vomiting and bleeding) continue to be concentrated in three districts, namely Abim (specifically Morulem sub-county), Agago (Omiya P’Chua, Adilang and Paimoi sub-counties), and Kitgum (Orum, Namokora and Kitgum Town Council).
In light of these findings, the U.S. Mission in Kampala recommends that U.S. citizens residing and traveling in Uganda avoid travel to these areas of Northern Uganda unless they have been vaccinated against yellow fever within the past 10 years. If vaccinated recently, do not travel to Northern Uganda for at least 10 days after receiving the vaccination. (Yellow fever vaccinations do not take effect for 10 days.) U.S. government officials who have not been vaccinated for yellow fever are not permitted to travel to the affected areas.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Uganda.
Safety and Security
Potential for terrorist activity from extremist organizations such as al-Shabaab remains high and U.S. citizens are advised to avoid high-density public gatherings. The
July 11, 2010, bombings of a rugby club and an Ethiopian restaurant in Kampala resulted in the deaths of 76 people, including one U.S. citizen, with six other U.S. citizens among the injured. More recently, terrorists in Nairobi attacked a bus bound for Kampala on December 20, 2010. U.S. citizens traveling to the Karamoja region in northeastern Uganda should be aware of ongoing conflict and armed banditry in this region.
Northern and Eastern Uganda:
After years of conflict, relative stability returned to northern Uganda in 2006 when the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group fled to neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The vast majority of people internally displaced by the LRA in northern Uganda have since returned home, and the Ugandan government continues to expand and improve the capacity of the civilian police force in northern Uganda by deploying additional personnel and concentrating resources to further recovery and redevelopment activities throughout the north. The Governments of Uganda, the DRC, and Sudan initiated joint military operations against LRA bases in the DRC in December 2008, after LRA leader Joseph Kony refused to sign a peace agreement. These military operations are ongoing, as are LRA attacks on civilian populations in the DRC, Central African Republic, and South Sudan.
Like the rest of Uganda, the North suffers from a general lack of infrastructure.
Services such as emergency medical care are inadequate, and U.S. citizens are strongly advised to restrict their travel to primary roads and during daylight hours due to hazardous driving conditions, the potential for banditry, and poor roadways.
Cattle rustling, armed banditry, and attacks on vehicles are common in the Karamoja region of northeastern Uganda, and the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) continues to implement a program to disarm Karamojong warriors. Past incidents included ambushes of UPDF troops, and attacks on vehicles, residences, and towns that resulted in multiple deaths. Most of the violence occurred in the districts of Kaabong, Kotido, and Abim, although some violent incidents also occurred in Moroto and Nakapiripirit Districts. In February 2010, unknown assailants attacked an NGO convoy near Nakapiripirit. Three people were killed and two others were injured. We recommend U.S. citizens avoid travel to the Karamoja region given the frequent insecurity. For U.S. Embassy personnel, any travel to Karamoja (excluding charter flights to Kidepo National Park) must first be authorized by the Chief of Mission.
U.S. citizens traveling in southwestern Uganda should be aware of the historical conflict in the districts of North and South Kivu in the DRC, and the close proximity of fighting to the Ugandan border. The most recent fighting occurred in November 2012. During spikes in the conflict, refugee flows across the border can number in the thousands and there is also a risk of incursions by armed combatants. U.S. citizens should review the Travel Warning for the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the most up-to-date information regarding the conflict in the DRC.
On August 8, 2007, a group of armed assailants entered Uganda from the DRC and raided Butogota, a town in Kanungu District, in southwestern Uganda. Three Ugandans were killed and many others assaulted during the raid. Ugandan officials believe that the perpetrators of the attack were members of one of the various militia groups operating in the southeastern region of the DRC or possibly remnants of the "Interahamwe," a group that participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and was also responsible for the 1999 attack in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The 1999 Bwindi attack killed four Ugandans and eight foreign tourists. Butogota is in an area transited by tourists traveling to Bwindi, a popular gorilla-trekking destination. Within Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest Park, armed security personnel accompany tourists on the daily gorilla hikes and the UPDF maintains a military presence. At Ishasha Camp, another popular tourist destination located in the southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, the UPDF also maintains a small military base near the park headquarters for security purposes.
In February 2008, a Belgian tourist climbing Mt. Elgon in the company of park rangers was shot and killed. The attack occurred while the group was camped for the night and assailants fired into the campsite. The tourist was reportedly struck by gunfire when exiting her tent in the darkness. Ugandan security and park officials suspected that the attack was perpetrated by smugglers engaged in cattle rustling or other illicit activities that are common in the border area.
In April and May 2011, at least ten people were killed and many injured when police used live ammunition and tear gas to disrupt protests against rising prices in Kampala, Gulu, and several other Ugandan cities.
As many as 40 people were killed during violent riots in Kampala from September 10-12, 2009. Several hundred more were injured as Ugandan security services used live bullets and tear gas to bring the riots under control.
Demonstrations in Kampala and other Ugandan cities occur from time to time in response to world events or local developments. These demonstrations frequently occur with little warning and can become confrontational or violent. U.S. citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if they find themselves in the vicinity of any demonstration. U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Because many demonstrations are spontaneous events, the U.S. Embassy may not always be able to alert U.S. citizens that a demonstration is taking place and to avoid a specific area. If employed with an institution or other large organization, U.S. citizens may find it helpful to request that local employees notify expatriates when they learn of a demonstration from local radio reports or other sources. Recent protests have occurred over land disputes involving Kampala market areas, university closures and strikes, the lack of electricity, the rising cost of living, and protests by taxi drivers over the enforcement of traffic regulations.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Uganda, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Uganda is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Most inter-city transportation in Uganda is by small van or large bus. Many drivers of these vehicles have little training, and some are reckless. Small vans and large buses are often poorly maintained, travel at high speeds, and are the principal vehicles involved in the many deadly single and multi-vehicle accidents along Ugandan roads. Accident victims have included U.S. citizens traveling in small vans and personal cars, passengers on motorcycle taxis locally known as "boda bodas" (see Crime above), and pedestrians. Large trucks on the highways are often overloaded, with inadequately secured cargo and poor braking systems. Alcohol frequently is a contributing factor in road accidents, particularly at night. Drivers are advised to take extra care when driving. Nighttime driving and road transportation should be avoided whenever possible. Pedestrians often walk in the roads and may not be visible to motorists. Large branches or rocks in the road sometimes indicate an upcoming obstruction or other hazard. Highway travel at night is particularly dangerous, including the road between Entebbe Airport and Kampala. The Embassy recommends caution on this road and use of a reliable taxi service to and from the airport. With the exception of the Kampala-Entebbe airport road, U.S. Embassy employees are prohibited from driving during hours of darkness on roads outside the limits of cities and large towns.
Traffic accidents draw crowds. Ugandan law requires that the drivers stop and exchange information and assist any injured persons. In some cases where serious injury has occurred, there is the possibility of mob anger. In these instances, Ugandans often do not get out of their cars, but drive to the nearest police station to report the accident.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. For specific information concerning Ugandan driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Uganda Tourist Board, IPS building, 14, Parliament Avenue, Kampala, Uganda; telephone 256-414-342 196.