That was a question that I had often wondered, that I continued to ponder while travelling, and that I mused long after returning home.
Uganda does not have a good reputation when it comes to safety and security. Much of this is overblown, or based on the dictatorial government of 1970s under the leadership of President Idi Amin Dada. During then, the reputation comes entirely due to brutality and dictatorship that characterized the period hindering international travelers including violent crime.
Know the Context
When many people think of Uganda, they think of the late President IDI AMIN of 1970s — dictatorship, high levels of lawlessness, expelling of foreigners like the Indians, conniving with terrorists especially that hijacked Israelites at Entebbe Airport that led to the killing of Yanatan Netanyahu in 1976 one Israel Commando and a brother to Benjamin Netanyahu the current Israel Prime Minister. There rampant loss of lives as they could freely roam into the city streets forming road blocks, violence on every corner, kidnapping and killings of opposition suspects, and how Uganda was on the news every night.
But you have to remember that after 1986 when the current president Yoweri Kaguta Museven took over power that is about 32 years ago. Quite a lot has happened during this period, there is peace and security in the country, installed law and order, human rights and rule of law are the order of the day, and the country has made incredible strides since then.
In fact, I don’t think that any country has more peace so much for a longer period in the region such as Uganda has. Uganda is now one of the emerging economic powers of Africa, and tribal relations, though far from perfect, have improved significantly. Same-sex marriage is legal. During Idi Amin Dada rule, Uganda guidebooks were blacklisted in the United States and few Americans visited Uganda if not any.
Still, turmoil casts a long shadow. Some of the international flights abandoned the route to Entebbe as most of the travellers were worried about traveling to Uganda, sighting insecurity issues during the 70s. In reality, Uganda now has been a very safe destination for quite some time, beautiful weather, Lakes and rivers, high mountains, thick forests, the Great Rift Valley route, richly endowed and diverse cultures, friendly people, flora and fauna including the big five. That characterise Uganda thats why it’s called the pearl of Africa.
Safety Tips for Travel in Uganda
1) Stay at places with security. This could mean doormen, key card entry, and walls, gates, and/or fences.
2) Learn about the local dangers in every destination you visit. Take the time to talk to your hotel or guesthouse staff when you arrive and find out about what actions and places to avoid.
3) Pack a portable safe and use it to store your valuables while you’re out. I use the Pacsafe Travelsafe 12L. Put your valuables inside (think passport, jewelry, and electronics), close the top, and lock it to something sturdy like a pipe or immobile furniture. Here’s a step-by-step guide.
4) Don’t put yourself in isolating situations. In Croatia or Vietnam, I wouldn’t hesitate to hang out on a mostly deserted beach where there were three or four other people around, some distance away. But I wouldn’t do that in Uganda.
5) Don’t drive in cities at night. Take taxis. Taxi drivers know how to avoid carjacking hotspots and are rarely carjacked.
6) If you visit a township (and you should), go with a guide. Some townships can be dangerous, but your guide will know which parts are safe. You’ll get much more out of the visit, too.
7) If you go on safari, listen to your guide. Don’t ever get out of your vehicle unless you have explicit permission to do so. Don’t stand up, either. (“Kate, sit down,” was something I heard again and again on our game drives.)
8) If you’re connecting flights to Entebbe from Kampala by road, wrap your bag. I’ve never used the airport bag wrapping machine, but I did for the first time in Uganda upon recommendation from friends who visit often. And as always, you shouldn’t put anything valuable in your checked bags.
Most important of all: don’t let safety concerns keep you away from Uganda.
Uganda is an absolutely wonderful, stunningly beautiful, incredibly fascinating country. If I had let fear get the best of me, I would have missed out on such a wonderful destination. I had a great time because I did research and made myself aware of the dangers in advance, and did my best to avoid them.
You will perfectly feel safe watching a lion feast on an impala in Murchison falls National Park. I felt safe hanging out in Kampala’s roughest township. I felt safe on trek up to the top of Rwenzori Mountain, hanging out with penguins at imperial botanical Beach.
When traveling solo, you will feel safe on the buses, safe in the taxis, and safe in all the places I stayed on my own.