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POPULATION: 26,404,543 million
LANGUAGE: English (official); various tribal languages
RELIGION: Christianity; Islam; indigenous beliefs
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 1: Baganda; Banyankole


Uganda's present ethnic history is largely a result of two population movements that occurred in the first 500 years of the 2nd millennium ad. The first movement by cattle herders, known as Hima, into exclusively agricultural areas contributed to the development of centralized kingdoms in the west-central portion of the country. The second movement of Nilotic speakers into the northern and eastern areas also stimulated the further development of centralized kingdoms to the south by contributing ruling clans to them. These migrations contributed to the political and ethnic divisions that were present at the arrival of the British in the latter half of the 19th century and that can still be seen today.

Until 1967, Uganda had a number of tightly centralized kingdoms such as Butoro, Buganda, Bunyoro, Bunyankole, and Busoga in its southern and western areas. These kingdoms were sometimes internally divided between cattle owners, who were considered to be royal, and farmers, who were subservient to them. In Bunyoro, these groups are called Huma and Iru; and in Ankole, Hima and Iru, respectively. In Rwanda and Burundi, countries to the west of Uganda, these still warring groups are called Tutsi and Hutu. Northern Uganda was made up of Nilotic-speaking peoples (of the plains, and of the rivers and lakes) who did not develop kingdoms, although they had contributed leaders through conquest of the ancestors of the southern kingdoms. At the time of Uganda's independence in 1962, a sharp linguistic and cultural divide still existed between northern and southern regions of the country. A relatively more socialistic, egalitarian philosophy was preferred in the north. In the south, however, existing class differences were more compatible with capitalism.

The British established Uganda as a protectorate and worked with the Baganda from 1900 onward to establish their control over the other ethnic groups. Asians of Indian or Pakistani descent had been brought over to work as laborers on the Uganda railroad, which extended from Mombasa on the coast of Kenya to Kampala, Uganda. The British developed cotton as a cash crop in Uganda in the early 20th century. The Asians remained in Uganda as brokers in this and other emerging business enterprises. In the 1920s, for example, sugarcane was established in Uganda through plantations and processing plants run by Asian entrepreneurs. By this time, three-fourths of the cotton gins in Uganda were owned by Asians. Much later, coffee emerged as the most important export of Uganda. Europeans, particularly the British, were important in government, church, education, and banking, but their population in Uganda was quite small in comparison to the neighboring colony of Kenya, which attracted a large white settler community.

Uganda, which Winston Churchill once called “the pearl of Africa,” had a promising future at the time of independence. A favorable environment with fertile soil and regular rainfall, as well as a talented, multiethnic population contributed to this optimism. Nevertheless, ethnic divisions proved insurmountable. In 1967, Prime Minister Milton Obote from the north declared kingdoms illegal and tried to impose on the nation his “Common Man's Charter,” a socialist doctrine. Sir Edward Mutesa, the Kabaka (King) of Buganda, and the first president of the Republic of Uganda, was overthrown by Obote, who then declared himself the president. In 1971, Obote was overthrown by his army commander, Idi Amin. This led to a repressive reign of terror against all Ugandans. The Asian community was ordered out of the country in 1972, and their businesses were given away to Ugandans without respect to their qualifications. The economy was soon in ruins. Milton Obote returned to power after a combined force of Tanzanian soldiers and Ugandan exiles drove Amin from the country. Obote became president again in 1980, although it was claimed that the elections had been rigged. An ensuing guerrilla war ended in 1986, with Yoweri Museveni becoming president. Uganda currently is experiencing a rejuvenated economy and political system under its present government, which has maintained an open style of leadership receptive to the participation of all ethnic groups.


Uganda is located in East Africa astride the equator between Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its area is not large, being about the size of the state of Oregon. Uganda is landlocked but has several large inland waterways, including Lake Victoria with its inland water ports at Jinja and Port Bell. Its climate is tropical with two rainy seasons; however, the northeast is semiarid. The country is primarily plateau with its capital city of Kampala about 1,200 km (4,000 ft) above sea level. Its population is about 20 million people. The Africans belong to about 40 ethnic groups, of which the Baganda, the Karamojong, the Iteso, and the Lango are the largest groups. There also are a small number of Europeans, Asians, and Arabs. A republic with a one-party political system, Uganda has a president as chief of state. The current president is Lt. General Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.


The official, national language of Uganda is English. Bantu languages are spoken by the greatest number of speakers in the nation, concentrated in the southern and western areas of the country. Nilotic languages predominate in the northern regions. The northwest area includes Moru Madi-speakers. The eastern border of Uganda, which is shared with Kenya, has both Bantu languages, such as Lusamyia, and Nilotic languages, such as Teso. Kiswahili, a Bantu language, is spoken widely throughout eastern Kenya.

Luganda, another Bantu language, is the mother tongue of the Baganda, who are the largest ethnic group in Uganda, comprising 17% of the population. Luganda spread throughout Uganda, particularly in the southern, eastern, and western regions, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a language of domination. This was supported by the British, who worked through Baganda chiefs as a form of indirect rule over other Ugandan ethnic groups. For this reason, Luganda, to this day, is understood in various sections of the country. There is also a well-developed indigenous literature in Luganda in the form of histories, stories, folk tales and songs, political documents, plays, and newspapers.

Ugandans are typically comfortable in more than one language. Luganda, English, and Kiswahili, for example, are commonly used languages in Kampala. In other regions of the country, children learn English in addition to their own ethnic language. Nevertheless, even among the most highly-educated Ugandans, there is a strong preference for the mother tongue at home and in social situations. For this reason, perhaps, there is a strong tendency for individuals to marry those that speak a common ethnic language, or to remain within either the Bantu or Nilotic language families.


All the ethnic groups of Uganda have a rich oral tradition made up of tales, legends, stories, proverbs, and riddles. Folk heroes include, for example, those thought responsible for introducing kingship into a society, such as the legendary Kintu, the first Kabaka (king) of the Baganda, or the first Bito ruler of the Bunyoro, King Isingoma Mpuga Rukidi. Morality tales were common throughout Uganda. Some Ankole tales include one about a wise woman and her selfish husband, which teaches faithfulness to one's wives during hard times; one about a pig and a hyena, which preaches against self-indulgence; and the wisdom of the hare, which demonstrates the advantages of being quick-witted and friendly against all odds.

Proverbs and riddles are perhaps the most significant mechanisms for teaching values to the young, while at the same time providing entertainment. The importance of parenting, for instance, can be seen in the following proverbs from the Baganda:

I will never move from this village, but for the sake of children he does.

He who does a good service to one's child, does better than one who merely says he loves you.

An only child is like a drop of rain in the dry season.

My luck is in that child of mine if the child is rich.

A skillful hunting dog may nevertheless produce weak-lings.

A chicken's feet do not kill its young.

That which becomes bad at the outset of its growth is almost impossible to straighten at a later stage.

Collective riddling games are a popular evening entertainment in rural villages. Among the Baganda, these games involve men and women of all ages. A person who solves a riddle is given a village to rule as its “chief.” Some examples of riddles are:

Pass one side, and I also pass the other side, so that we meet in the middle? (a belt)

He built a house with only one pole standing? (a mushroom)

He goes on dancing as he walks? (a caterpillar)

He built a house with two entrances? (a nose)

He has three legs? (an old man walking with his stick)


About two-thirds of Ugandans are Christian, evenly divided between Protestants and Roman Catholics. The remaining third are about evenly divided between Muslims and those practicing indigenous, African religion. Religious holidays are celebrated in Uganda, especially Christmas and Easter for Christians, and Ramadan for Muslims. Each of the major religious denominations is associated with its own hill in Kampala, reflecting the practice of major institutions being situated on a hill in 19th century Uganda. Thus, there is a hill for the university, for the national hospital, and for the Catholic, the Anglican, and the Muslim houses of worship. Of international interest is the shrine near Kampala dedicated to the Uganda martyrs who are recognized as saints in the Roman Catholic tradition. These Christian martyrs were executed in the 19th century for refusing to renounce their religion at a time when Christians, traditionalists, and Muslims were competing for converts and influence in the emerging, but hostile, religious plurality of the day.

Indigenous supernatural ideas, such as belief in witchcraft, the evil eye, and night dancers, are still widespread. Among some groups, such as the Samia, amulets are worn to protect children from the evil eye of a jealous woman, which is thought to cause them sickness or death. Witches found in most societies also cause misfortune to people of all ages. A widely feared person throughout Uganda is the night dancer. He is a community member by day, who is thought to roam about at night eating dead bodies while floating along the ground with fire between his hands. People generally avoid traveling alone at night for fear of these Basezi. Ancestors are highly respected and feared. They communicate with the living through dreams to warn them of impending dangers and to advise them on family matters. Children are advised to report their dreams to their elders soon after arising in the morning. Among the Lango, ancestor spirits (Tipu) are thought to cause illness, barrenness, impotence, and quarrels among the living, which may result in the division of kinfolk into new communities.

Most societies in Uganda believe that there is a high god who is the supreme creator. Among the Baganda, for instance, their supreme god was called Katonda. He was also known by other names that suggested his power, such as Mukama (the Master), Lugaba (the Giver), and Liisoddene (the Great Eye). Were, the high god of the Samia, is associated with the sun and was venerated each morning with its rising. Today, such beliefs have merged with Christianity and Islam. The older pantheon of lesser deities, each with their oracle priest and priestesses and special temples, has given way to churches and mosques. Nevertheless, Ugandans remain a very religious people with a deep-seated spirituality.


There is a single national holiday, celebrated on October 9, which commemorates the day in 1962 when Uganda achieved its independence from the United Kingdom.


The ethnic groups in Uganda recognize developmental stages in the life-cycle. Birth is generally received with a great deal of joy, as children are warmly welcomed into the community. Infancy is considered to be an important period in the child's development. For this reason, ceremonies such as those related to the milestone of sitting up alone and also obtaining one's clan name, often occur during the first years of life. Among the Baganda, for example, an infant is seated on a mat along with others who are to receive their clan names. Prior to this time, the infant has been regularly encouraged to sit by being placed in a hole in the ground or in a washbasin with cloths around the waist and buttocks for support. When the infant succeeds in sitting alone for the first time, there is a brief ceremony, and it is proclaimed, “now you are a man,” or “now you are a woman,” accordingly. Among the Lango, Kwer ceremonies are held throughout childhood to recognize changes in the status of a mother that are associated with the maturation of her child. Ceremonies involve exchanges of food and the drinking of beer by adult relatives of the child. Such celebrations occur, for example, shortly after childbirth when the mother spends several days in seclusion; after a mother has given birth to several children; after her oldest child is about 8 years old; when the oldest child is sick; and when the oldest child is about 12 years of age.

Childhood varies depending on whether the child comes from a wealthy or a poor family, or lives in the city of Kampala or in a small, rural village. Many young children walk upwards of 16 km (10 mi) daily to school. Since schools require fees, family members often need to pool their resources in order to send children (or, in some cases, only the most promising child) to school. This child, if successful, is expected to help other family members in turn. Boys and girls generally have household tasks to do. Girls 7 to 9 years old can be seen caring for their younger siblings while the mother is working in the home or garden. During this time, the child caretaker will carry the infant on her back, sing lullabies, play, and otherwise amuse the baby. In rural areas, young boys typically are expected to care for livestock. Children from wealthy parents, by contrast, have fewer work responsibilities and more leisure time in that they live in homes with servants. They are also afforded opportunities for travel, better schooling, and luxury material goods, such as computers, TVs, and videos.

The teenage years are devoted to education, work, and courtship. Girls in rural areas are increasingly likely to become pregnant prior to marriage, especially if there is little prospect for education or gainful employment later in life. Although parents frown on teenage pregnancy, the infant is usually welcomed by the infant's maternal grandparents and may be raised as their own child. Abortions are discouraged in Uganda, given the high value placed on children.

Among many of the Nilotic societies, an age-group system is important. For the Karamojong, all males are formally initiated into an age-set that provides an established ranking. For example, all males are in one of two fixed generations, so that all the sons of one generation are in the same group, regardless of their ages. Therefore, the junior generation contains members who are still too young to be initiated. Should a male child be born before all members of the preceding generation have been initiated, he must wait to be named and publicly recognized. About every 25 years, a new generation is publicly established through a series of rituals officiated over by grandfathers of the new group. A final ceremony of inclusion occurs for a man with the ritual slaying of an ox that is then eaten in a communal feast. When a new generation is allowed to begin, some men are middle aged while others are quite young during this first year of initiation. Initiations are held about every 3 years with the average age being about 19. The name of a new group is chosen by the senior men. Common names are buffalo, jackal, leopard, topi, and snake. The age-set system functions most notably during rituals and determines participation, seating, and distribution order of meat. Authority is strictly along ageset lines in matters of discipline and community morality.

Pubescent girls were traditionally secluded and formally instructed by elder women (such as one's Ssenga, or father's sister), in societies that have patrilineal descent in sexual matters, domestic skills, and other expectations for married life. While the age-set system for boys is still evident in some communities, the seclusion of girls and associated sexual and domestic instruction has largely disappeared. Instead, girls learn about these matters through advice columns in daily newspapers and magazines and peer gossip in secondary schools. Traditional-ists sometimes bemoan the fact that sex education is nowhere to be seen in the contemporary school system and dominant Christian ideology. Teenage pregnancies are thought to be one consequence of this change.

Adult life is concerned with work, family, religion, and community and national service of various forms. Death is a significant social event in all ethnic groups, where visiting and rituals are obligatory. Absenteeism from work for attendance at funerals is frequent and excused. Christian or Muslim burial is now commonplace. Ugandans widely believe that spiritual life continues after death, in accordance with Christian or Islamic concepts. Belief in the continued involvement of dead ancestors in family life is not uncommon. In some societies, infants are named after ancestors so that a person can live on as long as his or her name is remembered. This form of reincarnation was seen by some demographers to be a deterrent to family planning efforts, given that to limit one's offspring is in a very real sense limiting one's opportunity to be reincarnated. Exposure to newer religions has caused some practices to decline, although many still persist from indigenous religions.


Ugandans on the whole are deeply imbedded in the social life of their communities, be these villages, schools, neighborhoods, clubs, churches, mosques, age-sets, clans, homesteads, or extended families. There are, of course, individual exceptions to this generalization, especially among those who are highly educated and who have the opportunity to travel. Ugandans enjoy looking “smart” (attractive) and are exceptionally fashionable. Women from Uganda have a favorable reputation in neighboring countries for their beauty and charm. Women from western Uganda, for example, traditionally went into seclusion prior to marriage and spent an extended period of time drinking milk in order to gain a good amount of weight prior to marriage. Today, plumpness is still considered desirable. Thus, eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa, are virtually nonexistent in a culture where thinness is not valued. Obesity, nevertheless, is also extremely rare since Ugandans remain quite physically active, given that most do not own cars and, therefore, travel on foot.

Sociability is best symbolized through a pattern of ritualized greetings that vary according to time of day, a person's age, social status, and length of time since an encounter. Each ethnic group tends to have its own characteristic greeting pattern and vocabulary. Not to greet someone is considered to be a serious impropriety. The following is an example of a Kiganda greeting:

Mawulire ki? (What is the news?)

Tetugalaba. (We have none.)

Mmm or Eee.

Mpoza mmwe? (Perhaps you have?)

Naffe tetugalaba or Nedda. (We have none either.) Mmm or Eee.

Dating occurs prior to marriage in a variety of social contexts. Young people meet at funerals, weddings, churches, and school socials. Nightclubs are a popular place for dancing, with friends or on a date. Love songs are popular with people of all ages. Some post-independence songs heard on jukeboxes in bars, and on the radio contain clever phrases that are admired in courtship. The following are some examples of songs in Luganda by Baganda composers. The song, “Nassuna,” by E. Kawalya contains the lyric: “Your photograph which I have is now like my mirror. I always look at it. Great are the parents who gave birth to you.” Another song, “Nakiganda,” by C. Ssebaduka states: “I have been waiting for you, Nakiganda, my love. Why are you late? I placed my chair by the road so that I could watch you come. . . . Your picture you gave me. . . I took it and showed it to my parents.” It goes on to explain that if the gentleman did not marry Nakiganda it must be, according to his father, due to someone “bewitching” him. A third, popular song also mentions parents in the context of love and romance precisely because marriage throughout Uganda involves large, extended families and is not simply a matter of two individuals falling in love. The song, “Ntonga,” by D. Mugula laments, “Really, Ntonga, I beg you and your parents not to listen to those who may want to come between our friendship. . . Here is some sugar for your parents, for what harm did they do in giving birth to a beauty like yourself?”


President Museveni's rule has had to contend with severe political and economic devastation brought about by the previous Obote and Amin regimes. Nevertheless, Uganda is in the process of making a comeback. Tourism is being revived, with an emphasis on conservation and ecology. Agriculture remains the basic livelihood, with about 90% of the population continuing to reside in rural areas. Important subsistence crops include millet, corn, cassava, and plantains. Beef, poultry, and milk are also significant, especially among pastoral populations where agriculture is less significant than cattle as a means of livelihood. Coffee remains the largest export, earning over 75% of foreign currency. Recently, flowers such as roses are being cultivated for export to European countries. Fishing along the northern and western shores of Lake Victoria is important for communities located in these areas.

Population densities are highest in the south and southeastern areas, sometimes exceeding 116 persons per sq km (300 persons per sq mi). Other regions of Uganda are sparsely populated. Kampala, the capital city, and its environs have about 0.5 million people. It is the administrative, commercial, and cultural center of the country. This city is a transportation hub with a network of good, paved roads connecting Kampala with smaller towns in rural areas throughout the country. The taxi market is an impressive sight, with hundreds of “speed taxis” coming and going with travelers to and from the city. Outdoor markets with foodstuffs, household items, second-hand clothing, and various other items are densely crowded. Automobiles are seen commonly in Kampala, but in rural areas the bicycle is the most important conveyance, especially for transporting items to and from the marketplace.

Homes in rural areas are frequently made of wattle and daub and have thatched or corrugated-iron roofs. Affluent residents of rural areas may, however, have elaborate homes. This is particularly true for those who have gained wealth through commercial farming and livestock maintenance. Urban homes are typically of concrete with corrugated-iron or tile roofs, and have glass windows. In the suburbs of Kampala, multilevel and ranch homes are very plush, with servant quarters, swimming pools, and elaborate gardens. Urban gardens of produce and flowers are also a common feature of the city landscape.

Uganda's population suffers from malaria and HIV/AIDS, known locally as “slim disease.” Despite efforts at eradication, malaria-infested mosquitoes are present throughout the country. Southern Uganda has a particularly high rate of HIV/AIDS infection, and virtually every family there has lost loved ones to the disease. The government has maintained an active policy of public education. The daily newspaper, The New Vision, carries a regular column known as “AIDS Corner,” which is meant to educate the public. Infant mortality rates are also high due to poverty, malnutrition, diarrhea, and measles. The infant mortality rate is 112 deaths per 1,000 live births.


Marriage and family life are primary pursuits of most Ugandans, whatever their ethnic group or religion. The extended family concept continues to be the ideal, although individualism and the nuclear family have made inroads due to European and Christian influences on the nation's culture. Monogamy (one husband and one wife at a time) is now the national ideal, even though polygyny (one husband and several wives at a time) is sometimes encountered. Polygyny is functional in situations in which marriage is very much a negotiation between large, extended families. Polygyny became a mechanism for large, extended families to increase the number of children in their community—not a bad idea in a rural, subsistence economy based on human labor. Ideals of love and affection were maintained in both monogamous and polygynous marriage situations.

The importance of extended family ties in marriage can be illustrated by the Banyankole people's complex traditional marriage customs. When a man decided he wanted to marry, he visited the girl's parents and informed them. If they agreed to the marriage, he returned with some of his relatives and, over pots of beer, discussed with his prospective father-in-law and his brothers the amount of the marriage fee. Routinely, goats, for example, were divided as follows: seven for the bride's father, three for an elder brother of his, two for his mother's brother, one for the father's sister, and one for a younger brother of the father. The bridegroom would go to his own family members to raise the fee needed for his marriage. After these fees had been paid, the bridegroom kissed both palms of his father-in-law's hands and returned home. His home was a portion of his own father's large compound. When the bride arrived in her new home for the first time, she entered the room of her father- and mother-in-law. She sat first on her father-in-law's lap and then on her mother-in-law's lap, to symbolize that she was now like a daughter who would bear children for the family. After this ceremony, future contact with her father-in-law was taboo. Emphasis on large, extended families and bride-fees seen in the context of reciprocal exchange often made for strong, lifelong relations between brothers and sisters because wealth brought into the family on the occasion of a girl's marriage often provided the means for the brother to obtain a bride for himself.

Nowadays, Ugandans typically continue to have some form of marriage fee, maintain allegiances to their extended families and clans, and generally marry outside of them (a custom known as exogamy). Children of these unions usually belong to the clans of their fathers and take their clan names from his group. Some common clans in Uganda are elephant, bushbuck, rat, fish, lion, mushroom, civet cat, and many other plants and animals. People are not supposed to eat the plant or animal associated with their clan names. In some societies, such as the Lango or the Karamojong, women join the clans of their husbands; but, in other groups, such as the Baganda, they do not.

Traditional marriage ceremonies, rituals, and practices persist in varying degrees depending on ethnic group and location, as well as on degree of conformity to Christian or Muslim ideals. Most women, regardless of their educational level, desire to have children. Family planning, when it is used, has the function of attempting to space children, rather than to reduce their number or to avoid having them at all.


Most Ugandans wear Western-style clothing. Young people are especially attracted to American clothing styles, such as jeans and slacks. The most prominent indigenous form of clothing is found in southern Uganda among the Baganda. The woman typically wears a busuuti (a floor-length, brightly colored cloth dress with short puffed sleeves, a square neckline fastened by two buttons, and a sash placed just below the waist atop the hips). Baganda men frequently wear a kanzu (long white robe). For special occasions, a western style suit jacket is worn over the kanzu. In western Uganda, Bahima women wear full, broad cotton dresses, with a floor-length shawl used to cover their bodies while seated, and to cover their heads and shoulders while standing. Northern societies such as the Karamojong wear cowskins, and signify social status (e.g., warrior, married person, elder) by items of adornment, such as feather plumes and large coiled, copper necklaces, and armlets.


Ugandan stores, supermarkets, and open-air markets make available a wide choice of foods from local and international sources. Each region of the country tends to have its own local foods and traditions, which have endured since pre-colonial times. Among pastoral groups, such as the Karamojong, there is a strong emphasis on cattle that provide meat and milk (sometimes eaten in curdled form, or mixed with blood drawn from the neck of an ox). Cattle are also a source of many other necessities, such as clothing and blankets. Containers are made from the horns and hoofs. Cattle urine is mixed with mud as a base for the floor of huts, since water is scarce. Dung is used for fertilizer in those communities where grain is grown. Millet and sorghum are common grains available to communities throughout northern regions, where rainfall is not sufficient for root crops such as cassava, manioc, and sweet potatoes. Root crops and plantains are staples in southern and eastern Uganda where rain is plentiful year-round. In western Uganda, the Banyankole are internally divided into the Bahima, who are pastoralists having very long-horned cows; and the Bairu, who grow grains such as millet and sorghum.

Kampala is supplied daily with large amounts of plantains (matooke). Matooke is the staple of the Baganda, the largest ethnic group in Uganda and in the city of Kampala. Matooke is served with various sauces that may be composed of peanuts, green leaves, mushrooms, tomatoes, meat, fish, white ants, and/or grasshoppers. Before eating, a bowl of boiled water and soap are passed around so that each person can wash his or her hands. Banana leaves are used to cover the steamed plantain while cooking and during serving. Matooke is eaten by taking the right hand and forming a small portion of the matooke into a ladle, which is then dipped in the sauces. The combination of a staple with a sauce is common throughout Uganda, as is eating with the right hand, although cutlery is available when desired.

Drinks include a wide variety of bottled beers and soft drinks. In rural areas, traditional beer fermented from maize (corn), bananas, millet, sorghum, or pineapples is sometimes available. Metal cooking pots and pans, dishes, and glassware are now commonplace in rural areas, although traditional gourds and ceramic containers are also prevalent. Th roughout the country, agriculture is the special domain of women, who are responsible for the farming of staple foods. They also exercise much control over the foods that they grow and prepare in the kitchen, which is also considered to be a woman's domain. Men tend to be responsible for cash crops such as coffee and tea.

Chocolate bars and other sweet candies are not generally eaten as treats by children in rural areas. Instead, children enjoy picking sugarcane and chewing it for its sweet juices. Fruits, such as mangoes and small sweet bananas, are also favorite treats. These preferences make for strong gums and teeth. Thus, dental problems are rare, a fact also attributed to the custom of cleaning each tooth separately with a stick. Dental problems are becoming more of a problem, however, among young people today who have more exposure to processed sweets.


The Obote and Amin years witnessed deterioration in the educational standard of the country. Makerere University College, which began as a secondary school in the 1920s, became a university in 1950 (known then as the University College of East Africa). It drew students from Kenya, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), and Zanzibar, as well as Uganda. In 1961, it became Makerere University College and continued throughout the 1960s to educate a large number of East Africans in a wide variety of fields including medicine. What was a distinguished university and faculty was decimated by the interventionist policies of Amin, who drove into exile or killed faculty and students alike. The vice-chancellor of Makerere “disappeared,” never to be seen again. Prior to 1970, an excellent secondary school system was also in place, and included very prestigious schools such as Kings College Budu, Kisubi, and Gyaza Girls among others. The school system was modeled after the British system, having primary, secondary (Cambridge certificate—O level), higher (A levels), and three years of university education.

The present government is in the process of rebuilding the nation's school system. There are many challenges. For example, in the total population aged 15 and over, about half are illiterate. Literacy is higher among males than females. This sex imbalance is due in part to a policy of favoritism shown by the British during the protectorate years for the education of boys. Another problem interrupting the education of girls is a high rate of pregnancy among schoolgirls, usually requiring that they leave school. Poverty is another factor contributing to illiteracy, given that schooling can be expensive. For those with means, the boarding school is a popular concept, as are single-sex institutions.

Parental expectations are high concerning education. Success in school is seen as the means to a better livelihood for the individual who is, in turn, expected to help his extended family. For this reason, Ugandan students are typically very hardworking and achievement-oriented. They can be found working and studying in all professions and vocations both in Uganda and abroad.


The expressive arts embodied in music and dance remain a significant part of Uganda's cultural heritage. Dance forms vary somewhat by ethnic group, but everywhere people of all ages participate in dance and song in the course of routine rituals, family celebrations, and community events. Among the Karamojong and their neighbors, dance is especially significant during times of courtship, when young people dance late into the night outside in the open air. They dance by jumping up and down, facing members of the opposite sex, in accompaniment to hand-clapping and singing. Musical instruments are not present in these lively interactions.

Many Baganda households contain at least a small cowhide drum for regular use in singing and dancing. During the king-ship, there were 93 royal drums called mujaguzo that varied in size, each with its own name and specific drumbeat. Other musical instruments included string instruments, such as fiddles and harps, and woodwind instruments such as flutes and fifes. Baganda dancers are skilled in their ability to swiftly move their hips to the alternating beats of drums playing simultaneously.

Among the Banyankole, pots are used as a percussion instrument. These are ordinary water pots filled with different levels of water, whose mouths are beaten by sticks to which small bundles of weeds are attached. Men and women accompany the rhythms, which sound not unlike drums, by singing, dancing, and beating their hands on their bodies. A familiar dance routine in imitation of cows is done. The dancer jumps up and down while holding the arms overhead, in imitation of a cow's horns, while producing a hissing sound with the mouth.

Modern nightclub and disco dancing are also part of the teenage scene, particularly in urban areas. Nevertheless, visits to rural areas to see relatives or friends may engage young people in traditional dances. In some areas, during large celebrations, such as a wedding or a funeral, many older people gather around the drum or water pot for music, while the young people prefer international music from the radio or CDs and audio cassettes played on a boom box.

Before the devastation of Uganda's economic and intellectual life, Uganda was in the process of developing an extremely rich literary tradition in English, especially in association with Makerere University. The Baganda also had developed a robust vernacular literature in Luganda that included novels, short stories, essays, historical writings, songs, plays, and poems. Perhaps the most famous Ugandan writer from the pre-Amin years was Okot p'Bitek, an essayist, poet, and social critic who once headed the Uganda National Theatre and was professor of creative writing at Makerere. Although he died in 1982, his work is still read throughout East Africa, as well as internationally. His best known work, “Song of Lawino,” depicts the circumstances of modernization in his native Acholi land through the eyes of a woman who laments her husband's blind preference for women who wear modern makeup, speak English, know all of the modern dances and customs, and who look down on traditional women, such as herself.


During the Amin years, the economy in Uganda lost virtually all of its expatriate and Asian populations, who were significantly involved in the modern sector of banking, commercial activities, and industry. Nevertheless, Uganda has maintained (up to the present) a strong subsistence agricultural base, so that recovery from the Amin years has the advantage of a plentiful food supply and a population that is overwhelmingly agrarian and rural in lifestyle. Most urban-dwellers in Kampala maintain continued access to nearby agricultural areas. These abound within short distances of the city and provide a reliable, inexpensive source of local food on a year-round basis.

Small-scale economic opportunities, involving tailoring, shop keeping, hair care, repair work of various sorts, carpentry, and the marketing of food and other household necessities, employ numerous Ugandans in Kampala and throughout the country's smaller towns and villages. The professions, including teaching, law, and medicine, are growing and employ many supportive staff, such as secretaries, receptionists, and computer personnel. Comparatively poor people can be seen operating small all-purpose stands, with huts that are folded up and taken down at closing time. Cigarettes, matches, candy, soft drinks, biscuits, cookies, and bread are available here for sale to people who may have missed a chance to visit stores during regular hours.

The leisure-time industry is quite lively, encompassing restaurants, bars, and nightclubs that together employ many thousands of Ugandans. A somewhat unique and striking aspect of this industry is the uniformed barmaid found in bars throughout the country, even in remote rural areas. Tourism, involving safaris to game parks to see mountain gorillas, tree-climbing lions, crocodiles, and elephants, is once again on the upswing as well.


Soccer is the most popular sport, with a national league and hotly contested playoffs. Cricket and rugby are also quite popular sports enjoyed by many spectators. Boxing is another competitive sport for which there is a national trophy awarded for the best in each division. Uganda sends competitors abroad to international events such as the Olympics and has in the past won medals for excellence in track-and-field.


Most Ugandans own radios and enjoy listening to the variety of educational programs, plays, stories, news, and music offered. There are 10 stations, broadcasting in English and the major ethnic languages. There is a national television station that includes programs from the United States and England, in addition to its local subject matter. The American CNN provides an entertainment and news link to worldwide news. Television is available in most affluent homes and in hotels.

Individuals and families enjoy visiting restaurants and clubs where they can watch traditional dancing, whose performances are regularly available in Kampala. Popular theater is also a very significant means of entertainment in Uganda. Plays have a long-standing tradition often containing themes of concern to the population at large such as politics, social change, and health and family matters. Recently, plays have been used in Kampala and throughout the country to promote knowledge about health matters, especially those concerning HIV/AIDS and its prevention. The significance of public plays for educational purposes cannot be underestimated in a country in which about half of the country's population is illiterate.


Rural Ugandan women can often be seen sitting on the ground outside their homes weaving beautiful and colorful straw mats. Tightly woven coiled baskets are also prevalent. Wooden milk pots and bowls are carved and decorated. Elaborate and simple pipes for smoking are popular in remote areas. In general, much of Ugandans' everyday artistic endeavors involve useful objects that are part of their everyday existence.

Basketry is a highly developed art form in Uganda. Common fibers used to weave are banana palm, raffia, papyrus, and sisal. Weaving is used for house walls, fences, roofs, baskets, mats, traps, and receptacles for drink and food. Table mats and cushions are also common uses today. Bark-cloth was once a widespread craft used for many purposes, including clothing. Today, remnants of bark-cloth can be seen in its use as decoration on place mats and greeting cards, as well as in the making of blankets and shrouds. Another art form using cloth is batik, a type of cloth painting that can be hung on walls for decoration. The revival of the tourist industry currently underway is likely to stimulate the production of arts and crafts for foreign consumption.


Uganda suffers from one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world. It has one of the best public awareness programs associated with HIV/AIDS anywhere. Many families have experienced the loss of loved ones to this disease, resulting in a large number of orphans. Another problem is the flow of refugees coming to Uganda from neighboring nations suffering from political turmoil. Hundreds of thousands of southern Sudanese have fled to Uganda in recent years, due to religious conflict in the Sudan. Regularly, refugees from Rwanda fleeing from ethnic conflict enter Uganda's western border. Many Banyarwanda are now citizens of Uganda, having fled there in the 1960s. Despite one of the most highly publicized terrorist regimes in modern times under Idi Amin, Uganda by all accounts is now well on the way to democracy, although it is still under one-party rule. Ugandans, on the whole, are very optimistic about their future.


In spite of the significant social and economic responsibilities that women shouldered in the traditional Ugandan societies, their roles were still subordinate to those of men. From their infancy, women would be taught to accede to the wishes of the men in their lives, including fathers, brothers, and husbands. Women were expected to demonstrate their subordination to men in public. For instance, among the Baganda, women would kneel while conversing with a man.

The responsibilities of childcare and subsistence farming rested in the hands of women. In religious circles, women also were allowed a dominant role. For example, Alice Lakwena, a religious Ugandan woman, led a revolt against Ugandan political establishment dominated by men. In a few areas, women owned property and large tracts of land for cash crop farming. In Uganda societies, there seems to be a clear-cut gender-based division of labor. The kitchen in most societies is a woman's domain, while taking care of cattle is a man's domain. Boys over the age of 12 were forbidden from going to the kitchen. In the family circles, men have the overall authority. Women and older girls share the domestic chores while men and older boys may help digging in the farms or taking care of the livestock. Defending the society as well as making societal decisions was a man's duty. Women depend so much on men that they rarely have influence on matters related to their families or society in general. They are tied to male relationships for their sustenance and survival of their children. The political violence that characterized Uganda in 1970s and 1980s during the rule of Idi Amin Dada affected women more negatively than it did men. Women faced a lot of hardships at home especially because they had very limited economic opportunities. It was, perhaps, these challenges that inspired them to be involved in the political struggle that led to the fall of Idi Amin and ushered in the reign of the current president. Ugandan government has promised to do away with all forms of discrimination against women and there are many women in the parliament due to affirmative action.


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—revised by M. Njoroge