Uganda is a peaceful country, but few people tend to realize that. I think that is one of the major problems for Africa; the media and the images people have from past struggles are hard to erase. I remember when I first went to Sierra Leone. Before I departed everyone asked if I was worried about going to a war-torn country. Despite the civil war and blood diamond trade having ended more than a decade previously, people were still under the impression it was a dangerous place with no redeeming qualities. Uganda has a similar reputation. I told a friend I was going to Uganda to guest speak at a university about tourism. He asked, “Why would anyone go there for tourism? All I think of is Idi Amin and the Libyan army killing all those people.” It’s been 35 years and obviously some people haven’t forgotten. For anyone unfamiliar with Idi Amin, if you’ve seen the movie The Last King of Scotland you’ve seen Hollywood’s portrayal of his handiwork.
And to be fair, Amin is not the only black mark on Uganda’s historical register. Uganda has experienced several civil wars, been accused of human rights violations, had problems with child labor and slavery. Child soldiers were also regularly used as fighters within the Lord’s Resistance Army.
However, from a tourism perspective, Uganda does have a lot to offer. Winston Churchill travelled there in 1907 when he was a junior member of Parliament, 33 years before becoming Prime Minister. Reflecting on his visit, he said, “For magnificence, for variety of form and color, for the profusion of brilliant life- bird, insect, reptile, beast- for vast scale- Uganda is truly the Pearl of Africa.” And so, for the last 100+ years Uganda has been referred to as the Pearl of Africa.
I’m looking forward to spending the next 10 days in Uganda. I plan to go trekking for gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Jungle, journey across the equator, visit the Jane Goodall Institute and learn how to talk to the chimpanzees (I was born in the month of the monkey, so I’m hoping this gives me an edge), see Lake Victoria and the mouth of the Nile River, and I will be spending two days at Makerere University giving several guest lectures to their tourism classes and professors.