Learn more about the country of Uganda including facts about the Ugandan people & their history, geography & maps of Uganda, and the Ugandan economy & government. Basic Uganda demographics including population, religion, GDP, topography, languages and more.
Uganda Country Profile
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History of Uganda
When Arab traders moved inland from their enclaves along the Indian Ocean coast of East Africa and reached the interior of Uganda in the 1830s, they found several African kingdoms with well-developed political institutions dating back several centuries. These traders were followed in the 1860s by British explorers searching for the source of the Nile River. Protestant missionaries entered the country in 1877, followed by Catholic missionaries in 1879. In 1888, control of the emerging British “sphere of interest” in East Africa was assigned by royal charter to the Imperial British East Africa Company, an arrangement strengthened in 1890 by an Anglo-German agreement confirming British dominance over Kenya and Uganda. In 1894, the Kingdom of Buganda was placed under a formal British protectorate. Britain granted internal self-government to Uganda in 1961, with the first elections held on March 1, 1961. Benedicto Kiwanuka of the Democratic Party became the first Chief Minister. Uganda maintained its Commonwealth membership. A second round of elections in April 1962 elected members to a new National Assembly. Milton Obote, leader of the majority coalition in the National Assembly, became prime minister and led Uganda to formal independence on October 9, 1962. In succeeding years, supporters of a centralized state vied with those in favor of a loose federation and a strong role for tribally-based local kingdoms. Political maneuvering climaxed in February 1966, when Prime Minister Milton Obote suspended the constitution, assumed all government powers, and removed the president and vice president. In September 1967, a new constitution proclaimed Uganda a republic, gave the president even greater powers, and abolished the traditional kingdoms. On January 25, 1971, Obote’s government was ousted in a military coup led by armed forces commander Idi Amin Dada. Amin declared himself president, dissolved the parliament, and amended the constitution to give himself absolute power. Idi Amin’s 8-year rule produced economic decline, social disintegration, and massive human rights violations. The Acholi and Langi ethnic groups were particular objects of Amin’s political persecution because they had supported Obote and made up a large part of the army. In 1978, the International Commission of Jurists estimated that more than 100,000 Ugandans had been murdered during Amin’s reign of terror; some authorities place the figure much higher. In October 1978, Tanzanian armed forces repulsed an incursion of Amin’s troops into Tanzanian territory. The Tanzanian force, backed by Ugandan exiles, waged a war of liberation against Amin’s troops and Libyan soldiers sent to help him. On April 11, 1979, Kampala was captured, and Amin fled with his remaining forces. After Amin’s removal, the Uganda National Liberation Front formed an interim government with Yusuf Lule as president. This government adopted a ministerial system of administration and created a quasi-parliamentary organ known as the National Consultative Commission (NCC). The NCC and the Lule cabinet reflected widely differing political views. In June 1979, following a dispute over the extent of presidential powers, the NCC replaced Lule with Godfrey Binaisa. In a continuing dispute over the powers of the interim presidency, Binaisa was removed in May 1980. Thereafter, Uganda was ruled by a military commission chaired by Paulo Muwanga. The December 1980 elections returned the UPC to power under the leadership of President Obote, with Muwanga serving as vice president. Under Obote, the security forces had one of the world’s worst human rights records. In their efforts to stamp out an insurgency led by Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA), they laid waste to a substantial section of the country, especially in the Luwero area north of Kampala. Obote ruled until July 27, 1985, when an army brigade, composed mostly of ethnic Acholi troops and commanded by Lt. Gen. Basilio Olara-Okello, took Kampala and proclaimed a military government. Obote fled to exile in Zambia. The new regime, headed by former defense force commander Gen. Tito Okello (no relation to Lt. Gen. Olara-Okello), opened negotiations with Museveni’s insurgent forces and pledged to improve respect for human rights, end tribal rivalry, and conduct free and fair elections. In the meantime, massive human rights violations continued as the Okello government murdered civilians and ravaged the countryside in order to destroy the NRA’s support. Negotiations between the Okello government and the NRA were conducted in Nairobi in the fall of 1985, with Kenyan President Daniel Moi seeking a cease-fire and a coalition government in Uganda. Although agreeing in late 1985 to a cease-fire, the NRA continued fighting, seized Kampala in late January 1986, and assumed control of the country, forcing Okello to flee north into Sudan. Museveni’s forces organized a government with Museveni as president and dominated by the political grouping called the National Resistance Movement (NRM or the “Movement”). A referendum was held in March 2000 on whether Uganda should retain the Movement system, with limited operation of political parties, or adopt multi-party politics. Although 70% of voters endorsed retention of the Movement system, the referendum was widely criticized for low voter turnout and unfair restrictions on Movement opponents. Museveni was reelected to a second five-year term in March 2001. Parliamentary elections were held in June 2001, and more than 50% of contested seats were won by newcomers. Movement supporters nevertheless remained in firm control of the legislative branch. Observers believed that the 2001 presidential and parliamentary elections generally reflected the will of the electorate; however, both were marred by serious irregularities, particularly in the period leading up to the elections, such as restrictions on political party activities, incidents of violence, voter intimidation, and fraud. A Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) issued a report proposing comprehensive constitutional change in December 2003. The government, however, took issue with many CRC recommendations and made counter-proposals in September 2004. A July 2005 national referendum resulted in the adoption of a multiparty system of government and the subsequent inclusion of opposition parties in elections and government. In February 2006, the country held its first multiparty general elections since President Museveni came to power in 1986. The election generally reflected the will of the people, although serious irregularities occurred. Ruling NRM candidate President Museveni was declared the winner with 59.26% of the vote, giving him a third term in office following the passage of a controversial amendment in June 2005 to eliminate presidential term limits. Opposition FDC leader Kizza Besigye captured 37.39% of the vote, while the remaining contestants received less than 2% of the vote each, according to official figures from the Electoral Commission.
People of Uganda
The Baganda are the largest ethnic group in Uganda and comprise approximately 17% of the population. Individual ethnic groups in the southwest include the Banyankole and Bahima (10%), the Bakiga (7%), the Banyarwanda (6%), the Bunyoro (3%), and the Batoro (3%). Residents of the north include the Langi (6%) and the Acholi (5%). In the northwest are the Lugbara (4%). The Karamojong (2%) occupy the considerably drier, largely pastoral territory in the northeast. Ethnic groups in the east include the Basoga (8%) and the Bagisu (5%). Uganda’s population is predominately rural, and its population density is highest in the southern regions. Asians constituted the largest non-indigenous ethnic group in Uganda until 1972, when the Idi Amin regime expelled 50,000 Asians who had been engaged in trade, industry, and various professions. After Amin’s overthrow in 1979, Asians slowly began returning, but Uganda’s Asian population has never reached its pre-1972 numbers. Nationality: Noun and adjective –Ugandan(s). Population (2009): 32.7 million. Annual population growth rate (2009 est.): 3.3%. Ethnic groups: Baganda, Banyankole, Bahima, Bakiga, Banyarwanda, Bunyoro, Batoro, Langi, Acholi, Lugbara, Karamojong, Basoga, Bagisu, and others. Religions (2009): Christian 85%, Muslim 12%, other 3%. Languages: English (official), Swahili (official), Luganda, and numerous other local languages. Education: Attendance (2008; primary school completion rate)–56%. Literacy (2003-2008)–74%. Health (2009 est.): Infant mortality rate –79.4/1,000. Life expectancy –52.7 yrs.
Government of Uganda
The 1995 constitution established Uganda as a republic with executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The constitution provides for an executive president, to be elected every 5 years. President Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986, was elected in 1996 and reelected in 2001, 2006, and 2011. Legislative responsibility is vested in the parliament; legislative elections are held every 5 years. Because of redistricting, the new parliament elected in February 2011 will grow from 332 to 376 members, including 112 special seats for women, 10 special seats for military, five for youth, and five for persons with disabilities. The Ugandan judiciary operates as an independent branch of government and consists of magistrate’s courts, high courts, courts of appeals (which also function as constitutional courts), and the Supreme Court. Parliament and the judiciary are independent bodies and wield significant power.
Principal Government Officials
President and Commander in Chief–Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
Vice President–Gilbert Bukenya
Prime Minister–Apollo Nsibambi
Foreign Minister–Sam Kutesa
Minister of Defense–Crispus Kiyonga
Ambassador to the United States–Perezi K. Kamunanwire
Uganda maintains an embassy in the United States at 5909 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20011 (tel. 202-726-7100).
Since assuming power, Museveni and his government have largely put an end to the gross human rights abuses of earlier governments, initiated substantial economic liberalization and general press freedom, and instituted economic reforms in accord with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and donor governments.
The vicious and cult-like Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which seeks to overthrow the Ugandan Government, killed tens of thousands of people in northern Uganda from 1986 to 2006, abducted thousands of children to serve as soldiers and slaves, and displaced approximately 1.8 million Ugandans. Human rights abuses committed by the LRA include murder, mutilation, abduction of young women for sexual servitude, and kidnapping of children to become rebel fighters.
In 2005, the Ugandan military pushed the LRA out of northern Uganda. The LRA escaped to and continued to operate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.), as well as in Southern Sudan and the Central African Republic (C.A.R.). Under military pressure, the LRA rebels requested peace talks, which Government of Southern Sudan Vice President Riek Machar mediated and which after 2.5 years resulted in a Final Peace Agreement (FPA) in April 2008. However, LRA leader Joseph Kony ultimately refused to sign the FPA and continued to commit atrocities against local populations in D.R.C., Southern Sudan, and C.A.R. In December 2008, the Governments of Uganda, D.R.C., and Southern Sudan launched a joint military operation against the LRA in northeastern D.R.C. This operation is ongoing as of 2011 and extends across LRA-affected areas in D.R.C., C.A.R., and Southern Sudan.
There have been no LRA attacks in northern Uganda since August 2006. As a result, the vast majority of the 1.8 million former internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned to or near their homes. Assistance from the Government of Uganda through its Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) and from international donors has helped communities in northern Uganda rebuild and recover from the 20-year humanitarian catastrophe caused by the LRA.
Uganda’s constitution provides for freedom of speech, religion, and movement, and press and civil society enjoy relative freedom in Uganda. However, the government occasionally limits these freedoms. In September 2009, the government blocked the Prime Minister of the Buganda Kingdom from visiting the District of Kayunga north of Kampala. This restriction on a senior Buganda official’s freedom of movement, together with incorrect reports of the Prime Minister’s arrest, sparked 3 days of riots in Kampala that left at least 40 people dead and many more injured. The government also occasionally uses charges of unlawful assembly, inciting violence, and promoting sectarianism to curtail government critics’ freedom of speech and assembly.
Constitution: Ratified July 12, 1995; promulgated October 8, 1995.
Independence: October 9, 1962.
Branches: Executive–president, vice president, prime minister, cabinet. Legislative–parliament. Judicial–Magistrate’s Court, High Court, Court of Appeals, Supreme Court.
Administrative subdivisions: 80 districts.
Political parties: In 2006, approximately 33 parties were allowed to function, including political parties that existed in 1986, when the National Resistance Movement assumed power.
Suffrage: Universal adult.
National holiday: Independence Day, October 9.
Economy of Uganda
Since assuming power in early 1986, Museveni’s government has taken important steps toward economic rehabilitation and adopted policies that have promoted rapid economic development. The country’s infrastructure–notably its transportation and communications systems that were destroyed by war and neglect–is being rebuilt. Recognizing the need for increased external support, Uganda negotiated a policy framework paper with the IMF and the World Bank in 1987. It subsequently began implementing economic policies that have resulted in a consistent pace of economic growth over the last 21 years. Growth rates in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 were 8.7% and 7.1%, respectively. Inflation increased from 7.7% in 2007 to 14.2% in 2009, well above the government’s annual target average of 5%, but declined dramatically in 2010 as food crop prices decreased. Uganda was the first country to be eligible for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative and had virtually all of its foreign debts forgiven by the IMF, World Bank, and major donors.
The service sector was the largest contributor to GDP in 2009 (at 51%). Manufacturing was second (24.7%), and agriculture was a close third (24.3%). Despite their dwindling shares of Uganda’s GDP, the agriculture and fishing sectors provide approximately 80% of employment in Uganda. Uganda is Africa’s second-leading producer of coffee, which accounted for about 23% of the country’s exports in 2007-2008. Exports of non-traditional products, including apparel, hides, skins, vanilla, vegetables, fruits, cut flowers, and fish, are growing, while traditional exports such as cotton, tea, and tobacco continue to be mainstays.
Most industry is related to agriculture. The industrial sector has been rehabilitated and resumed production of building and construction materials, such as cement, reinforcing rods, corrugated roofing sheets, and paint. Domestically produced consumer goods include plastics, soap, cork, beer, and soft drinks.
Oil experts estimate Uganda has two billion to six billion barrels of recoverable oil. Oil reserves of this size would place Uganda among sub-Saharan Africa’s top oil producers and could double current government revenues within 10 years. Most of Uganda’s known oil reserves are located along Lake Albert and the D.R.C. border, in one of Africa’s most ecologically sensitive areas. Uganda and several private oil companies hope to begin small-scale production as early as 2011. Potential construction of a domestic oil refinery and export pipeline are contingent upon ongoing feasibility studies and negotiations between oil companies and the government.
Roads are the most commonly used transportation infrastructure in Uganda, accounting for more than 90% of cargo freight and passenger transportation. Uganda has about 78,100 kilometers (48,529 mi.) of roads. Only 3,000 kilometers (1,864 mi.) are paved, and most roads radiate from Kampala. The country has a 321 kilometer (200 mi.) rail network, much of which is not currently in use. Uganda’s road and rail links to Mombasa serve some of the transportation needs of the neighboring countries of Rwanda, Burundi, and parts of D.R.C. and Sudan. Entebbe International Airport is on the shore of Lake Victoria, some 32 kilometers (20 mi.) south of Kampala.
GDP (nominal, 2009): $15.7 billion.
Natural resources: Copper, cobalt, hydropower, limestone, salt, phosphate, oil.
Agriculture: Cash crops–coffee, tea, cotton, tobacco, cassava (tapioca), potatoes, corn, millet, cut flowers. Food crops–bananas, corn, cassava, potatoes, millet, pulses. Livestock and fisheries–beef, goat meat, milk, poultry, Nile perch, tilapia.
Industry: Processing of agricultural products (cotton ginning, coffee curing), cement production, light consumer goods, textiles.
Trade: Exports (2009 est.)–$2.25 billion: coffee, fish and fish products, tea, tobacco, textiles, cement, maize, electricity. Major markets–EU, Sudan, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Switzerland, Rwanda. Imports (2009 est.)–$5.24 billion: petroleum, road vehicles, cereals, industrial machinery, iron and steel, medical/pharmaceutical supplies. Major suppliers–EU, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, India, China.
Fiscal year: July 1-June 30.
Geography of Uganda
Uganda shares borders with Sudan to the north, Kenya to the east, Lake Victoria to the southeast, Tanzania and Rwanda to the south and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west. Kampala is on the shores of Lake Victoria, and the White Nile flowing out of the lake traverses much of the country. The varied scenery includes tropical forest and tea plantations on the slopes of the snowcapped Ruwenzori Mountains, the arid plains of the Karamoja, the lush, heavily populated Buganda, the rolling savannah of Acholi, Bunyoro, Tororo and Ankole, and the fertile cotton area of Teso. Official Name: Republic of Uganda Area: 241,040 sq. km. (93,070 sq. mi.); about the size of Oregon. Cities: Capital–Kampala (1991 pop. 774,214). Other cities–Jinja, Mbale, Mbarara. Terrain: 18% inland water and swamp; 12% national parks, forest, and game reserves; 70% forest, woodland, grassland. Climate: In the northeast, semi-arid–rainfall less than 50 cm. (20 in.); in southwest, rainfall 130 cm. (50 in.) or more. Two dry seasons: Dec.-Feb. and June-July.