Exploring Uganda Safely - The World Nomads Way

Uganda is one of Africa's safer countries to travel in but lack of border enforcement has allowed for illicit substances and lawlessness

We're still working on our own traveller-specific safety tips for Uganda.

In the meantime here's some great information from the US State Department's Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), which is part of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

The information is specific to US citizens, ex-pats as well as tourists, and consular and government staff working overseas.

Not ideal, but until our own reports are ready you'll get an idea of the level of security and issues you might face.

Uganda has experienced noticeable improvement in all security categories except international terrorism and road safety. The Ugandan Police Force (UPF) has concentrated its efforts on reducing crime, and the results have been impressive. Improved security has eliminated the need for extraordinary security measures in all but the Karamoja region, and those measures are being reevaluated by the United Nations and the U.S. Embassy.

Threats from regional terror organizations still plague Uganda. However, increased capacity of the Government of Uganda (GOU) to deal with these threats and continued victories on the battlefield in Somalia and around the world may have diminished the abilities of these groups to conduct attacks.

Conversely, police mismanagement of the Walk to Work (W2W) protests has resulted in numerous and sometimes deadly altercations between police and protestors. Although police crack downs have diminished the impact of the W2W protests, future demonstrations in response to corruption, economic and infrastructure woes could easily be aggravated by similar overreactions by the police and should be monitored. Overall, the security situation in Uganda is notably improved over last year's report.

Crime Threats

Crime, specifically violent crime has reduced significantly in Uganda. A sharp increase in the number of police on the street has cut reported incidents of crime in half in the Kampala metropolitan area according to the Inspector General of Police. The U.S. Mission has also observed a decrease in reported crimes. Pick-pocketing, "snatch and run" thefts (including from occupied and unoccupied vehicles) along with other petty and opportunistic crimes are still common in Kampala but rarely involve acts of violence. OSAC members should still exercise caution when visiting crowded areas such as large open-air trading markets as in any large city with large numbers of poor and unemployed.

Common crimes, generally crimes of opportunity rather than planned attacks,include, but are not limited to: thefts from vehicles, thefts of property from residences, residential break-ins, strong-armed robberies, pick-pocketing, "snatch and grab" thefts, theft from hotel rooms, and an increasing number of financial fraud cases involving credit cards, personal checks and counterfeiting. These crimes can occur day and night. Crimes that result in violence are more commonly seen when the victim attempts to resist the assailant.

Two reported violent crimes from November 2009 involved "boda boda" drivers (motorcycles for hire) sexually assaulting their female passengers after picking them up outside of a nightclub in the Kisamenti area of Kampala. Due to reported security incidents and accidents involving "boda bodas," the Chief of Mission declared off limits any motorcycle-for-hire transportation by Embassy employees during nighttime; during daytime it is discouraged.

Road Safety

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Uganda has one of the highest rates of traffic fatalities per vehicle in the world.

Roads in Uganda are poorly maintained, inadequately marked, and poorly lit. Road travel outside Kampala to other cities is dangerous during the day and treacherous at night.

Driving hazards at night include broken-down vehicles left in the road, pedestrians walking in the road, drunken drivers, stray animals, poor road conditions, and the possibility of armed robbery. The road lighting in larger cities is inadequate at best and virtually nonexistent in smaller cities.

Under normal driving conditions, drivers in Uganda are exposed to inappropriate speed, unpredictable local driving habits, pedestrians and livestock in the roadway, commuter buses that ignore traffic laws, vehicles that are not "road safe" (including lack of brake/indicator lights) and the lack of basic safety equipment.

Police enforcement of road safety standards and traffic laws is minimal, but appears to be improving. While general vehicle travel during daylight hours on both paved and unpaved roads is considered relatively safe, it is important to note that the varying conditions of the roadways (including numerous potholes) combined with excessive speed can lead to serious accidents.

The general lack of an immediate police/emergency response to traffic accident scenes often results in delayed emergency service response. Instead, accident victims rely on bystanders as the accident scene "first responders." For this reason and considering the lack of first world medical care in the majority of districts in Uganda, travelers should maintain the equipment and training to be able to perform first aid for themselves.

Political Violence

At one time, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a domestic insurgent group led by Joseph Kony, operated with relative ease throughout northern Uganda. Beginning in 2005, the Ugandan military made significant strides to push LRA fighting elements out of Uganda, into Southern Sudan, and then into eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The LRA was completely removed from northern Uganda by the end of 2006 and has not conducted operations here since.

Overall security in northern Uganda has greatly improved as a result of the military success against the LRA. The introduction of civilian police into the north in addition to significant efforts by the GOU and the international community have accomplished a remarkable turnaround. Seldom do common criminals and roaming bandits still carry out armed attacks on vehicles; when this does happen, it is mostly at night. For this reason travel after sundown outside the district capitals of the north is prohibited for U.S. Embassy personnel.

Regional Security, Terrorism and Organized Crime

While Uganda is generally viewed as a safe, secure and politically stable country within the region, its extensive and porous borders are inadequately policed, allowing for a robust flow of illicit trade and immigration.

Rebel groups operate freely in the eastern DRC, posing a potential risk along Uganda's western border region. The northern border with Southern Sudan has a limited security presence and current instability which could draw Uganda into a regional conflict but it is unlikely that it would spill over the border into Uganda.

The eastern border with Kenya is also difficult to police, however, main roads and border crossings have a consistent police presence.

The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) originally a Ugandan based insurgency now operates in eastern DRC and is listed as a terrorist organization.

In the past, the ADF made incursions into western Uganda along the Muzizi River, near Semliki National Park in Bundibugyo District. The ADF launched offensive actions into western Uganda in March 2007; the Ugandan military counter-attacked. This offensive military action resulted in the killing or capturing of 100 ADF fighters. The GOU remains vigilant for threats from the ADF but most analysts agree the ADF poses little threat to security in Uganda.

Primarily, Uganda does not have any large organized crime elements operating within the country. Human smuggling syndicates operate in Uganda providing fraudulent identification for intending illegal immigrants to the European Union, but the volume is likely small. Since Uganda lacks any law that prevents money laundering, organizations could easily operate with little risk of exposure based on its negligent financial regulatory framework but thus far none have emerged.

International Terrorism

The largest terrorist threat in Uganda is al-Shabaab and al-Qa'ida East Africa (AQEA). The threat stems from Uganda's continued support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Civil unrest

The threat of civil unrest, public protests, strikes, demonstrations, and political violence is currently rated at the medium level for Uganda. Nevertheless, politically or economically motivated demonstrations can surface sporadically with little to no warning. The W2W protests following the elections in 2011 focused on high commodity prices. Several demonstrations since were rallied against economic issues like power outages, levies on taxis and interest rates and will likely continue.

Demonstrations occasionally take place in Kampala and other Ugandan cities in response to world events or local conditions. Demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly violent when police response is not appropriately measured. It is advisable to avoid demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if in the vicinity of any demonstration. Staying current with media coverage of local events, continually evaluating one's surroundings and planning to avoid conflict will usually mitigate these risks. Developing communication strategies on security issues with local staff can provide an early warning system for demonstrations as local staff generally consume all local media and can also tap into unfounded information.

The GOU has established tight controls on general security in the country. OSAC members should still remain vigilant and plan for the possibility of civil unrest as crack downs of this kind often lead to discontent and ultimately larger and more deadly demonstrations.

Disasters and environmental hazards

Rapid-onset disasters can range from short-term food security crises to flash floods, infectious disease outbreaks, and political crisis/conflict situations. Slow-onset disasters stem primarily from food insecurity due to drought with a number of other factors contributing to root causes.

Most communities in northern Uganda recently readjusted to normalcy following 23 years of insurgency at the hands of the LRA. The vast majority of people in northern Uganda live in rural areas and are engaged primarily in subsistence-based livelihoods, living largely at the mercy of the production capacity of the land and the vicissitudes of the weather. For most of the year, these households have little or no cash to purchase food or other essentials from the market, nor do they have any assets to sell to smooth consumption. They typically cultivate very small plots of land, and own very few livestock.

In December 2010, there was an outbreak of yellow fever in a handful of northern districts. In September 2008, there was an Ebola outbreak in the western district of Bundibugyo, while northern districts located west of the Nile River have experienced various outbreaks of black plague. Government management of these outbreaks has been impressive over that last year but travelers should be aware of the heightened threat posed by infectious disease in Uganda.

Police Response

The Ugandan police have made significant strides in their ability to react to crime and other incidents.

Most police stations throughout the capital city have few phone lines, meager radio communications, and a limited supply of vehicles, which are often in need of fuel. Police attempts to deter crime by placing their limited forces in static locations, supplemented by mobile patrols have been increasingly successful.

Although police corruption is extensive, as evidenced by frequent requests from police officers for "donations" to cover the cost of completing a police report or responding to a traffic accident we have seen an increase in the willingness of police management to intervene and punish those who solicit bribes.

The national emergency police response number is "999". Due to the limitations of the police, many local businesses choose to augment their security by employing private armed guards or watchmen. The quality of these services ranges from poor to adequate.

Foreign currency should be exchanged in authorized banks, hotels and other legally authorized outlets and proper receipts should be obtained for the transactions. Exchange receipts are required to convert unused Ugandan currency back to the original foreign currency. Penalties for exchanging money on the black market range from fines to imprisonment. Credit cards are not accepted at many hotels, restaurants, shops, or other local facilities, although they are accepted at the major chain hotels in Kampala.

If you are the victim of a crime

You should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy (see end of this sheet or see the U.S. Department of State's list of embassies and consulates). This includes the loss or theft of a U.S. passport. The Embassy staff can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds may be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Uganda is "999" but the emergency response is not equivalent to an emergency response in the US. Generally reporting a crime directly to nearest the police station will result in a quicker emergency response then relying on dialing "999".

Medical Emergencies

Health facilities in Kampala are very limited and are generally inadequate outside the capital. Even the best hospitals in Kampala suffer from inadequate facilities, antiquated equipment, and shortages of supplies (particularly medicines). Visitors are advised to carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines, as well as a doctor's note describing the medication. There is a shortage of physicians, and emergency assistance is limited. Quality psychiatric services are almost nonexistent in Uganda.

Malaria is prevalent in Ugandan, especially in rural regions. 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 explain to the health care provider their travel history and which anti-malarials they have been taking.

Travelers to Uganda should also avoid swimming in any lakes, rivers, or still bodies of water. All bodies of water have been found to contain parasites, including schistosomiasis. Uganda has had outbreaks of acute watery diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, and other bacterial diarrhea in the recent past, and the conditions for reoccurrences continue to exist in both urban and rural settings.

Air ambulance services

Serious illnesses and injuries often require travelers to be medically evacuated from Uganda to a location where adequate medical attention is available. Such medevac services are available locally but can be very expensive and are generally available only to travelers who either have travel insurance that covers medevac services or who are able to pay in advance the considerable cost of such services (often in excess of 40,000 USD). The State Department strongly urges US citizens to consult their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to determine whether the policy applies overseas and whether it covers emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Crime and Safety tips

Visitors are strongly advised to review their personal safety and security posture, to remain vigilant and to be cautious by lowering their public profile when frequenting public places and landmarks. Visitors are advised to beware of unattended baggage or packages left in any location, including in mini-buses and private taxis. Visitors should limit the amount of cash they carry and leave valuables, such as passports, jewelry, and airline tickets in a hotel safe or other secure place. Visitors should carry only the items and cash that they are willing to lose and keep wallets and other valuables where they will be less susceptible to pick-pockets. Visitors should be cautious at all times when traveling on roads in Uganda. There have been reports of highway robbery, including carjacking, by armed bandits outside urban areas. Some incidents have been accompanied by violence. Visitors are cautioned to limit road travel outside towns or cities to daylight hours and travel in convoys, if possible.

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9 Comments

  • lyazi derrick said

    Uganda is horrible place despite the praises done by the article i feel its all not true because am here currently

  • christian siemens said

    My girlfriend will be volunteering for three months in Kampala and wants to explore some other cities and countries...how worried should I be?

  • David :) said

    Hi, i would be a bit worried depending on where she is going. Kampala is safe generally however visting other parts of Uganda without up to date information could be dangerous. Two days ago '27thNov16' 66 death toll as government crack down on a tribal king see link*


    *http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/62-dead-uganda-moves-tribal-king-161128092819220.html*


    - http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/62-dead-uganda-moves-tribal-king-161128092819220.html -


  • Nakatagi janiffer said

    Honestly, people think Uganda is horrible but I disagree, I have been in Uganda my all life and have travelled to most of the places around it,
    Uganda is safe and no hurt will come to you if you do exactly what you are supposed to do.
    if you planning to travel to Uganda, you should just read some tips.https://traveliry.com/travel-tips-for-travelers-in-uganda/

  • Jay said

    Uganda was relatively safe when I traveled there. What you really need to be aware of is protecting yourself against disease! I didn't do a good enough job and ended up with Typhoid. Rural Uganda was very nice, but I would be careful in the cities since there has been an increase in female kidnapping. Overall, it's a really cool place to visit though!

  • Kevin said

    I was attacked on 12th May 2018 in Kampala Uganda beaten up and nearly killed and my stuff stolen from me for suspicion of being an LGBTQ 🏳️‍🌈 (homosexual)
    This is travel advisory for any worldnormad member who is an LGBTQ traveling to Uganda to excercise caution and care while in Uganda.

    Watch this

    https://youtu.be/fV0tS6G8NNU

    Travel to Uganda if it is a must because of your safety

  • K said

    Of course Nakatagi thinks the place is fine. He lives there and likely has never been out of Africa since Ugandans have a very hard time getting visas. He is likely also not rich and since Ugandan currency is at the bottom of the totem pole and jobs are scarce... he probably couldn’t afford to leave even if he could get a visa. Easy to say a place is nice when you don’t know any different. It’s also easy to say it’s sade when you are a local because the pick pockets and robbers don’t target other poor locals. They target white people and westerners because they think they have money.

  • Timothy said

    Been going to Uganda on and off for about 3 yrs. The article is ok but perharps a bit too politically correct. I have had alot of good experiences in Churchill's pearl of Africa but i also have some friends who have had terrible experiences that made them loathe the place and never want to ever come back. This is especially true if you are caucasian. i've noticed that the indian/ chinese/ middle eastern community don't face many of the negative issues(at least not as much as U.K, U.S, European visitors.)
    probably the determining factor that permeates everything is the depressing poverty levels. The leaders have mismanaged the country into a total mess. poverty pushes the locals(who could have probably been kinder better people) to try every form of trickery to get a little bit of money from the "wealthy muzungu".
    If you are simply a short term tourist alot of the bad sides will be hidden from you and all you will see is smiling faces and nature in all it's magnificent splendour. but dare to dig a bit deeper and it is really depressing.
    Been trying to help youth groups to establish wealth generating projects but it is really an uphill battle.
    After all is said, Uganda is generally safe but make sure you go there prepared.

  • kazi nur haiul hossain said

    Uganda is nice place
    i feel it's all true because i've known about it.
    http://sportfishingtheworld.blogspot.com/2018/07/visiting-uganda-on-moderate-budget.html

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