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East Africa




War 1 Rwanda

War 2 Congo

War 3 Sudan

War 4 LRA


Water Hyacinth







The core of the country is the ancient kingdom of Buganda, which was based on banana cultivation and dates back to the 14th century (soon after the banana arrived from Indonesia). The kingdom grew into a centralized state from a traditional clan-based society. By the 17th century, at the same time as Absolute Monarchies became the norm in Europe, the Buganda Kabaka gained complete power over his subjects.

Trade with the coast began when Arabs from Zanzibar, following the line now taken by the railway to Mwanza, reached the area in the 1840s looking for trade. By the 1860s they met the Sudanese Arab slave traders coming from the north as they reached northern Uganda.

Buganda became known by Europeans when Speke and Grant reached it on their journey to find the source of the Nile which they established as flowing out of the great Lake, which they named for the British queen Victoria.

When they reached Kampala the capital they found a tyrannical king Mutesa terrorizing his subjects and concluded at once that they had found civilization - in the sense of an organized kingdom.

Interlacustrine states
Buganda is one of a cluster of ancient kingdoms in the area, sometimes known as the Interlacustrine States. The others are Ankole, Bunyoro and Kigezi within Uganda; and Rwanda, Burundi and Buhaya outside.

Possibly discredited theory as DNA evidence disproves a northern origin

In all of them the institution of kingship (including some ceremonies known to the Pharaohs) was brought by migrating cattle herding peoples from the north, some Nilo-Hamitic, others Nilotic.

This theory may have originated with the early Europeans in the area.

Genetic evidence shows the trace of a gene in the Tutsi that is not found in the area to the north. In any case there has never been any evidence for a non-Bantu language.

Buganda became dominant after the Banana arrived in an area ideally suited to its cultivation, and developed a state structure based on royal absolutism in the 17th century. The kingdom expanded into the area formerly belonging to its rival Bunyoro and by the 19th century had the status of a Great Power in the Lake area, with a navy exerting power on the southern shore (now in Tanzania).

Colonial period
Uganda (the Swahili version of Buganda) was declared to be in the British sphere of interest by an Anglo-German treaty of 1890. British missionaries had already penetrated the area and had founded churches.

During colonial rule Buganda was joined with the other Bantu kingdoms and with the Nilotic speaking peoples of the north. A boundary dispute with the Belgians caused a group of peoples to the west of the Nile to be added from the Belgian Congo (Zaire). These were in exchange for the "Congo Pedicle" a strip of Zaire poking into Zambia (British Northern Rhodesia). Thus a homogeneous kingdom was incorporated with its former enemies. Uganda is almost a classic case of colonial borders ignoring the ethnic composition of the territory. However, the British preserved the traditional kingdoms as Native States.

Post colonial
Since independence in 1962 these weaknesses have shown themselves in continual civil wars. The first prime minister, Milton Obote, was a northerner and Nilotic speaker (Acholi). His coalition with the Bantu-speaking Baganda broke down in 1965, since when there has been continual disturbance. The disturbances began when he abandoned constitutional government in 1966 (autogolpe) and moved against the Kabaka (King) of Buganda, who was also the ceremonial president of Uganda, thus alienating the people of this area, the largest ethnic group. The Kabaka had foolishly announced the secession of Buganda. (The author was there when it happened.)

Obote was overthrown by Idi Amin, the army leader, who was from a small ethnic group - the Kakwa, neither Bantu nor Nilotic - in West Nile. Amin was possibly assisted by western governments who suspected Obote of sympathy for the Soviet Union. His brutal army regime from 1971 was responsible for the deaths of perhaps 250,000 people and the complete collapse of the modern economy when in 1972 he expelled the Asian community who had built much of it. This was one of the three worst regimes in Africa at the time (the others were Jean-Bedel Bokassa in Central Africa and Macias Nguema in Equatorial Guinea).

Idi Amin was overthrown when he invaded part of Tanzania in 1978 and was driven out by a Tanzanian counter-attack in 1979. Obote was restored in 1980 and then after a period of chaotic and incompetent government was overthrown in his turn by a military coup in 1985. The civil wars continued with corrupt and incompetent governments until the present National Resistance Movement government of Joweri Museveni took over in 1986 after a long guerrilla war from the bush. This government was at first reputed to be more honest than its predecessors but lacking in resources after the destruction of 20 years.

The Nilotic areas of the north now suffer from attack by the mainly Bantu government forces. There is also a spillover to the civil war in Rwanda, where Rwandans formerly employed in the Ugandan army, are involved. Rwandan Hutu forces have attacked Ugandan territory, allegedly by mistake. The Sudanese war also spills over the border - some peoples, such as the Acholi, straddle the border. Museveni's forces include Tutsi refugees from Rwanda. Uganda government may have been assisting the southerners in Sudan. It is not clear what Museveni's relation is to the forces that conquered Rwanda (trained in Uganda) and in former Zaire. The most powerful man in Rwanda - Paul Kagame - was formerly head of security in Uganda.

Uganda, like many of the central African states, has been badly affected by the HIV virus with 1.2 million adults believed to have been infected out of a population of 8 million. A fall in population is predicted in the near future. 25 of the sexually active population (in the city) were said to be HIV positive in 1994 and cases were doubling every six months. 30% among expectant mothers.

By early 1993 it was estimated that in some areas there were as many as one in three infected. An estimate of 5,000,000 orphans by the year 2000 was envisaged. The extended family can no longer cope, and even the clan structure may not be able to manage.

In 1998, Uganda troops were involved in the war in Congo (Kinshasa) supporting the rebels against Laurent Kabila. There is another war in the north against the rebels of the Lords Resistance Army - almost certainly supplied with weapons by the Sudanese government. Does Uganda support the southern Sudanese SPLA (South Sudan Peoples Liberation Army) fighting against the Sudan government? Probably.

It has been suggested that the Uganda army (Uganda People's Defence Force) is unable to deal with these rebels because many of the soldiers are fictitious, with their salaries going to the officers. The war with the LRA shows signs of starting up again (June 2008).

Kony film on YouTube


  • Swahili
  • English
  • Luganda
  • Nyoro
  • Nkole
  • Luo
  • West Nile langs.







Uganda has been badly damaged by civil wars following independence. The conditions for settled government were removed. The present government claims to be trying to restore peace but guerrilla activity in the north is still going on. The present government's basis is with the Bantu speaking peoples of the south. Previous governments have been based on the Nilotics of the north.

Can a multi-ethnic state with peoples of four very different language groups (Bantu, Nilotic, Nilo-Hamite and West Nile) survive without breaking up? The evidence so far is unpromising. (Click Borders). This is the problem of the whole of Africa but Uganda is one of the countries where its effects are most serious. Only the Swiss seem able to offer a hopeful model for such a state.

Hostility with most of the neighbors, including Kenya and Sudan impedes political progress. The army which brought Museveni to power is still the main power of the government, although local elections have been held.

He claims that the people will decide the ultimate constitution. A Constituent Assembly was elected in March 1994 and debated a new constitution. Probably it is a one-party state, as only the Museveni's Uganda National Movement is represented. Nevertheless there is a press free to criticise the government. This is probably the best approach to democracy in the area.

The President was reelected in 12 March 2001.

The mask of democracy slipped in December 2005 when the leader of the opposition was arrested and charged with treason, presumably to prevent him standing in the presidential elections in 2006.

It has become clear that Museveni has evolved into one of the African dictators who cling to power after they are no longer popular. The leader of the opposition Kizza Besigye finds himself arrested and harassed by the security forces.

Interesting reading

Okot p'Bitek -

The Defence of Lawino

Lawinos Lied. Ocols Lied. Ein Streitgesang

Tim Allen et al. - The Lords Resistance Army

The Lord's Resistance Army: Myth and Reality







In the colonial period the economy was based on cotton, sugar, tea and coffee with a small amount of copper mining in the west. The civil wars and expulsion of the Asians who provided the businessmen and technicians has crippled the modern economy. The infrastructure of roads, railways and electric supplies has been badly damaged. The mass of the people live on the crops they can grow in a very fertile country with reliable rain.

Until 1967 there was a common currency with Kenya and Tanzania. Then it was broken up into three local currencies. The Ugandan shilling inflated away following the expulsion of the Asians who made up most of the modern sector of the economy.

A degree of economic recovery is reported for 1990 with a real growth of income per capita of 3.6%. This is attributed to political stability and a winding down of the civil wars and a currency liberalization which has legalized foreign exchange dealers - in effect making the local currency convertible. This in turn makes it profitable to grow crops for sale as the farmers and dealers can now receive the world market price, though world coffee prices are low (rising in 1994). There is also a high rate of foreign aid.

Economic progress continued in 1994 with some hope of rising living standards, from very low levels.

AIDS is carrying off many of the economically active.

In subsequent years (1998) economic growth has continued.

However, following the 1997 intervention in the wars in Congo the loot accumulated by army officers has distorted the economy by the luxury buildings they have been erecting in Kampala.

In August 2009 it was announced that a large deposit of oil had been discovered in the western Rift Valley near Lake Albert. If this is developed what will happen to the economy?







Much of the wildlife found in the country before the civil wars began has been killed. The national parks were once abundant with elephants. They have been killed, as automatic weapons have become common.

AIDS is common but the government has had what is probably the most effective anti-AIDS policy in Africa - a program of education and propaganda against unprotected multi-partner sexual activity - until restrained by the US Bush government.

Uganda controls the start of the White Nile at its exit from Lake Victoria. This is of interest to Egypt whose government fears any possible interference with the Nile. The British built the Owen Falls Dam, partly to control the Nile Valley.

It is being claimed (February 2006) that Uganda is letting too much water through this dam in a time of severe drought, so that the Lake is much lower than it should be.






Human Rights

Human rights improved after Museveni came to power. However, even his government is not able to control soldiers and in some parts of the country, especially the North East, civil war and killing is still going on.

Amnesty reports that torture still occurs frequently. There are prisoners held without trial. Political dissidents, including people returned from Britain, are routinely tortured, including rape.

As protests grow against Museveni things are getting worse.

Climate effects

Last revised 8/03/12

East Africa


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