Is Uganda safe to visit?

Is Uganda safe to visit? This is one of the most crucial questions that finally determines whether a tourist will have Uganda in his or her African safari vacation, included mostly for the famous gorilla tracking adventures and chimpanzee trekking experiences in the beautiful jungles.

Very many tourists do not believe Uganda is safe and do not bother to include it on their itineraries (opting for Rwanda gorillas if gorilla trekking was the reason for thinking of visiting Uganda). While, many other tourists are not sure but are overcome by the adventure bug and the curiosity to discover this country popularly referred to as the Pearl of Africa, and so they simply take a leap of faith hoping they will be safe.

Uganda is a big recipient of bad publicity and this is largely due to the huge media freedom which perhaps you cannot find in other African countries. So, each and every misfortunate (that almost every other country faces) of Uganda finds itself out there, thereby painting a picture of a country that is not safe to visit.

Uganda is also not helped by her location in a region marred by conflicts and epidemics. Whatever happens in the Congo and South Sudan discourages many tourists from visiting Uganda who do not think Uganda is any safer.

In this blog I will enlighten you on the safety and security situation of Uganda and how to keep safe when you are a tourist in Uganda

Again, is Uganda safe to visit?

The answer is Yes, Uganda is safe for tourists and everyone to visit. To put it into perspective, more than one million tourists visit Uganda each year and this number is increasing exponentially as more people discover that Uganda is in fact very safe. Uganda for long has larked in the shadow of its tumultuous past of civil wars and bad leaders, so much that many people still believe the dictator Idi Amin is still the president of Uganda, a man that died decades ago.

For more than 15 years now Uganda has enjoyed peace with no war going on in her land. President Museveni’s government has built a formidable military that has effectively protected the country from insecurity both from within and without.

What are the concerning security and safety situations to look out for and how to stay safe in Uganda?

Petty crimes

Petty crimes including pickpocketing, car break-ins, phone snatching and mugging would be your biggest safety concern in Uganda. But these are more rampant in the bustling cities, more so in the capital Kampala City, in congested spaces of the city and in the ghettos.

This calls for maximum vigilance.

Observe the following as SOPs to safeguard against petty crimes;

  • Do not use your phone while in a congested place within the city. Smartphone are the most targeted items by petty thieves in Uganda as they are easy to sell off.
  • Do not leave your phone unattended to, if not using it put it in your pocket.
  • Always have your car window glasses up when driving through the city or simply do not use your phone nor have any easy to pick valuables near an open window
  • Ensure your car doors are locked when traveling
  • Do not display a lot of money in public
  • Do not expose your wallet or money purse, keep it hidden as much as possible. A pocket with a zipper would be the ideal.
  • Do not keep valuables such as phone, money, camera, passport, etc… in the car
  • Do not leave money, passports and devices such as phone and camera in your hotel room when going out. If there is a safe in the room keep the valuables you can’t carry with you in the safe
  • Avoid walking alone in the night

Road accidents

Road accidents are perhaps the number one threat to a tourist’s life in Uganda. Uganda has one of the highest rates of accidents in Africa. Lack of discipline by road users, poor roads, and poor cars are some of the factors causing accidents.

  • Ensure you are driven by a professional tourist driver and that he or she must follow the traffic rules.
  • Ensure you are driving or being driven in car without any mechanical problems. Car should be properly serviced. In fact I encourage you to use the 4X4 tourist vehicles.
  • Avoid traveling on the motorcycle taxis popularly called “boda boda”. They are the most reckless of road users and account for most road accidents in the cities.
  • When crossing a busy road in the city, please take enormous care and especially look out for the reckless “boda boda” motorcycle taxis who don’t follow any traffic rules. They will come from any direction of the road even on a one-way traffic street.

Political unrest and riots

Elections in Uganda are an intense affair that often sees riots and clashes between opposition and the government forces, especially in the cities and towns. There is a level of lawlessness during this time and often lives and property are lost. This is however a short period. Tourists are never targeted, however some individuals could take advantage of the confusion to carry out robberies. When planning your trip perhaps you can avoid the presidential elections time. Otherwise, if you come during this time be vigilant and avoid any areas with political rallies and processions. Avoid the cities all together.

Kidnaping of tourists

Kidnapping tourists for ransom had never happened in Uganda until the April of 2019 when two tourists were kidnapped while out in the bush in Queen Elizabeth National Park. The tourists were never harmed and were released after negotiations and ransom was paid to the kidnappers. Queen Elizabeth National Park borders the Democratic Republic of Congo which is a hotspot of insurgencies and lawlessness. The kidnapers indeed originated from the D.R. Congo. The government has since reinforced security along the border with DR Congo and within the park.

This kidnap of tourists in Uganda can be treated as a one-off incidence that cannot easily happen again, so you should not be worried about being kidnapped while in Uganda.

Joseph Kony

Joseph Kony is a notorious rebel leader whose rebel outfit (LRA) terrorized northern Uganda for years. He was eventually flushed out of Uganda and pursued till he posed no threat to Uganda. Some tourists do still believe Kony is still in Uganda causing mayhem, however this is not true.

Be assured there is no threat of Joseph Kony in Uganda anymore!!

Terrorism (ISIS/ISL and ADF) threats in Uganda

Uganda has been targeted by terrorist groups and has had a share of terror attacks in the last two decades. At the moment, the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) group has been the biggest threat to security in Uganda. The ADF was once a rebel movement fighting the Ugandan government in the 1990s, with bases in neighboring DRC. It was defeated and rendered too weak to cause any future threats. It’s leader Jamil Mukulu was captured and is detained in Uganda.

However, with the emergence of ISIS/ISL (Islamic State), some remnants of the ADF took advantage & morphed into a terrorist organization pledging allegiance to the international terrorist organization ISIS so as to get  logistical support from the terror organization. The group managed to set up a terror cell in Kampala that carried out assassinations of some top security officials, but their biggest operation has been the twin suicide bombings in Kampala on 16th November 2021 targeting a police station and government offices. The government has since tracked down the terror cell and killed most of the members while on the heel of other members.

The terrorist attacks occurrences are rare and are far in between, and no tourists or tourism destinations have been targeted.

Regions or areas of safety concern

North eastern Uganda – Karimojong cattle rustling corridor

Home to the Kidepo Valley National Park and other remarkable wildlife reserves, this is the remotest of Uganda’s regions that was for long off the tourist circuit because of the insecurity. The insecurity was due to the cattle rustling tradition practiced by the cattle keeping tribes of this region. This region is home to the famous Karimojong people as one of the local tribes in the area. Tribes in this region had been practicing cattle rustling which is a tradition of stealing cows from each. The communities throughout the region were heavily armed with guns for cattle rustling and protection from cattle rustling. The region was basically inaccessible unless if one went with a military convoy as everyone would be targeted. Operations were undertaken by the government to disarm the region and for more than 6 years now one can travel to the region and enjoy the magnificent landscape and rare wildlife.

However, once in a while cattle rustling clashes between communities are reported. They are promptly taken care of by the military. It is therefore advised to find out the situation in the region before traveling there.

Kasese near the Congo border

Kasese is home to Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Rwenzori mountains national park. The areas near the Congolese border, especially in the remote Ishasha area of Queen Elizabeth National Park can be of concern (this is where kidnap of tourists happened in 2019). There are frequent patrols by the army. However to avoid any surprises if you will be taking long watching animals in the bush, take an armed ranger guide provided by the park.

Kampala slums

Kampala slums harbor thugs, only venture there when you are in a group and better take a police escort for guaranteed security.

Is Rwanda safe for tourists?

tourists approaching the Virunga Mountains for the hike on Mount Bisoke volcano

One of the biggest concerns for tourists planning to travel to Africa, more so to Sub-Saharan Africa, is safety or security. Rwanda is located in the central Africa, a region known for insecurity so it is understandable when one is concerned before booking that gorilla trekking trip, a safari to meet the chimpanzees and walk in the canopy of Nyungwe forest an ancient forest said to have existed since the ice age or safari trip to Akagera National Park to look for the famed big five in one of African’s most scenic savanna.

This blog will enlighten you on how safe Rwanda is and how to keep safe in Rwanda

Rwanda, by far is the most secure and safest country in Africa….

Due to her tumultuous past and location in a volatile region, Rwanda has invested heavily in her security systems. Rwanda has one of the most effective militaries in Africa that has ensured insurgencies in the region never spill over into her land, and a police force so professional that ensures everyone in Rwanda is safe and none is above the law!

I don’t know any cities in Africa where you can comfortably walk on a street at night while using your smartphone and not lose it within minutes, it is possible only in Rwanda’s capital Kigali City and in all other towns in Rwanda. Here you walk any street or alley without having to constantly look over your shoulders worrying about getting mugged like it is in most African cities and towns.

The clean and very tidy streets all across the country are well lit and with security cameras.

A few safety concerns and how to keep safe in Rwanda

There is no perfect society, keep this in mind when you visit Rwanda because it is not heaven 😊

Though at very low levels, there are petty crimes such as; pickpocketing, phone snatching, car break-ins

Take the following precautions to avoid any surprises:

  • Do not leave money, passports and devices like phones in your hotel room. If there is a safe keep those that you cannot carry with you in a safe
  • Do not display money in public or show off how you got a lot of money in public
  • Do not leave valuables in the car
  • Ensure the door to your hotel room is locked when you go to bed
  • Do not leave your smartphone unattended to on a table or charging spot. Keep it in your pocket if not in use.
  • Do not give away your email. Some locals will approach you and request for your email to send you soliciting emails.

I need to stress that no one is above the law and you can’t offer a bribe and get away like in most African countries. If you break any law you will be charged without any favor.

Respect the traditions and cultures

Some of things not to do while in Rwanda to keep within the law and respect the local traditions:

  • Do not liter! Rwanda is probably the cleanest country in Africa because effort has been put into enforcing laws against littering. A culture of cleanliness has been developed through communal cleaning activities every last Saturday of the month.
  • Obey traffic rules to the hilt! If you will be driving, the easiest laws to break are the traffic laws such as driving above the speed limit. Ensure you or your driver respect the speed limit and other road/traffic laws
  • The genocide is still fresh in the memories of many adult Rwandans. Please avoid starting a conversation about the genocide with just about anyone because it is very sensitive topic.
  • Rwandan women are some of the most respected and protected in Africa. Disrespecting a Rwandan woman may be one of the quickest ways to earn you jail time in Rwanda. If you are man, avoid bad touches, vulgar conversations etc…
  • Do not take pictures of military sites, government buildings and border crossing points. It is totally prohibited. I need to stress, do not take pictures of any military installation, you will be detained promptly.