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SafetyTravel Safety: Africa: Uganda

Uganda: Republic of Uganda
Capital: Kampala
Population: 24,699,073
Currency: Ugandan shilling (UGX)
Languages: English (official national language, taught in grade schools, used in courts of law and by most newspapers and some radio broadcasts), Ganda or Luganda (most widely used of the Niger-Congo languages, preferred for native language publications in the capital and may be taught in school), other Niger-Congo languages, Nilo-Saharan languages, Swahili, Arabic
Religions: Roman Catholic 33%, Protestant 33%, Muslim 16%, indigenous beliefs 18%
Borders: Democratic Republic of the Congo 765 km, Kenya 933 km, Rwanda 169 km, Sudan 435 km, Tanzania 396 km

Uganda is a landlocked developing country in central/east Africa. Infrastructure is adequate in Kampala, the capital, but it is limited in other areas.

U.S. citizens living in or planning to visit Uganda should be aware of threats to their safety from insurgent groups, particularly in the northern region near the border with Sudan, along the western border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in the southwest near the border with Rwanda. Insurgent groups have at times specifically targeted U.S. citizens. They have engaged in murder, armed attacks, kidnapping, and the placement of land mines. Although isolated, incidents occur with little or no warning. In March 2004, two Americans were murdered in northwestern Uganda in Yumbe District; the motive was not immediately clear. Armed banditry is common in the Karamoja region in northeastern Uganda.

Due to potential security concerns, U.S. government employees must have permission from the Chief of Mission to visit the following districts: Kotido, Moroto, Nakapiritpiriti, Apac, Lira, Gulu, Kitgum, Pader, Arua, Nebbi, Kisoro, Kanungu, Yumbe, Moyo, Adjumani, and Bundibugyo. The above-named districts include all or part of several national parks. Tourists contemplating travel in any of these districts are advised to seek the latest security information from Ugandan authorities, tour operators, and the U.S. Embassy. Until further notice, the Embassy recommends that all American citizens resident in Yumbe District consider leaving the district as a precaution.

Due to the recent movement of elements of the Lord�s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda, particularly the districts of Apac, Lira, Gulu, Kitgum, Pader and Adjumani, the level of violence associated with these incursions and an order to target Americans issued in May 2004 by the leader of the LRA, the Embassy strongly recommends against travel to and residence in these districts. Americans resident in these areas should review whether the LRA threats are grounds for temporarily leaving the area.

The Government of Uganda has taken significant steps to improve security in national parks in recent years. The Ugandan army, charged with the safety and welfare of travelers, accompanies tourists on gorilla tracking visits and has greatly increased its presence in the parks. However, there are security concerns associated with pre-dawn and nighttime driving if accommodations are located far away from the gorilla parks. In addition to the general risk of higher accident rates, pre-dawn and nighttime driving also increases the risk of banditry.

The U.S. Embassy recommends against travel to Murchison Falls National Park due to continued activity by the Lord�s Resistance Army (LRA) in and around the park. Americans should avoid all road travel in Gulu and Kitgum districts, where the park is located. Prior activity in Murchison Falls National Park in 2001 included at least one incursion into the northern part of the park, when a number of Ugandan tourists were killed.

Rwenzori National Park, on the western border with Congo, was reopened by the Ugandan Government in 2001 in response to decreased rebel activity on the eastern slopes of the Rwenzori Mountains and environs. However, continuing instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo and parts of northern Rwanda make parks in the western border area of Uganda potentially vulnerable to incursion by rebel and vigilante groups operating in Congo and Rwanda.

The U.S. Embassy recommends that visitors seek up-to-date security information from park authorities before entering Mgahinga National Park and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, both in the southwestern corner of Uganda, due to sporadic rebel activity across the Congo/Rwanda border. Rwandan rebel factions with anti-Western and anti-American ideologies are known to operate in areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo that border Uganda. One such rebel group is believed to be responsible for the March 1999 kidnapping and murder of two American and six other tourists in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in western Uganda, as well as the August 1998 abduction of three tourists in a Democratic Republic of Congo national park contiguous with Uganda's Mgahinga National Park.

Home burglaries do occur and sometimes turn violent. It is not uncommon for armed groups to invade homes. In November 2003, an American citizen was robbed and beaten after leaving a popular nightclub. Incidents of armed vehicle carjackings and armed highway robbery occur throughout the country, especially in urban areas. Although these attacks are often violent, victims are generally injured only if they resist. U.S. Embassy employees are also advised against using roads at night in non-urban areas. Females traveling alone are particularly susceptible to crime. Crimes such as pickpocketing, purse snatching, and thefts from parked vehicles or vehicles stalled in traffic jams are common. These offenses also occur on public transportation. Passengers using public transport should under no circumstances accept food or drink from a stranger, even a child, because such food may contain narcotics used to incapacitate a victim and facilitate a robbery.

There has been a recent, marked increase in financial crime, including wire transfer fraud and fraud involving checks. We recommend using money orders for all fund transfers and safe guarding account information.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country�s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Ugandan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Uganda are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Once imprisoned in Uganda, there are frequently long delays in judicial processing. Food, sanitation, and medical care in the overcrowded Ugandan prisons are poor.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Medical facilities in Uganda, including Kampala, are limited and not equipped to handle most emergencies, especially those requiring surgery. Outside Kampala, hospitals are scarce and offer only basic services. Equipment and medicines are often in short supply or unavailable. Travelers generally should carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. A list of medical providers is available at the U.S. Embassy.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Uganda is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

Most inter-city transportation in Uganda is by small van or large bus. Many drivers of these vehicles have little or no training and are often reckless. Small vans and large buses are usually poorly maintained, travel at high speeds, and are the principal vehicles involved in the many single and multi-vehicle accidents along Ugandan roads. Large trucks on the highways are often precariously over-loaded, with cargo inadequately secured. Alcohol frequently is a contributing factor in road accidents, particularly at night. Drivers are advised to take extra care when driving. Driving standards are low, vehicles are often poorly maintained, large potholes are ubiquitous, and adequate signage and shoulders are almost non-existent. Highway travel at night is particularly dangerous. Pedestrians often walk in the roads and may not be visible to motorists. Large branches or rocks in the road sometimes indicate an upcoming obstruction or other hazard.

Traffic accidents draw crowds. Ugandan law requires that the drivers stop and exchange information and assist any injured persons. In some cases where serious injury has occurred, there is the possibility of mob anger. In these instances, Ugandans often do not get out of their cars, but drive to the nearest police station to report the accident.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at For specific information concerning Ugandan driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Uganda Tourist Board, IPS building, 14, Parliament Avenue, Kampala, Uganda; telephone 256-41-242-196/7. You may also wish to consult their web site:

Several weekly flights to Europe are available on international airlines. Kenya Airways has daily flights between Kampala �s airport at Entebbe and Nairobi, and regional airlines operate weekly flights to other destinations in Africa such as Dar Es Salaam, Addis Ababa, Cairo and Johannesburg. As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Uganda by local carriers at present, nor economic authority to operate such service, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Ugandan Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Uganda �s air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet web site at

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at telephone 618-229-4801.

Photography in tourist locations is permitted. However, taking pictures of military/police installations or personnel is prohibited. Military and police officers have also detained tourists for taking photographs of part of Entebbe Airport and of the area around Owen Falls Dam.

Please also refer to the separate Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

July 8, 2004

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