Tips & Precautions: Uganda

20180326_135808As I prepared to go to Uganda I compiled a list of the resources, precautions, tips, and advice for travel to Uganda. This includes medical, safety, security, and social advice. 


Customs and Immigration:


Medical:


Safety and Security:

  • Download ISOS App:
  • Check out ISOS report:
  •  Travel Briefing from ISOS:
  • Keep emergency, Embassy, ISOS, bank, and coworker phone numbers in phone.
  • 2018 ISOS Crime Statement:
    • “Crime rates in Uganda are not particularly elevated compared to other countries in the region. While foreigners, who are typically perceived as wealthy and easy targets, should be alert towards the risks posed by petty and opportunistic crime, basic precautions (keeping valuables hidden, avoiding display of wealth, maintaining situational awareness) would help to mitigate them. A foreign national is likely to stand out more in such a remote locations. It is important for you to seek to establish local support to reduce your potential exposure to crime. This should include securing vehicle with a driver for any ground movements outside the cities and towns. When in an urban setting, you should avoid any travel on foot alone after dark.”
    • “While urban centers in Uganda do periodically experience social unrest, often linked to socio-economic grievances, or opposition-related gatherings, protest activity overall is not particularly frequent. We have not seen any major protests in Uganda in recent months. Now, since demonstrations can occur and have a potential to become disruptive, we strongly advise foreign travelers to avoid all gatherings, regardless of their purpose. Security forces are known to use heavy-handed measures to disperse crowds. If you see a crowd gathering, you should remove yourself from the area and return to a safe location.”
    • “Uganda faces an underlying terrorism threat which in the recent years has manifested itself in a suicide bombing at a rugby club in Kampala in July 2010. Somalia-based extremist al-Shabab group took responsibility for the attack which killed at least 74 people. While the capital Kampala, which remains the most attractive among the country’s urban centers, has not experienced any major terrorist incidents since 2010, there is a suspected presence of militants or their sympathizers in the country, as evidenced by the fact that counter-terrorism efforts remain one of the top priorities for the authorities. There have been no recent terrorist-related incidents in the locations you will visit. Nevertheless, while in Kampala you should be aware of the terrorism threat and exercise vigilance particularly in areas likely to be targeted (foreign assets, places known to be frequented by foreigners, shopping complexes, etc.”
    • “Now, in addition to that, in remote parts of Uganda there are also concerns over rural banditry that often involves carjackings and armed robberies. This is something that needs to be considered when travelling to Kasese and Fort Portal or in their surrounding areas. Using a low-profile vehicle, avoiding display of wealth and limiting all overland travel to day time only would help to mitigate the risk posed by rural bandits. While in transit, it is also important to keep the doors locked and windows closed at all times.”
    • “You should also be aware of the incidental risks posed by tribal or ethnic violence that occur periodically in parts of the Western Region. Although recently there have been no major incidents of tribal violence in the region, there have been some large scale clashes in Kasese in November 2016. Since most of such incidents occur without any prior notice, it is important to establish ways of getting locally-sourced information on local developments to stay abreast of any potential flare ups in the area. During the trip, if you come across any gatherings, regardless of their nature, you should remove yourself from the scene as a precaution.”
    • “There are areas within 30 km from the borders with DRC that are rated as HIGH security risk due to presence of various armed groups in areas along the border on the DRC side.”
  • Some police may accuse you of phony charges and threaten to arrest you if you don’t pay for a bribe.Most common situation would be for a traffic violation (or supposed traffic violation) – and I don’t anticipate you driving. A typical traffic cop bribe would be around $3 (10,000 UGX)

Accommodations:

2018 ISOS Accommodation Recommendations

  • “We typically recommend foreign travelers visiting Uganda to stay at internationally-branded business class hotels that have a certain level of security features in place including secured perimeter, 24/7 access control, person and vehicle screening, CCTV systems, fire alarms, rooms with doors equipped with spy holes and key chains. Obviously, in more remote locations such as Bududa, there is a lack of accommodation options to choose from. In that scenario, we would advise you to contact the options that you are considering to stay at and inquire about the security features they have in place. You should give preference to those options that have at least some of the above security features.”

Travel:

2018 ISOS road safety and transportation recommendations

  • “Transportation arrangements are important in Uganda, as we advise against using all forms of public transport due to varied safety standards and higher exposure to crime. Please note that we advise foreign travelers against self-driving unless they are very familiar with local driving conditions. First of all, roads outside of urban centers in Uganda are very poorly maintained. Also, local driving habits increase the risk of road traffic accidents (RTA). What further complicates the situation is the fact that there are very limited assistance options in case of a breakdown. The roads can also become impassable due to rains and related flooding and mudslides.”
  • “Where there are air travel options available, we would suggest you to give preference to them. However, as there are limited domestic air travel options available in the country, we would suggest you to have a pre-arranged transport for all ground movements, particularly any intercity movements. The car should be driven by a local experienced driver, who has traveled between your visit locations before.”
  • “For any long-distance overland travel, we strongly recommend preparing a journey management plan (JMP). This would include investigating the appropriate route, checking the status of roads, having a well-maintained and pre-checked four-wheel drive (4WD) – to account for the local road conditions. Additionally, it is important to equip the car with emergency repair tools, first aid kit, water and food, fully charged communication devices.”
  • Ground transport providers:

Money:

  • ATMS empty on pay day
  • Charles Schwab has a debit card with no ATM fees
  • Download Mobile Money App
  • Let credit and debit card companies know your travel plans before traveling
  • U.S. currency notes in $20 and $50 denominations are exchanged at a fixed rate of 2,600 UGS/= per $1 USD, which is significantly lower than the current rate of 3,600 UGS/= per $1 USD for $100 bills.
  • It is common to give tips to drivers, hostel keepers, laundresses, servers etc.
  • Tips to avoid theft and fraud

Mail:

  • Get mail delivered to an office not a hostel or hotel
  • Mail gets lost frequently

Language:

  • Check out this website for information on the Luganda language.
  • Look here for information on the Sebei language.
  • Common Phrases:
    • Luganda:
      • How are You: olyotya otyano Nnyabo(female) or sebo(male)
        • Response: Bulungi (meaning “am fine|”)
      • Good morning: Wasuze otyano
      • Good evening: osibye otyano
      • Thank you very much: Wabale nyo
      • Help me Please: Nyamba ko
    • Lugisu:
      • Greeting: “Melembe” Sebo/Papa/Mi (Sebo for man who is younger than your dad; Papa for an older man; Mi for woman)
        • Response if you started conversation: “Odiena” or “Otiena”
        • Response if they started conversation: Bulayi
      • Thank you: Wanyala
      • OK: “Calle”
    • Sabeen
      • Greeting:
        • If you are perceived as a man: Sobi (Man), Takwenya (Woman)
        • If you are perceived as a woman: Takwenya (Man or Woman)
          • Response to Sobi, Abo, to Takwenya, Yako
      • Thank you: Que Tabon

Sexual harassment/ Assault/ Rape:


LGBTQ concerns:

  • https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/05/14/uganda-anti-homosexuality-acts-heavy-toll
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Uganda
  • 2018 ISOS statements:
  • “Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda. Any association with or public expressions of support for lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender activists could lead to harassment and, in the worst case scenario, violence or arrest. In addition to having legal consequences for display of same-sex affection or LGBTQ rights activism, there is also concern over harassment or aggression from local residents as homosexuality is widely disapproved of.”
  • “Travel to Uganda as member of LGBTQ community would require some planning and preparation on your part to make sure that when you arrive you can keep a low profile and avoid attracting attention to your sexual orientation. This would involve planning in advance the items of clothing and accessories that you would bring to the country, for example, to make sure that these would not somehow reveal your sexuality or views. Additionally, it would be very important during your stay in the country to avoid discussing subjects surrounding LGBTQ issues. For example, given the fact that homosexuality is illegal, there may be instances of arrests of LGBTQ rights activists in the country, so it would be important to avoid voicing support or sympathy for them. Now, it would be best to remain discreet even when dealing with your host organization. I understand it may be quite challenging to suppress yourself and refrain from voicing your views, but these steps are necessary to ensure your safety during your trip.”

Water:

  • Tap water is not safe. Ceramic filter, bottled water, or UV purifier is recommended.

Clothing:

  • Cover shoulders
    • Us a cardigan over tank tops
  • Never have a skirt, shorts, or dress that ends above the knee
  • Yoga or tight fitting pants are acceptable in urban settings
  • Open toes shoes are not acceptable when meeting government officials
  • Nice clothing… everyone dresses really nice in the culture
    • (collared shirts and slacks)
  • Don’t wear blue or yellow to government meetings
    • Blue represents opposition party
    • yellow represents current party
  • Cleavage is against the law
  • Do not have bright nails or makeup
  • Do not wear outfits that show the back

Culture:

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