Are Gay and Lesbian Tourists safe on a Safari in Uganda or Rwanda?

Posted by on October 13, 2019

The  Reality: Are Gay and Lesbian Tourists safe on a Safari in Uganda or Rwanda?

The Safest Place to be for Gay Travelers in Uganda or Rwanda is on a Safari with a Tour Operator

 Are Gay and Lesbian Tourists safe on a Safari in Uganda or Rwanda?  Africa has come on the radar for many LGBT Travelers. Uganda.  Africa is the only place where you incredible Wildlife Encounters. Uganda and Rwanda are the two safe and secure countries for a date with the Gentle Giants of Forest, the Mountain Gorillas. You can see Gorillas in a zoo, but not the giant Mountain Gorillas.

They do not survive in Captivity. You only see them in Uganda and Rwanda. If money is no object, then Rwanda is your choice. If you are looking for affordability, then Uganda is your choice.

Neither Uganda or Rwanda is pro-LGBT, like most African countries. However, LGBT Travelers can visit safely visit both Rwanda and Uganda, primarily if they use an LGBT sensitive Tour Operator.

The reality is that most African countries have anti-gay legislation that was implemented by the Colonial Powers. Gays have been and are part of the African Culture, even President Museveni has stated so. Christianity and Islam, along with Colonial Rules and Laws, have strongly influenced African Minds and Culture regarding Gays, and that is part of the present mindset in most of Africa, including in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda. Rwanda has no anti-LGBT laws, but most Rwandans share the cultural bias against Gays as the Rest of Africa.

Uganda, when it comes to Tourism, suffers from an image problem. Uganda is seen through the prism of Idi Amin, Joseph Kony, and the Lord’s Resistance. Repressing Opposition Candidates and, most of all, the “Kill the Gays Bill.”

Uganda has been called the most Homophobic country on the Planet.  Just say Uganda somewhere in the West, and you will get all kinds of negative responses, many of them based on blogs, false news reports, wrongful Social Media Postings regarding LGBT Issues often written by those who have never set foot into Uganda.

The Anti-Gay Bill-an American Idea: Prominent Ugandan lawmakers, politicians, pastors were influenced by some American Evangelicals who wanted to accomplish in Uganda what they could not do in the USA, outlaw anything that was Gay.  Though this is denied by many of those that were involved, the American experiment failed, but the reputation remains as being a homophobic country remains, and at the same time, the anti-gay laws, relics of the British Colonial administration remain.’

I was not that long ago when Gays faced repressive laws in the UK, US, and other Western Countries.  Gays can thank the British for the laws against homosexuality that are on the books today in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and other former British Colonies. Similar laws remain in Francophone African Countries.

When the private, so-called “Kill the Gays Bill” was introduced by David Bahati (educated in the US) in parliament, the Blogs, Western Media went on red alert wanting the freedom of expression and equal justice for Gays in Uganda.  Ugandans, not wanting to legalize homosexuality, hit back with similar enthusiasm.

Today the British Laws are still on books. The death penalty, though on the books, no one has been executed for over ten years in Uganda. You do not read about gays going to prison in Uganda as you do in Tanzania.

Changes will come, and not just cosmetic changes of laws on books as in South Africa, where lesbians are raped for corrective training, gay men were beaten, especially outside of larger towns.  It took time, cultural adjustments, and legislation in the West, the same will happen in parts of the African world, maybe even Uganda.

President Museveni’s Take on the Gay Issue in an Interview with Arnie Weissman of the Travel Trade Magazine Travel Weekly:

He said he believes there should be “no persecution, no discrimination, no killing” of gay people.  Museveni noted  that some prominent chiefs in the country’s history were gay.  “They were known, but they were not persecuted,” he said. “They were not killed. They were not discriminated against.” And, the president pointedly noted, they did not talk about their homosexuality.

What happens in private, regardless of sexual orientation, is private, he said, but Western critics should respect that in Uganda, any public display of affection, gay or straight, would be offensive.

He is 70 years old, he said, and “I have never kissed my wife in public. Now, what are we to do about this? Will somebody come and say [I] must kiss in public? That’s not our culture. Because in our culture, anything to do with love is private, away from children, apart from other people. Bilateral, between two people. “

President Museveni did sign the Anti-Gay Bill into Law. Most likely because it was an election year. The Supreme Court of Uganda rescinded the law.

Things are Slowly changing in Uganda

November 16- 2017 Daily Monitor Newspaper:

Police have organized a meeting in which they will sensitize its police officers on how to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT).

According to the police message authorized by Mr. James Kusemererwa from police headquarters and copied to the Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, 40 police officers from Kampala Metropolitan Police Area are supposed to converge at Tick Hotel in Kawempe Division on Thursday.

“There will be a sensitization workshop on minority rights (LGBT) on Thursday 16 November 2017 at Tick Hotel Kawempe (Division). “

The above was not be reported worldwide as negative news has from Uganda – but it should be of interest to Gay Travelers.  

 Update – October 10-2019 Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo announces Reintroduction of Anti-Gay Bill

The Minister of Ethics Simon Lokodo, the man who has done more hurt to Uganda’s image with his seemingly “Foot in Mouth” antics, has done it again. The former Priest sees himself as God’s Divine “No” to life.  His favorite pastime is to ban things ranging from banning Miniskirts to canceling concerts. His grand Pronouncements are most often reversed by more sensible government leaders such as President Museveni himself. “We have been talking to the MPs, and we have mobilized them in big numbers.”

On October 10, 2019, Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo was at it again in his traditional style, focusing on what most Ugandans are not focused on. He announced his plans to reintroduce the Anti-Gay Bill. Internationally referred to as “Kill the Gays Bill.”

He told Reuters News Agency that “We have been talking to the MPs, and we have mobilized them in big numbers.” He further stated that “many are supportive,” and the expected it to go to a vote by the end of the year in parliament.

Most Ugandan Newspapers missed that statement, but it caused headlines around the World. Once again, Uganda’s Minister No hurt Uganda’s image and from our perspective, brought damage to Uganda as a Tourism Destination far beyond the LGBT Community since many discerning Travelers do not want to visit a country that they see as intolerant.

Update – October 12-2019 Government Spokesperson Ofwono Opondo- No Reintroduction of Anti-Gay Bill

The Ugandan Government Spokesperson Ofwono Opondo has said that the Ugandan government does not intend to re-introduce the  contentious Anti-gay bill (kill the Gays Bill) contrary to reports that a new law was in the offing.“The government hereby clarifies that it does not intend to introduce any new legislation with regards to regulation of LGTB activities in Uganda because the current provisions in the penal code are sufficient.

It seems that once again, the Minister of Ethics, the self-proclaimed Savior of Uganda’s Morality, has acted unethically speaking for himself and not the Government of Uganda.

A barely noticed government Statement can not undo the damage that was done by the Minister of Ethics with his announcement of wanting to reintroduce the anti-gay bill (called around the world Kill the Gays Bill) by the Ugandan Government on a Saturday. Those that read news reports of the Minister’s Lokodo’s plans on October 10, 2019, will continue to believe that Uganda is reinstating the law. The Law was declared void on a technicality. 

The average Ugandan rarely thinks or talks about LGBT issues. He or she does not know many if any LGBT community members. They are facing issues such as unemployment, poverty, access to education, and health care that they can afford. When Minister Lokodo attempted to resurrect “the Anti-Gay Bill,” most Ugandans never heard his proclamation. However, the rest of the world press jumped on it. Even the government’s statement that the bill would not be reintroduced received little press coverage in Uganda.

Staying Safe and Secure: Are Gay and Lesbian Tourists safe on a Safari in Uganda or Rwanda?

 No One at Immigration will ask if you are LGBT:

You will not be asked if you are gay when arriving in Entebbe or Kigali Airport.  The arrivals card has no gay box to tick, and visa applications have no spot on them to fill out if you are gay.

Pay 50 USD for your Ugandan or Rwandan Visa, and it is “Welcome.’

Neither will you be asked if you are gay when booking a Safari with a Tour Operator such as ourselves.

You might have read all kinds of things. However, both Rwanda and Uganda are welcoming nations that make it easy for tourists to get their visa on arrival.

The reality is this, Tourist Dollars reign, and everything is done to protect the Tourist, and that includes a Tourism Police force.

The only incident recorded where a gay Tourist had a problem was in Rwanda along Lake Kivu, where a lodge-keeper would not give a room to two people of the same sex.  That has never happened to our clients in either country.

 Your Personal Askari (Guard) – Driver Guide:

The best way to see Rwanda and Uganda is a Tour Guide, he will introduce you to the culture, the styles, etiquette of both countries.

He is also the one who makes ways when there seems none. He is the one who makes things right at lodges, makes sure you that you have the right kind of food if you are a vegan or vegetarian, and teaches you to eat Mangoes, Jackfruit African style.

He is also the one who will introduce you to some of the genuinely Ugandan things such as Waragi, the local Gin with local history, Banana Beer, or Wine.  Most of all, he looks out for your well-being and safety.  People, no matter what their orientation are concerned about staying safe in Uganda or Rwanda, there is no safer place to be than in the African Bush on Safari.

The right driver-guide makes the difference.

 Are Safaris Safe for Gay and Lesbian Travelers:

Safaris are the safest place to be in Africa, and so it is in Uganda and Rwanda.  Even if there was a major riot in Kigali or Kampala, the towns were ablaze. There would be no safer place to be for you than on a Safari

Parks are like a safe place, places of security, and safety for travelers. Our Tour Guide, the lodges, park rangers, tourist police, and others are all committed to your protection.

Tourism is vital to both Uganda and Rwanda and one of the top income earners in both countries.  There is a strong commitment by both countries to protect tourists no matter gay or straight.

When it comes to LGBT issues, outside of Kampala or Kigali, most people know little. Most Africans want a simple life, have enough food, school fees for kids, and an income.

LGBT Travelers on Safari are safe and secure. No LGBT Traveler with us has ever had any issues.

 Hotels and Lodges:

Lodges and Hotels work out just fine for Gay Travelers.  A suggestion you will find on various sites is to have twin beds.  One lodge along Lake Kivu got a bit carried away and rented single rooms if two people of the same gender wanted a room, it did not even matter when they turned out to be relatives.  The government convinced them to change their ways.

Many lodges, especially around and in parks, are foreign-owned with Western Owners, and they do not have a cultural bias toward gays.

When it comes to lodges, the moderate and upmarket are best suited for privacy and comfort

Let the tour operator know your bed arrangement at lodges and hotels so that they can plan for you. Most often, if two of the same gender book a safari, the tour operator assumes twin beds.

The best advice we can give is to be discreet. One would not suggest getting into a discussion with an African about the LGBT lifestyle unless. In man cases, one may not like the outcome.

 No Public signs of Affection such as Kissing – it’s not done here no matter if you are gay or straight:

You will see men holding hands, that is a sign of friendship in Uganda or Rwanda, but not public kissing except those coming from former French or Belgian colonies.

Ugandans and Rwandans are quiet about their private lives to the point of excess.  When someone dies, they found out that the deceased had three different wives and other children.

The reality is this. Most Ugandans struggle with daily life. Like much of the rest of Africa, 97% may not be pro-LGBT, but they preoccupied with Life’s everyday problems of coming up with school fees, doctor bills rather than worry about someone else’s sex life.  A Ugandan saying goes like this “what happens in the house stays in the house.”

Culturally, public affection is frowned upon though it is changing in places like Kampala and Entebbe. President Museveni still has not kissed his wife or anyone else in Public.

Although homosexual acts are technically illegal under the laws left by the British, there, however, is no major push by local authorities or the Ugandan Government to enforce these laws.

Understanding African Hospitality:

An African Welcome is not just a verbal greeting. It is welcome that takes on the responsibility for your well-being. That is what we do for our clients when on Safari.  The concept of African hospitality begins with acceptance. While with us, while under roof on Safari, your well-being, safety, security is our focus.

Uganda is one of the friendliest countries in Africa.  It also one of the most welcoming countries, with over 1 1/2 million refugees from neighboring countries. It is the most culturally diverse country on the planet. Over 40 languages are spoken here. English is spoken by many, and Uganda is considered the Best English Speaking Country on the Continent, though it might help to learn a bit of Uglish, Ugandan English.

The Ugandan Tourism Board has stated time and time are LGBT Travelers are welcome in the Pearl of Africa. It certainly is not the easiest thing to do, to convince someone that Uganda is safe for LGBT travelers on a Safari.

More and more are accepting the offer and came to Uganda to see the Mountain Gorillas, Chimpanzees, the wildlife, the River Nile.

 What about Rwanda for LGBT Travelers on Safari:

Rwanda – has kept itself out of the news regarding gay and lesbian travelers, but culturally is similar to the rest of Africa. However, it has begun to market itself as an exclusive Gorilla Trekking Destination with Permit prices now 1500 USD, 900 USD more than in Uganda. In 2018 Ellen DeGeneres, along with Portia de Rossi, met with President Paul Kagame during her visit to Rwanda.  She loved the Country, the People, and the Mountain Gorillas, and they loved her.

Rwanda does not have the laws on the books that Uganda, Tanzania, or Kenya have, the people of Rwanda have a similar homophobic attitude that you find throughout Africa. Just listen to Trevor Noah’s rendition of “Don’t Be Gay in Zambia.”

Rwanda did have an attack by FDLR Rebels near Volcanoes National Park on October 4, 2019, but no tourists were affected.

Uganda is not alone about laws on Gays

What most LGBT Travelers do not realize is that under the Radar, there are more LGBT Community members in Jail in Tanzania than in any other East African country. Tanzania, in 2018, picked up where Uganda left off and has gone way beyond to the point that the UK Foreign Office, the US State Department issued Travel Advisories for Tanzania. In 2019 there are more LGBT Community members in Jail in Tanzania than in any other East African country.

The Kenyan Supreme Court in May of 2019 decided against legalizing Homosexuality.  The Colonial Era Laws remain on the books.  Kenya might be an excellent safari destination, but time after time, gays are arrested there and mobbed.  

Changes will come, and not just cosmetic changes of laws on books as in South Africa, where lesbians are raped for corrective training, gay men were beaten, especially outside of larger towns.  It took time, cultural adjustments, and legislation in the West, the same will happen in parts of the African world, maybe even Uganda.

 Our Take As a Tour Operator:

Are Gay and Lesbian Tourists safe on a Safari in Uganda or Rwanda?  If you are a gay traveler and want to maintain your safety in Uganda, please exercise a reasonable amount of discretion. Many Ugandans have a lot of misconceptions about gay people, and it’s probably best not to call too much attention to yourself in a country like Uganda.

Homophobia is deeply ingrained in African culture. Africans are slow to recognize that homosexuality has been part of Africa, though most often on the fringes. This is something that President Museveni has stated on several occasions.

Our Recommendation to any tourist no matter what the sexual orientation is not to show affection in public.  That is frowned upon, but at the same time, it is slowly changing.

“Although homosexual acts are technically illegal, there is currently no major push by local authorities or governments to enforce these laws.” Our Security advice to any Traveler on Safari with us “keep a low profile and blend in. Do not draw attention to yourself.”

Staying Safe in Uganda:

Staying Safe in Rwanda