browser icon
You are using an insecure version of your web browser. Please update your browser!
Using an outdated browser makes your computer unsafe. For a safer, faster, more enjoyable user experience, please update your browser today or try a newer browser.

Uganda’s Tourism Image-Perceptions versus the Reality

Posted by on April 15, 2021

Its Troublesome Past shapes Uganda’s Tourism Image

Uganda Imagined – Perceptions Travelers have versus the Reality that Travelers find visiting Uganda.

Uganda's Tourism ImageUganda’s Tourism Image – Perceptions versus the Reality. An often-heard comment from visitors departing for their home country is, “Uganda was so different from what I thought it would be like.”

What do people around the world think about what Uganda is like? What keeps people worldwide from traveling to Uganda for a safari? The answer is wrongful perceptions based on assumptions, limited or prejudiced information.

In the minds of many is seen as a country that is dangerous and where things are uncertain. A country living in the shadows of Idi Amin, Joseph Kony, and his Lord’s Resistance Army. Political instability, corruption, guerrillas, rebels, and wars, carnage, and massacres. A country where poverty, famine abound. A place ruled by a repressive government that is discriminative and has a poor human rights record.

What can one say about all the above? One can only counter what many tourists say in one way or another “Uganda was so different from what we thought. Those who have never visited Uganda have erroneous preconceived and inaccurate notions about the country.

The English writer Aldous Huxley who authored “a Brave New World,” comes to mind. Traveling was his passion, and he wrote three books about it. A quotation from him would be most appropriate when discussing Uganda’s Tourism Image, “To travelUganda's Tourism Image-Perceptions versus the Reality is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” How true that is when applied to Uganda.

We are living at a time where the COVID-19 pandemic rules our lives. These are times of geopolitical mistrust, hostility, and misinformation about many countries, including Uganda.  

It seems that everyone has an opinion about faraway places such as Uganda. We used to call news has turned into prejudiced opinion writeups by reporters who have never set foot into the country. Their style of writing often turns into a “Bwana knows best” lecture.

When Uganda is in the news, the articles only further advance the negative people have about Uganda. Additionally, Uganda itself has been its worst image enemy through the words of officials one kind or another suffering from a bad case of foot in mouth disease uttering foolish, embarrassing, or hostile statements. It was especially true during the recent January 2021 elections and after that. Not only government officials but opposition politicians will spew words that further tarnish Uganda’s Tourism Image.

If that was not enough, there are prejudiced word-of-mouth opinions about Uganda. Just tell someone, “I am traveling to Uganda to see the Mountain Gorillas.” Most likely, you will get all kinds of negative responses such as, “I hope you won’t get kidnapped” or “why of all places are you going there?” We could add a hundred more, but we will not.

Uganda's Tourism Image-Perceptions versus the RealityYes, Uganda’s Tourism Image has been distorted by its complex heritage. Many potential visitors have been dissuaded from ever visiting the pearl of Africa after seeing films like “Seven Days in Entebbe,” “the last King of Scotland,” the critical and discredited “Kony 2012.” produced by Invisible Children, a then quasi-religious-political organization. Besides, one could mention the pro-gay “God loves Uganda” that portrayed Ugandans as intolerant people. 

All of the above is overshadowed by one glaring fact, “Uganda is located on the African continent.” A continent where the Sub-Saharan area is under a cloud of negative and erroneous preconceived notions directly affecting tourism.

 Africa is definitely not the continent of choice for most international travelers. Europe ranked as the most-visited continent (58%)followed by Asia (19.5%)North America (16%), South America (2.6%), Africa (2.3%), and Oceania (1.6%). 

To travel is to Discover that Everyone is Wrong about other Countries” – Aldous Huxley, we would add other continents.

  “Uganda – Perceptions versus the Reality ” Dispelling the Ghosts of Uganda’s Past

Uganda's Tourism Image-Perceptions versus the Reality

Idi Amin to this day haunts Uganda’s Tourism Image

Around the world, when people hear Uganda automatically think of Idi Amin. Idi Amin was a monstrous legend in life and remained one after his death in Saudi Arabia in 2003. There are still people who search on Google “is Idi Amin alive.” Most Ugandans living today were born long after his destructive rule from 1971 to 1998

Idi Amin came to power in Uganda by the Gun during a military overthrow of President Milton Obote. He lost his presidency by the Gun’s power as Tanzania and Ugandans intend to restoring democracy Rule such as the now-President Yoweri Museveni.

The years in between those two events helped shape perceptions outsiders, including Reporters, have about Uganda. His image worldwide was one of brutal ruthlessness and intolerance.

Between 1971 to 19178, 300,00 plus Ugandans were killed by the brutal and repressive regime of Idi Amin. The Asian, mostly Indian community, was expelled, escaping with only their clothes on their back. Many of them were Ugandan citizens and had lived here for generations. Their homes and businesses were doled out like candy to his cronies. An act that ruined the Ugandan economy overnight since the new owners did not know how to run them.

Rejected Uganda's Tourism Image-Perceptions versus the Realityby the west, he realigned Uganda with Islamic Nations, persecuted the majority Christian Community, nearly wiping out the Abayudaya Jews by Choice Community.

Idi Amin died in 2003 in exile in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a broken man, regretful about some things, but defiant on others. His Ghost has been kept alive through the movie “The Last King of Scotland,” which is not a Ugandan Tourism image builder. The film “Raid on Entebbe” or the latest “Seven Days in Entebbe.”

Uganda, unlike Kenya, which had the epic film “Out of Africa” or Rwanda with the blockbuster “Gorillas in the Mist,” never had movies that made you want to visit the country.

Allowing Palestinian-leaning anarchist to land their hijacked Air France with mostly Israelis on board was one of his biggest misjudgments. He never counted on an Israeli strike on Entebbe. The successful raid on Entebbe was humiliating for the self-proclaimed conqueror of the British Empire in Africa.

Idi Amin, a larger-than-life figure, led the country into ruin and war. The good news is that today’s Uganda could not be further removed from Idi Amin, the Person. Still, his Ghost keeps haunting Uganda and especially its Present Tourism Image.

When Idi Amin came to power, Uganda was a prime safari destination for tourists worldwide. Idi Amin foolishly abolished tourism which led to rampant poaching that drastically reduced Uganda’s wildlife ruining tourism long after his overthrow. Not only that, but Uganda’s image, including the tourism image, would be overshadowed by him. Just tell someone, “I am from Uganda.” Most likely, you will hear, “oh, the place where Idi Amin lived.” Idi Amin’s lingering Ghost hovering over Uganda’s Tourism image has convinced any not to visit Uganda.

Invisible Children’s Viral Kony-2012 Video brought great Harm to Uganda’s Tourism Image.

 Uganda's Tourism Image-Perceptions versus the RealityJoseph Kony, a former Altar Boy, became one of Africa’s most wanted men. His Lord’s Resistance Army fled Uganda in 2006 and is in various Eastern DR Congo and the Central African Republic.

There are no guerillas inside Uganda, only gorillas, which is why many visitors come to Uganda. Still, you will find enough things on the internet that might lead you to believe otherwise.

The so-called discredited Documentary Kony 2012 was severely received in Uganda. In the northern Uganda town of Gulu, the presentation had to be shut down, and the Invisible Children had to flee. The rest of the world bought it as truth.

Invisible Children “Kony – 2012” gave the impression that Uganda was a dangerous warzone in 2012. The Reality was that Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army had not been in Uganda for six years. They had signed a cessation of hostilities agreement with the Ugandan government in South Sudan’s capital in 2006.

When Kony-2012 was released on the Internet, Northern Uganda was not a warzone but conflict-free and recovery. Joseph Kony and the LRA had fled to Garamba Park.

Uganda's Tourism Image-Perceptions versus the RealityThe Kony-2012 video was the most viral film ever released on the internet. Millions upon millions watched it. There was one reference in a 29-minute fake documentary that Kony had left the country. The rest of the time, Invisible Children used footage from 1990 to 2005 portraying Uganda as a dangerous place to avoid. Yet Kony and the LRA had left Uganda six years earlier.

The Invisible Children Kony-2012 film had the world believe that Uganda was a warzone and not a safe safari destination.

Still today, there are millions worldwide that when they think about Uganda, the thought that comes to mind is not Gorillas, but Guerrillas.

Uganda has been and is a Guerrilla and Conflict-Free Zone. The same cannot be said for other neighboring countries.

The Ugandan Tourism Board should have sued Invisible Children in an American Court for damages done to Ugandan Tourism and its image as a safari destination. Invisible Children’s Kony-2012 hit piece on Uganda convinced thousands to cross Uganda off their list for a Safari destination.

The never-ending saga of the 2014 Anti-Gay Bill harmed Uganda’s Tourism Image:

Like much of Africa, Uganda had anti-gay laws on the books that the British Colonial administration wrote. The laws were not writtenUganda's Tourism Image-Perceptions versus the Reality by Ugandans but remained on the books like many other left-over British Colonial administration regulations.

Those laws were rarely or selectively enforced. Uganda, like much of Africa, has anti-gay sentiments. Homosexuality has always been here and there in Uganda, something that even President Museveni has said in an interview with the editor of Travel Weekly Arnie Weissman,  “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. Still, Western critics should respect that in Uganda, any public display of affection, gay or straight, would be offensive.”  

Some American Evangelicals saw Uganda as the perfect place where they could implement anti-gay laws by proxy. They could not enforce regulations in the USA.

Still, they came to Uganda, fired up members of the evangelical community, and tabled private legislation in Parliament. It sat around for years being a hot potato that no one wanted to touch. Election time came. It passed in Parliament and was signed by President Museveni in 2014. Uganda’s Supreme court threw it out on a technicality in the same year.

The anti-gay bill damaged the tourism and hospitality business. It kept away and has kept away the LGBTQ Tourists. The bill not onlyUganda's Tourism Image-Perceptions versus the Reality affected the travel plans of LGBTQ Tourists but those of straight travelers. Something that many Ugandans in the tourism community may not be aware of. In the western world, LGBTQI rights have become a human rights issue. A sizable percentage of African travelers sympathize with the LGBTQI community. They were also influenced as the bill was kept in the news worldwide.

Neighboring countries have more gays in prison than does Uganda. Even Westerners have been arrested there. However, Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill had become the focus of the influential LGBTQ community and the international press that kept portraying Uganda as an intolerant, homophobic country.

It persuaded those wanting a primate-wildlife safari to turn to Rwanda with no anti- LGBTQ laws left over from colonial days. Culturally, its people feel the same as Ugandans.

It does not matter that no one will ask an LGBTQ Tourist their sexual orientation at immigration as they enter Uganda. The Uganda Tourism Board has made efforts to portray Uganda as welcoming no matter what their sexual orientation is. The damage to Uganda’s Tourism image is done, leading to both gay and straight tourists going elsewhere. The films “God loves Uganda” and “the Pearl of Africa.” The latter is a film about the Transgender woman Cleopatra Kambugu in Uganda, keeping the country negatively focused on the Western World’s mind.

Many see Uganda as a country that Disease Ridden – Ebola – Sleeping Sickness and now COVID-19:

Uganda's Tourism Image-Perceptions versus the RealityUganda’s Tourism Image has no chance since many worldwide assume that a visit may result in catching some strange disease. Such as Ebola, Malaria, Yellow Fever, or God forbid COVID-19. Time for a reality check.  You have a better chance of becoming ill eating an E.coli or listeria contaminated salad in your country than coming down with malaria on a safari in Uganda.

At present, there are no cases of Ebola in Uganda. Uganda is Ebola-Free. Besides, Uganda is one of the few countries that effectively deal with Ebola, Marburg Disease, and others. Jane Ruth Aceng as minister of health, has a proven and astounding record of accomplishment in dealing with communicable diseases.

In April of 2021, Uganda is the safest Safari Destination in East Africa when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kenya is sadly experiencing the third wave of the pandemic.

Tanzania, which has been in denial, is waking up because the pandemic is real and harmful. The US State Department with the US Center for Disease Control has placed a level-4 travel restriction. The UK has put Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania on their red list with no air travel to or from the Uk. Uganda is the one country that has neither a level-4 travel advisory from the US nor is on the UK red list.

Why, might you ask? For some reason, Uganda has not had a frontal COVID-19 attack seen in other parts of Africa and worldwide.  The new infection rate has diminished. Deaths during the pandemic are below four hundred out of a total 39,000 plus cases since March of 2020 in a nation of forty-five million.  Tourism COVID-19 Protocols are in place and are being adhered to for the well-being of all, including primates.

Yet, countless potential visitors think that coming to Uganda means that you will be stung by something. The only insect we hope stings you are the safari bug.

Uganda is perceived as a place of Political Unrest:

Uganda's Tourism Image-Perceptions versus the Reality

We are not political commentators on Uganda’s election that just took place in the country. We know what happens every time there is a politically motivated demonstration that government security forces respond to heavy-handed measures. We know how travelers respond. They do not visit Uganda.

We are fully aware when a leader of an opposition party speaks to the international press. They often portray the country as being on the edge of the abyss. Potential visitors to Uganda choose another country in Africa for safari. Most likely, a country very similar, but that has not been in the news like Uganda.

In late 2020 those involved faced the challenges brought by the pandemic but politically motivated actions that put Uganda into the limelight for all the wrong reasons. Those in tourism often cringe as a politician makes an ill-advised foot-in-mouth remark that tarnishes Uganda’s image as a safe, friendly, welcoming, and hospitable country to visit.

Should there be any signs of political demonstrations, a seasoned tour operator knows how to avoid such events. The safest place to be is on a safari in the Pearl of Africa. If one goes by the news from Europe, the UK, or the US, you might find Uganda a safer place than the country you come from.

How can Uganda’s Tourism Image be changed?

By embracing Uganda embracing its troublesome past:

Uganda's Tourism Image-Perceptions versus the RealityWithout a doubt, Idi Amin and his deeds will remain in the minds of many for years to come. Uganda’s legacy Idi Amin does with Idi Amin’s legacy is crucial w promoting when promoting Uganda as a tourist destination. Our suggestion is to embrace Idi Amin’s troublesome past by creating a memorial site at the old airport that pays respect to the 300,000 Ugandans murdered during Amin’s time. The old airport should also be a place where Uganda shows the suffering of the expelled Indian Community.

The old airport has already been where the tourists on the first direct flight from Israel to Entebbe were taken. Create an exhibit that incorporates the above into one memorial site. Entebbe is logical since most tourists come by air fly in and out of Entebbe, many staying overnight there.

In neighboring Rwanda, the Kigali Genocide Memorial is visited by most visitors to the country. Other places in Uganda that are associated with Idi Amin should be made available for tourists to visit.

Similarly, a memorial site honoring the victims of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army atrocities. Included be the Acholi “Mato oput” rite of forgiveness. Yes, it is called dark tourism, but beyond tourists, the memorial sites become places where Ugandans can learn about their past and not repeat historical mistakes. Places where Ugandans can pay respect to the victims.

Other nations such as Germany, Poland, and Rwanda have memorials where visitors can come and pay respects to the victims. Students are taken to experience and learn from the past’s horrors and come away with a “never again” mindset.

How can Uganda’s Tourism Image be changed?

The best way is Word-of-Mouth First-Hand Reports by Visitors such as yourself.

Uganda's Tourism Image-Perceptions versus the Reality

The reality that visitors to Uganda quickly discover is that before anything else, is that Uganda turns out to be totally different than what tourists thought it would be like.

Uganda is safe, welcoming, friendly, and hospitable. One of the most ethnically diverse nations in the world. The people of Uganda, not promoted in Travel articles, are one of its major attractions.

A visitor’s word-of-mouth account of their time in Uganda on safari is the best way to transform the country’s troublesome tourism image. It goes beyond any other form of advertising and promoting Uganda as a safe country to visit.

The words of a friend, the posting on social media, or in a blog telling others of their time in the pearl of Africa will convince others to come.

As a Ugandan tour operator, we state that our website is unlike what one has actually been on safari. Word of mouth is the convincing way to show that they have been wrong about their preconceived notions about Uganda.

Uganda’s Tourism Image – Perceptions versus the Reality.  Uganda is the Pearl of Africa. It will always be that visitors to this country are still pleasantly surprised about what they find.