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Uganda - SOCIETY

Uganda - The Society and Its Environment


UGANDA'S RIFT VALLEY foundation provides the country with an alluvial plateau and plentiful lakes and rivers. Mountain peaks mark geological fault lines along its eastern and western boundaries and provide cooler temperatures and ample rainfall. This environment was peopled by successive waves of immigrants, some of whom displaced indigenous hunting societies during the first millennium A.D. Most of the newcomers eventually settled in the region that would become southern Uganda, and their evolving political and cultural diversity contributed to conflicts that flared up over several centuries. These enmities still simmered in the twentieth century, but none of them seriously derailed the modernization process that was occurring in Uganda as it approached independence in 1962.

Some local beliefs reinforced the process of acculturation, emphasizing patronage as a means of advancement and valuing education as a necessary step toward that advancement. British educational systems and world religions were readily accepted in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The focus of modernization was clearly in Buganda, however, and during the decades after independence, national progress toward modernization slowed as the nation's non-Baganda majority attempted to adjust this balance in their favor. Military rule--a precarious alternative to dominance by the Baganda--failed to implant a sense of nationhood because the notion of government as a mechanism for expropriating wealth was merely replaced by that of government as a brutalizing force.

In the late 1980s, Uganda's recovery from the damage of more than two decades of corrupt government and civil war was slowed by the scourge of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). This disease shook but did not destroy most people's confidence in human institutions as the major determinants of their future, and it also provided a fertile environment for new religions that might claim to control the disease. Religions provided channels for political organization and protest, especially the Holy Spirit Movement (HSM), which challenged government controls in the northeast.

One of the challenges facing the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government was balancing traditional forces against pressures for modernization brought to bear by Uganda's growing educated elite. Women, too, have often been a force for modernization, as they demanded educational and economic opportunities denied under traditional and colonial rulers. The focus of these pressures in the 1980s was Uganda's still strong educational system. Through education, people struggled to bolster the institutions that underlay civil society in an environment that bore scars from government neglect and abuse.


Uganda - Population


In 1990 the Ugandan government estimated the nation's population to be 16.9 million people; international estimates ranged as high as 17.5 million. Most estimates were based on extrapolations from the 1969 census, which enumerated approximately 9.5 million people. The results of the 1980 census, which counted 12.6 million people, were cast in doubt by the loss of census data in subsequent outbreaks of violence.

Life expectancy in 1989 averaged fifty-three years, roughly two years higher for women than men. The population was increasing by over 3.2 percent per year, a substantial increase over the rate of 2.5 percent in the 1960s and significantly more than the 2.8 percent growth rate estimated for most of East Africa. At this rate, Uganda's population was expected to double between 1989 and the year 2012. The crude birth rate, estimated to be 49.9 per 1,000 population, was equivalent to other regional estimates. Fertility ratios, defined as the number of live births per year per 1,000 women between the ages of sixteen and fortyfive years, ranged from 115 in the south to more than 200 in the northeast. In general, fertility declined in more developed areas, and birth rates were lower among educated women.

The crude death rate was 18 per 1,000 population, equivalent to the average for East Africa as a whole. Infant mortality in the first year of life averaged 120 per 1,000 population, but some infant deaths were not reported to government officials. Deaths from AIDS were increasing in the late 1980s. Death rates were generally lower in highaltitude areas, in part because of the lower incidence of malaria.

Composition and Distribution

Ministry of Planning and Economic Development officials estimated that nearly 50 percent of the population was under the age of 15 and the median age was only 15.7 years in 1989. The sex ratio was 101.8 males per 100 females. The dependency ratio--a measure of the number of young and old in relation to 100 people between the ages of fifteen and sixty--was estimated at 104.

Uganda's population density was found to be relatively high in comparison with that of most of Africa, estimated to be fiftythree per square kilometer nationwide. However, this figure masked a range from fewer than thirty per square kilometer in the north-central region to more than 120 in the far southeast and southwest, and even these estimates overlooked some regions that were depopulated by warfare.

In late 1989, nearly 10 percent of the population lived in urban centers of more than 2,000 people. This figure was increasing in the late 1980s but remained relatively low in comparison with the rest of Africa and was only slightly higher than Uganda's 1969 estimate of 7.3 percent. Rural-to-urban migration declined during the 1970s as a result of deteriorating security and economic conditions. Kampala, with about 500,000 people, accounted for almost one-half of the total urban population but recorded a population increase of only 3 percent during the 1980s. Jinja, the main industrial center and second largest city, registered a population of about 55,000--an increase of 10,000 from the 1980 population estimate. Six other cities--Kabale, Kabarole, Entebbe, Masaka, Mbarara, and Mbale-- had populations of more than 20,000 in 1989. Urban migration was expected to increase markedly during the 1990s.

Uganda was the focus of migration from surrounding African countries until 1970, with most immigrants coming from Rwanda, Burundi, and Sudan. In the 1970s, immigrants were estimated to make up 11 percent of the population. About 23,000 Ugandans were living in Kenya, and a smaller number had fled to other neighboring countries. Emigration increased dramatically during the 1970s and was believed to slow during the 1980s.

In 1989 Uganda reported 163,000 refugees to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Most of these were from Rwanda, but several other neighboring countries were also represented. At the same time, Zaire and Sudan registered a total of nearly 250,000 refugees from Uganda.

<> Ethnic Diversity and Language

Updated population figures for Uganda.


Uganda - Ethnic Diversity and Language


All governments after independence declared their opposition to discrimination on the basis of ethnicity. Neither the 1969 nor the 1980 census recorded ethnic identity. However, Ugandans continued to take pride in their family histories, and government officials, like many other people, continued to consider ethnic factors in decision making. Moreover, much of Uganda's internal upheaval traditionally was based in part on historical differences among ethnic groups.

The forty or more distinct societies that constitute the Ugandan nation are usually classified according to linguistic similarities. Most Ugandans speak either Nilo-Saharan or CongoKordofanian languages. Nilo-Saharan languages, spoken across the north, are further classified as Eastern Nilotic (formerly NiloHamitic ), Western Nilotic, Central Sudanic. The many Bantu languages in the south are within the much larger CongoKordofanian language grouping.

Lake Kyoga in central Uganda serves as a rough boundary between the Bantu-speaking south and the Nilotic and Central Sudanic language speakers in the north. Despite the popular image of north-versus-south in political affairs, however, this boundary runs roughly from northwest to southeast near the course of the Nile River, and many Ugandans live among people who speak other languages. Some sources describe regional variation in terms of physical characteristics, clothing, bodily adornments, and mannerisms, but others also claim that these differences are disappearing.

Bantu-speakers probably entered southern Uganda by the end of the first millennium A.D. and developed centralized kingdoms by the fifteenth or sixteenth century. Following independence, Bantu-language speakers comprised roughly two-thirds of the population. They were classified as Eastern Lacustrine and Western Lacustrine Bantu, referring to the populous region among East Africa's Great Lakes (Victoria, Kyoga, Edward, and Albert in Uganda; Kivu and Tanganyika to the south). Eastern Lacustrine Bantu-speakers included the Baganda (people of Buganda, whose language is Luganda), Basoga, and many smaller societies in Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. Western Lacustrine Bantu-speakers included the Banyoro (people of Bunyoro), Batoro, Banyankole, and several smaller populations.

Nilotic-language speakers probably entered the area from the north beginning about A.D. 1000. They were the first cattleherding people in the area but relied on crop cultivation to supplement livestock herding for subsistence. The largest Nilotic populations in Uganda in the 1980s were the Iteso and Karamojong cluster of ethnic groups, who speak Eastern Nilotic languages, and the Acholi, Langi, and Alur, who speak Western Nilotic languages. Central Sudanic languages, which also arrived in Uganda from the north over a period of centuries, are spoken by the Lugbara, Madi, and a few small groups in the northwestern corner of the country.

One of the most recent major languages to arrive in Uganda is English. Introduced by the British in the late nineteenth century, it was the language of the colonial administration. After independence English became the official language of Uganda, used in government and commerce and as the primary medium of educational instruction. Official publications and most major newspapers appear in English, and English is often employed in radio and television broadcasts. Most Ugandans speak at least one African language. Swahili and Arabic are also widely spoken.

<> Eastern Lacustrine Bantu
<> Western Lacustrine Bantu
<> Eastern Nilotic Language Groups
<> Western Nilotic Language Groups
<> Central Sudanic Language Groups
<> Foreigners

More about the <>Population of Uganda.


Uganda - Eastern Lacustrine Bantu



The Baganda (sing., Muganda; often referred to simply by the root word and adjective, Ganda) make up the largest Ugandan ethnic group, although they represent only about 16.7 percent of the population. (The name Uganda, the Swahili term for Buganda, was adopted by British officials in 1894 when they established the Uganda Protectorate, centered in Buganda.) Buganda's boundaries are marked by Lake Victoria on the south, the Victoria Nile River on the east, and Lake Kyoga on the north. This region was never conquered by colonial armies; rather the powerful king (kabaka), Mutesa, agreed to protectorate status. At the time, Mutesa claimed territory as far west as Lake Albert, and he considered the agreement with Britain to be an alliance between equals. Baganda armies went on to help establish colonial rule in other areas, and Baganda agents served as tax collectors throughout the protectorate. Trading centers in Buganda became important towns in the protectorate, and the Baganda took advantage of the opportunities provided by European commerce and education. At independence in 1962, Buganda had achieved the highest standard of living and the highest literacy rate in the country.

Authoritarian control is an important theme of Ganda culture. In precolonial times, obedience to the king was a matter of life and death. A second important theme of Ganda culture, however, is the emphasis on individual achievement. An individual's future is not entirely determined by status at birth. Instead, individuals carve out their fortunes by hard work as well as by choosing friends, allies, and patrons carefully.

The traditional Ganda economy relied on crop cultivation. In contrast with many other East African economic systems, cattle played only a minor role. Many Baganda hired laborers from the north as herders. Bananas were the most important staple food, providing the economic base for the region's dense population growth. This crop does not require shifting cultivation or bush fallowing to maintain soil fertility, and as a result, Ganda villages were quite permanent. Women did most of the agricultural work, while men often engaged in commerce and politics (and in precolonial times, warfare).

Ganda social organization emphasized descent through males. Four or five generations of descendants of one man, related through male forebears, constituted a patrilineage. A group of related lineages constituted a clan (for lineage and clan). Clan leaders could summon a council of lineage heads, and council decisions affected all lineages within the clan. Many of these decisions regulated marriage, which had always been between two different lineages, forming important social and political alliances for the men of both lineages. Lineage and clan leaders also helped maintain efficient land use practices, and they inspired pride in the group through ceremonies and remembrances of ancestors.

Ganda villages, sometimes as large as forty or fifty homes, were generally located on hillsides, leaving hilltops and swampy lowlands uninhabited, to be used for crops or pastures. Early Ganda villages surrounded the home of a chief or headman, which provided a common meeting ground for members of the village. The chief collected tribute from his subjects, provided tribute to the kabaka, distributed resources among his subjects, maintained order, and reinforced social solidarity through his decision-making skills. Late nineteenth-century Ganda villages became more dispersed as the role of the chiefs diminished in response to political turmoil, population migration, and occasional popular revolts.

Most lineages maintained links to a home territory (butaka) within a larger clan territory, but lineage members did not necessarily live on butaka land. Men from one lineage often formed the core of a village; their wives, children, and in-laws joined the village. People were free to leave if they became disillusioned with the local leader to take up residence with other relatives or in-laws, and they often did so.

The twentieth-century influence of the Baganda in Uganda has reflected the impact of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century developments. A series of kabakas amassed military and political power by killing rivals to the throne, abolishing hereditary positions of authority, and exacting higher taxes from their subjects. Ganda armies also seized territory held by Bunyoro, the neighboring kingdom to the west. Ganda cultural norms also prevented the establishment of a royal clan by assigning the children of the kabaka to the clan of their mother. At the same time, this practice allowed the kabaka to marry into any clan in the society.

One of the most powerful appointed advisers of the kabaka was the katikiro, who was in charge of the kingdom's administrative and judicial systems--effectively serving as both prime minister and chief justice. The katikiro and other powerful ministers formed an inner circle of advisers who could summon lower-level chiefs and other appointed advisers to confer on policy matters. By the end of the nineteenth century, the kabaka had replaced many clan heads with appointed officials and claimed the title "head of all the clans."

The power of the kabaka impressed British officials, but political leaders in neighboring Bunyoro were not receptive to British officials who arrived with Baganda escorts. Buganda became the centerpiece of the new protectorate, and many Baganda were able to take advantage of opportunities provided by schools and businesses in their area. Baganda civil servants also helped administer other ethnic groups, and Uganda's early history was written from the perspective of the Baganda and the colonial officials who became accustomed to dealing with them.

The family in Buganda is often described as a microcosm of the kingdom. The father is revered and obeyed as head of the family. His decisions are generally unquestioned. A man's social status is determined by those with whom he establishes patronclient relationships, and one of the best means of securing this relationship is through one's children. Baganda children, some as young as three years old, are sent to live in the homes of their social superiors, both to cement ties of loyalty among parents and to provide avenues for social mobility for their children. Even in the 1980s, Baganda children were considered psychologically better prepared for adulthood if they had spent several years living away from their parents at a young age.

Baganda recognize at a very young age that their superiors, too, live in a world of rules. Social rules require a man to share his wealth by offering hospitality, and this rule applies more stringently to those of higher status. Superiors are also expected to behave with impassivity, dignity, self-discipline, and self-confidence, and adopting these mannerisms sometimes enhances a man's opportunities for success.

Ganda culture tolerates social diversity more easily than many other African societies. Even before the arrival of Europeans, many Ganda villages included residents from outside Buganda. Some had arrived in the region as slaves, but by the early twentieth century, many non-Baganda migrant workers stayed in Buganda to farm. Marriage with non-Baganda was fairly common, and many Baganda marriages ended in divorce. After independence, Ugandan officials estimated that one-third to one-half of all adults marry more than once during their lives.


The traditional territory of the Basoga (people of Busoga; sing., Musoga; adj. Soga) is in southeastern Uganda, east of the Victoria Nile River. The Basoga make up about 8 percent of the population. Before the arrival of Europeans, the Basoga were subsistence farmers who also kept cattle, sheep, and goats. Basoga often had gardens for domestic use close to the homestead. There the women of the household cared for the most common staple foods--bananas, millet, cassava, and sweet potatoes. Men generally cared for cash crops--coffee, cotton, peanuts, and corn.

Traditional Soga society consisted of a number of small kingdoms not united under a single paramount leader. Society was organized around a number of principles, the most important of which was descent. Descent was traced through male forebears, leading to the formation of the patrilineage, which included an individual's closest relatives. This group provided guidance and support for each individual and united related homesteads for economic, social, and religious purposes. Lineage membership determined marriage choices, inheritance rights, and obligations to the ancestors. An individual usually attempted to improve on his economic and social position, which was initially based on lineage membership, by skillfully manipulating patron-client ties within the authority structure of the kingdom. A man's patrons, as much as his lineage relatives, influenced his status in society.

Unlike the kabakas of Buganda, Basoga kings are members of a royal clan, selected by a combination of descent and approval by royal elders. In northern Busoga, near Bunyoro, the royal clan, the Babito, is believed to be related to the Bito aristocracy in Bunyoro. Some Basoga in this area maintain that they are descended from people of Bunyoro.


The Bagisu (people of Bugisu) constitute roughly 5 percent of the population. They occupy the well-watered western slopes of Mount Elgon, where they grow millet, bananas, and corn for subsistence, and coffee and cotton as cash crops. Bugisu has the highest population density in the nation, rising to 250 per square kilometer. As a result, almost all land in Bugisu is cultivated, and land pressure causes population migration and social conflicts.

A large number of Bagisu were drawn into the cash economy in 1912, with the organization of smallholder production of arabica coffee and the extension of Uganda's administrative network into Bugisu. After that, the Bagisu were able to exploit their fertile environment by producing large amounts of coffee and threatening to withhold their produce from the market when confronted with unreasonable government demands. One of the mechanisms for organizing coffee production was the Bugisu Cooperative Union (BCU), which became one of the most powerful and most active agricultural cooperatives in Uganda. Bugisu's economic strength was based in part on the fact that coffee grown on Mount Elgon was of the highest quality in Uganda, and total output in this small region constituted more than 10 percent of the coffee produced nationwide.

Land pressure during the early decades of colonial rule caused the Bagisu to move northward, impinging on the territory of the Sebei people, who have fought against Gisu dominance for over a century. The Bagwere and Bakedi people to the south have also claimed distinct cultural identities and have sought political autonomy.


Uganda - Western Lacustrine Bantu


The Banyoro, Batoro, and Banyankole people of western Uganda are classified as Western Lacustrine Bantu language speakers. Their complex kingdoms are believed to be the product of acculturation between two different ethnic groups, the Hima (Bahima) and the Iru (Bairu). In each of these three societies, two distinct physical types are identified as Hima and Iru. The Hima are generally tall and are believed to be the descendants of pastoralists who migrated into the region from the northeast. The Iru are believed to be descendants of agricultural populations that preceded the Hima as cultivators in the region.


Bunyoro lies in the plateau of western Uganda. The Banyoro (people of Bunyoro; sing., Munyoro; adj. Nyoro) constitute roughly 3 percent of the population. Their economy is primarily agricultural, with many small farms of two or three hectares. Many people also keep goats, sheep, and chickens. People often say that the Banyoro once possessed large herds of cattle, but their herds were reduced by disease and warfare. Cattle raising is still a prestigious occupation, generally reserved for people of Hima descent. The traditional staple is millet, and sweet potatoes, cassava, and legumes of various kinds are also grown. Bananas are used for making beer and occasionally as a staple food. Cotton and tobacco are important cash crops.

Nyoro homesteads typically consist of one or two mud-and- wattle houses built around a central courtyard, surrounded by banana trees and gardens. Homesteads are not gathered into compact villages; rather, they form clustered settlements separated from each other by uninhabited areas. Each Munyoro belongs to a clan, or large kinship group based on descent through the male line. A woman retains her membership in her clan of birth after marriage, even though she lives in her husband's home. Adult men usually live near, but not in, their father's homestead. Men of the same clan are also dispersed throughout Bunyoro, as a result of generations of population migration based on interpersonal loyalties and the demand for farmland.

The traditional government of Bunyoro consisted of a hereditary ruler, or king (omukama), who was advised by his appointed council consisting of a prime minister, chief justice, and treasurer. The omukama occupied the apex of a graded hierarchy of territorial chiefs, of whom the most important were four county chiefs. Below them in authority were subcounty chiefs, parish chiefs, and village heads.

The Nyoro omukama was believed to be descended from the first ruler, Kintu, whose three sons were tested to determine the relationship that would endure among their descendants. As a result of a series of trials, the oldest son became a servant and cultivator, the second became a herder, and the third son became the ruler over all the people. This tale served to legitimize social distinctions in Nyoro society that viewed pastoral lifestyles as more prestigious than peasant agriculture and to emphasize the belief that socioeconomic roles were divinely ordained.

During colonial times, the king was a member of the Bito clan. Bito clan members, especially those closest to the king, were considered members of royalty, based on their putative descent from Kintu's youngest son, who was chosen to rule. The pastoralist Hima were believed to be descended from Kintu's second son, and the Iru, or peasant cultivators, were said to be descended from Kintu's eldest son, the cultivator. Even during the twentieth century, when many Banyoro departed from their traditional occupations, these putative lines of descent served to justify some instances of social behavior.

Among the most important of the omukama's advisers were his "official brother" (okwiri) and "official sister" (kalyota), who represented his authority within the royal clan, effectively removing the king from the demands of his family. The kalyota was forbidden to marry or bear children, protecting the king against challenges from her offspring. The king's mother, too, was a powerful relative, with her own property, court, and advisers. The king had numerous other retainers, including custodians of royal graves, drums, weapons, stools, and other regalia, as well as cooks, musicians, potters, and other attendants. Most of these were his close relatives and were given land as a symbol of their royalty; a few palace advisers were salaried.

Almost all Nyoro political power derived from the king, who appointed territorial chiefs at all levels. High-ranking chiefs were known as the "king's men" and were obligated to live in the royal homestead, or capital. The chief's advisers, messengers, and delegates administered his territory according to his dictates. During colonial times, the three highest ranks of chiefs were assigned county, subcounty, and parish-level responsibilities to conform with the system British officials used in Buganda. Most kings appointed important Hima cattle farmers to be chiefs. People provided the chiefs with tribute-- usually grain, beer, and cattle--most of which was supposed to be delivered to the king. Failure to provide generous tribute weakened a man's standing before the throne and jeopardized his family's security.


The Toro Kingdom evolved out of a breakaway segment of Bunyoro some time before the nineteenth century. The Batoro and Banyoro speak closely related languages, Lutoro and Lunyoro, and share many other similar cultural traits. The Batoro live on Uganda's western border, south of Lake Albert. They constitute roughly 3.2 percent of the population, but the Toro king (also called omukama) also claims to rule over the Bakonjo and Baamba people in the more fertile highlands above the plains of Toro. These highlands support cultivation of coffee as well as cotton, rice, sugarcane, and cocoa. Jurisdictional disputes have erupted into violence many times during colonial and independent rule and led to the formation of the Ruwenzururu political movement that was still disrupting life in Toro in the late 1980s.

Toro is a highly centralized kingdom like Buganda but similar in stratification to Bunyoro. The omukama has numerous retainers and royal advisers. Chiefs govern at several levels below the king, and like the kabaka of Buganda, the Toro ruler can appoint favored clients to these positions of power. Clientship--often involving cattle exchange--is an important means of social advancement.


Ankole (Nkole) is a large kingdom in southwestern Uganda, where the pastoralist Hima established dominion over the agricultural Iru some time before the nineteenth century. The Hima and Iru established close relations based on trade and symbolic recognition, but they were unequal partners in these relations. The Iru were legally and socially inferior to the Hima, and the symbol of this inequality was cattle, which only the Hima could own. The two groups retained their separate identities through rules prohibiting intermarriage and, when such marriages occurred, making them invalid.

The Hima provided cattle products that otherwise would not have been available to Iru farmers. Because the Hima population was much smaller than the Iru population, gifts and tribute demanded by the Hima could be supplied fairly easily. These factors probably made Hima-Iru relations tolerable, but they were nonetheless reinforced by the superior military organization and training of the Hima.

The kingdom of Ankole expanded by annexing territory to the south and east. In many cases, conquered herders were incorporated into the dominant Hima stratum of society, and agricultural populations were adopted as Iru or slaves and treated as legal inferiors. Neither group could own cattle, and slaves could not herd cattle owned by the Hima.

Ankole society evolved into a system of ranked statuses, where even among the cattle-owning elite, patron-client ties were important in maintaining social order. Men gave cattle to the king (mugabe) to demonstrate their loyalty and to mark life-cycle changes or victories in cattle-raiding. This loyalty was often tested by the king's demands for cattle or for military service. In return for homage and military service, a man received protection from the king, both from external enemies and from factional disputes with other cattle owners.

The mugabe authorized his most powerful chiefs to recruit and lead armies on his behalf, and these warrior bands were charged with protecting Ankole borders. Only Hima men could serve in the army, however, and the prohibition on Iru military training almost eliminated the threat of Iru rebellion. Iru legal inferiority was also symbolized in the legal prohibition against Iru owning cattle. And, because marriages were legitimized through the exchange of cattle, this prohibition helped reinforce the ban on Hima-Iru intermarriage. The Iru were also denied highlevel political appointments, although they were often appointed to assist local administrators in Iru villages.

The Iru had a number of ways to redress grievances against Hima overlords, despite their legal inferiority. Iru men could petition the king to end unfair treatment by a Hima patron. Iru people could not be subjugated to Hima cattle-owners without entering into a patron-client contract.

A number of social pressures worked to destroy Hima domination of Ankole. Miscegenation took place despite prohibitions on intermarriage, and children of these unions (abambari) often demanded their rights as cattle owners, leading to feuding and cattle-raiding. From what is present-day Rwanda, groups launched repeated attacks against the Hima during the nineteenth century. To counteract these pressures, several Hima warlords recruited Iru men into their armies to protect the southern borders of Ankole. And, in some outlying areas of Ankole, people abandoned distinctions between Hima and Iru after generations of maintaining legal distinctions that had begun to lose their importance.


Uganda - Eastern Nilotic Language Groups


Historians believe that Uganda's northeastern districts were inhabited by herders migrating from the east over a period of several centuries. Their twentieth-century descendants live in Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda, where the largest groups are the Karamojong (people of Karamoja) ethnic groups. These include the Karamojong proper, as well as Jie, Dodoth, and several small related groups, constituting about 12 percent of the population. All Karamojong peoples speak almost the same language (Akaramojong), with different pronunciations. The Iteso (people of Teso) south of Karamoja also speak an Eastern Nilotic language (Ateso) and are historically related to the Karamojong, but the Iteso are sometimes classified separately, based on cultural differences (many of which are recently acquired). The small Teuso (Ik), Tepeth, and Labwor populations in the northeast also speak Eastern Nilotic languages but maintain separate cultural identities. In northwestern Uganda, the Kakwa are also classified as Eastern Nilotic, based on linguistic similarities to the Karamojong, despite the fact that Kakwa society is surrounded by Western Nilotic and Central Sudanic language speakers.

Karamojong Cluster

The relatively sparse rainfall in northeastern Uganda supports a pastoralist economy, and most people also raise crops to supplement their diet that centers around meat, milk, and blood from cattle. Even after independence in 1962, most Ugandan governments dealt with the Karamojong as rather difficult rural citizens who sometimes impeded administration of the region. Most Karamojong resisted government pressures to abandon their herding life-styles, but officials estimated that as many as 20 percent of the population may have died in the drought and famine that swept through much of the African Sahel in the early 1980s.

Karamojong, Jie, and Dodoth oral historians have recounted their forebears' arrival in the region from the north. According to these accounts, they found an indigenous society, the Oropom, who were forced to move southward, leaving an Oropom clan among the Karamojong as an apparent remnant of this society. The Dodoth people were believed to have separated from the Karamojong proper in the mid-eighteenth century. They migrated northward into more mountainous territory. As a result, their culture resembled that of the Karamojong in many respects. Dodoth homesteads were generally in valleys, with dry season pastures on nearby hillsides. As a result, the Dodoth did not practice the transhumant migration patterns that required other Karamojong peoples to establish dry-season cattle camps.

Cattle are of great symbolic and economic importance, and people recalled the devastating rinderpest epidemic that swept the area in the late nineteenth century. Using that tragedy to educate the young, they also told of cattle herds that were saved by being moved to highland grazing areas.

British control of the region was fairly ineffective well into the twentieth century, although successful trading centers had been established as early as 1890. Traders brought ivory and, occasionally, cattle to augment local herds, and received grain, spears, and other metal products in return.

Most Karamojong peoples supplement their pastoral economy with crop cultivation, which is almost entirely in the hands of women. Millet is an important staple, but many people also grow corn and peanuts. Tobacco is often grown within the stockade that surrounds most homesteads. The homestead is usually a circular configuration, and within this enclosure, each married woman has a house built of mud and brushwood walls with a thatched roof. The center of this is a cattle kraal, usually with only one opening to the outside.

Wives live in their husband's homestead after marriage. Each wife has a separate, small house that serves as a kitchen, and some women also cultivate plots of ground several hours' walk away from their homes. Men were traditionally scornful of widowers and old men who cared for their own gardens, but after plows were introduced in the 1950s and farming became more financially rewarding, many young men claimed plots of ground for their own use and hired women to work in them.

Dodoth homesteads are larger than those of the Karamojong proper and more isolated from one another. Surrounding the homestead, upright poles are thrust into the earth, intertwined with branches and packed with mud and cow dung, forming a sturdy wall with only one or two small openings to the outside. As many as forty people often live in one homestead. Each wife has her own hut and hearth, and adolescent girls often build huts of their own next to their mothers' huts. Adolescent boys also build a larger "men's house," where they live before marriage. People keep cattle and other animals inside the fortified wall at night. A woman often keeps a small garden near her hut, but fields and pastures are outside the homestead.

Among most Karamojong peoples, men living within a homestead are related by descent through male forebears. This group, the patrilineage, is augmented by wives and children, and occasionally by unmarried brothers of the lineage head. A group of brothers usually shares the ownership of a herd of cattle, although animals are divided among individuals for milking and other domestic purposes. Cattle are usually branded with clan markings, although a man normally knows each animal in his family herd. Only when the last surviving brother dies is the herd divided among the next generation, with each set of full brothers inheriting a small herd.

Grazing areas are common ground outside the stockade, although milk cows sometimes stay near the homestead. During the driest months, usually February and March, cattle are moved to seasonal camps some distance from the homestead. In these camps, men live almost entirely on milk and blood drawn from live cattle, and, occasionally, meat. In the homestead, women, children, and old people forage for food, including flying ants, if stores of grain are depleted. In very lean times, milk is reserved for children and calves before adults.

Most societies of northeastern Uganda are organized into kinship groups larger than the lineage. Among the Jie, patrilineages maintaining the belief that they are distantly related often keep homesteads near one another, but this practice is less common among other Karamojong. The clan comprises related lineages, often numbering over 100 people. Jie clans are exogamous, meaning that two people of the same clan can not marry one another. In addition, men generally avoid marriage with a woman of their mother's clan or that of her close relatives. Jie clan members share some symbolic recognition of their common identity, such as jewelry, but they do not observe the ritual taboos of animals or foods that are characteristic of many other African clan groupings.

Two important sources of social solidarity link members of unrelated lineages to one another. Intermarriage forms bonds based on brideprice cattle, which are given by a man's family to that of his bride, and children, who are important to their own lineage and to that of their mother. Age-sets form bonds among groups of men close in age. (Clan leaders establish a new age-set about every twenty-five years.) Members of an age-set are generally obligated to maintain ties of friendship and assist each other when in need.

Cattle are so vital in Karamoja that it is often difficult for Westerners to understand the attitudes surrounding them. Owning cattle is a mark of adulthood for men. Being without cattle is almost as onerous as being seriously ill; it threatens life. Moreover, a man can lose his entire herd of cattle in a brief raid. A mistake in judgment, such as a poor choice of pastures or travel routes, can cost a life's work. At the same time, outsiders are sometimes surprised to realize that these herders perceive themselves as poverty-ridden or uncivilized. In fact, the value of their cattle is often much greater than the value of the salaries received by government civil servants who come from the south to administer the region of the Karamojong.

Living among the Karamojong peoples in the far northeast are several small ethnic groups who rely on hunting and cattle- raiding for much of their subsistence, but some have also gained a reputation as spies and informers in the local system of raiding and warfare. One such group, the Teuso, were moved from their homeland in the 1960s to clear land for Kidepo National Park. Most of their Karamojong neighbors despised the Teuso, so much so that people were willing to see them starve rather than allow them to join nearby villages. Some Teuso died, and others left the area to become low-wage earners in nearby towns. The social system that developed in response to depopulation and deprivation emphasized individual survival at the expense of other people. The Uganda government reacted strongly against the unfavorable publicity generated by one anthropological account of this society in the early 1970s, and security problems limited travel in the area. As a result, by the late 1980s, information about their society was scarce.

The Tepeth also lived among the Karamojong, although they were usually classified as a separate Eastern Nilotic-speaking group. Oral histories relate that they were forced by government edict to vacate their homes in caves high in the mountains in northeastern Uganda. The move increased their vulnerability to attack by people and disease, and an influx of refugees from Sudan further disrupted life. Warfare and conflict increased, and the Tepeth developed a variety of religious cults and rituals to maintain their cultural integrity in the face of Karamojong and Sudanese influence. In the late 1980s, little was known of the life-style of the remaining Tepeth people.

The Labwor people, who live on the border between Acholi and Karamoja, are historically and linguistically related to the Karamojong but have adopted much of the life-style of the Acholi. The Labwor region is also a center of trade between cultivators to the west and pastoralists to the east. The local economy centers around crops--chiefly sorghum, eleusine, maize, gourds, sweet potatoes, beans, and peanuts--but people also raise cattle and goats. A small number of men from Labwor have achieved substantial wealth as itinerant traders in northeastern Uganda. Labwor society is organized into homesteads centered around the core of patrilineally related men and their wives and children. In addition, age-sets are important stabilizing factors, forming cross-cutting ties among lineages.


The Iteso (people of Teso) are an acculturated branch of the Eastern Nilotic language speakers. With roughly 8.1 percent of the population of Uganda, they are believed to be the nation's second largest ethnic group. Teso territory stretches south from Karamoja into the well-watered region of Lake Kyoga. The traditional economy emphasizes crop growing. Many Iteso joined Uganda's cash economy when coffee and cotton were introduced in 1912, and the region has thrived through agriculture and commerce.

Traditional Teso settlements consist of scattered homesteads, each organized around a stockade and several granaries. Groups of homesteads are united around a hearth, where men who form the core of the settlement gather for ritual and social purposes. These groups usually consist of patrilineally related males, whose wives, children, and other relatives form the remainder of the settlement. Several groups of lineages form a clan. Clans are only loosely organized, but clan elders maintain ritual observances in honor of their ancestors. Men of the clan consult the elders about social customs, especially marriage. Much of the agricultural work is performed by women. Women may also own land and granaries, but after the introduction of cash-crop agriculture, most land was claimed by men and passed on to their sons.

All Iteso men within a settlement, both related and unrelated, are organized according to age. Each age-set spans fifteen to twenty years, providing a generational framework for sharing the work of the settlement. Age-sets exercise social control by recognizing status distinctions based on seniority, both between and within age groups. They also share responsibility for resolving disputes within the settlement or among neighboring settlements.

The small population of Kumam people living on the western border of Teso are historically related to the Iteso, but the Kumam have adopted many cultural features of their neighbors to the west, the Langi. The Kumam economy is based on mixed farming and cotton, but little other information was available regarding their culture in the 1980s.


Although Kakwa people speak an Eastern Nilotic language, they are geographically separated from other Eastern Nilotic speakers. Kakwa society occupies the region bordering northwestern Uganda, southern Sudan, and northeastern Zaire. Those living in Uganda constitute less than 1 percent of the population, but Kakwa society has achieved widespread notoriety because the father of Idi Amin Dada, president of Uganda from 1971 to 1979, was Kakwa. (Amin's mother was from a neighboring society, the Lugbara.) The Kakwa are believed to have migrated to the region from the northeast. Their indigenous political system features small villages centered around a group of men who are related by descent. A council of male elders wields political and judicial authority. Most land is devoted to cultivating corn, millet, potatoes, and cassava. Cattle are part of the economy but not central to it. After Amin was deposed in 1979, many Kakwa people fled. Government and rebel troops inflicted a wave of revenge on the area, even though Amin had lived in Buganda as a child and had spent little time among Kakwa villagers.


Uganda - Western Nilotic Language Groups


Western Nilotic language groups in Uganda include the Acholi, Langi, Alur, and several smaller ethnic groups. Together they comprise roughly 15 percent of the population. Most Western Nilotic languages in Uganda are classified as Lwo, closely related to the language of the Luo society in Kenya. The two largest ethnic groups, the Acholi and Langi, speak almost identical languages, which vary slightly in pronunciation, suggesting that the two groups divided as recently as the early or mid-nineteenth century. The Alur, who live west of the Acholi and Langi, are culturally similar to neighboring societies of the West Nile region, where most people speak Central Sudanic languages.

Langi and Acholi

The Langi and Acholi occupy north-central Uganda. The Langi represent roughly 6 percent of the population. Despite their linguistic affiliation with other Lwo speakers, the Langi reject the "Lwo" label. The Acholi represent 4 percent of the population but suffered severe depopulation and dislocation in the violence of the 1970s and 1980s.

By about the thirteenth century A.D., Lwo-speaking peoples migrated from territory now in Sudan into Uganda and Kenya. They were probably pastoralists, organized in segmentary patrilineages rather than highly centralized societies, but with some positions of ritual or political authority. They encountered horticultural Bantu-speakers, organized under the authority of territorial chiefs. The newcomers probably claimed to be able to control rain, fertility, and supernatural forces through ritual and sacrifice, and they may have established positions of privilege for themselves based on their spiritual expertise. Some historians believe the Langi represent the descendants of fifteenth-century dissenters from Karamojong society to the east.

Both societies are organized into localized patrilineages and further grouped into clans, which are dispersed throughout the territory. Clan members claim descent from a common ancestor, but they are seldom able to recount the nature of their relationship to the clan founder. Acholi lineages are ranked according to their proximity to a royal lineage, and the head of this lineage is recognized as a king, although his power is substantially less than that of monarchs in the south.

Acholi and Langi societies rely on millet cultivation and animal husbandry for subsistence. In some areas, people also cultivate corn, eleusine, peanuts, sesame seed, sweet potatoes, and cassava. Both Langi and Acholi generally assign agricultural tasks either to men or women; in many cases men are responsible for cattle while women work in the fields. (In some villages, only adult men may milk cows.) An Acholi or Langi man may marry more than one wife, but he may not marry within his lineage or that of his mother. A woman normally leaves her own family to live in her husband's homestead, which may include his brothers and their families. Each wife has a separate house and hearth for cooking.


The Alur political system is a series of overlapping, interlocking chiefdoms, which were never unified in a single polity during precolonial times. Related lineages from different chiefdoms performed some religious ceremonies together, and intermarriage among chiefdoms was also fairly common. People also recognized other Alur speakers as neighbors. The Acholi claimed land east of Alur territory, and the Alur lost land in 1952, with the creation of Murchison (Kabalega) National Game Park. The Alur subsequently incorporated some Sudanic-speaking groups into their society as they expanded to the west.

Alur territory was remote from British commerce during colonial times, but once colonial boundaries were set, people found ways to profit from cross-border smuggling. Only a few churches, schools, and medical dispensaries were established, and many Alur became migrant laborers in Buganda to earn money to pay their taxes. Despite its geographical isolation, Alur territory in the 1980s showed signs of substantial but uneven acculturation, influenced by Sudanese, Zairian, and other Ugandan cultures. Alur society also became the object of some of the anti-Amin revenge that swept through the region in the 1980s.


Uganda - Central Sudanic Language Groups


Central Sudanic languages are spoken by about 6 percent of Ugandans, most of whom live in the northwest. The Lugbara (roughly 3.8 percent of the total) and the Madi (roughly 1.2 percent) are the largest of these groups, representing the southeastern corner of a wide belt of Central Sudanic language speakers stretching from Chad to Sudan. The Lugbara live in the highlands, on an almost treeless plateau that marks the watershed between the Zaire River and the Nile. The Madi live in the lowlands to the east.

Lugbara and Madi speak closely related languages and bear strong cultural similarities. Both groups raise millet, cassava, sorghum, legumes, and a variety of root crops. Chickens, goats, and, at higher elevations, cattle are also important. Corn is grown for brewing beer, and tobacco is an important cash crop.

This region is densely populated, dotted with small settlements separated from one another by streams or patches of bush. Each settlement consists of a family cluster, with a core of patrilineal relatives and their polygynous families living under the authority of a lineage elder. Membership in a settlement is flexible; however, people leave and rejoin a village on the basis of interpersonal relationships.

The clan leaders adjudicate most disputes. They can order a man to pay compensation for assault or property damage; murder is often avenged by killing. The entire clan shares responsibility in most matters, but the clan segment, or lineage, shares more immediate responsibility for avoiding conflict.


Uganda - Foreigners



Roughly 10,000 Ugandans of Sudanese descent are classified as Nubians, referring to their origin in the area of the Nuba Mountains in Sudan. They are descendants of Sudanese military recruits who entered Uganda in the late nineteenth century as part of the colonial army and were employed to quell popular revolts. Their ethnic identities varied, but some spoke Western Nilotic languages. The Acholi people were their closest relatives in Uganda, but Nubians spoke a variant of Arabic, and they practiced Islam. Moreover, they believed they were superior to Ugandans because of their mercenary status. Nubian armies raided surrounding villages, capturing slaves and wives. Their villages were organized around their military status. They raised cotton, most of which was used for making uniforms, and they were paid salaries throughout most of the protectorate years.

Both colonial and independent governments attempted to regularize the status of the Nubian community. Many Nubians settled in northern Buganda, near the site of the colonial military headquarters. Others lived among the Acholi in northern Uganda and among other Ugandan Muslim communities in the north. In the 1980s, they were primarily a dispersed urban population. They have generally avoided Western education, opting to send their children to Quranic schools instead. Nubians often work as unskilled or semi-skilled laborers, or as traders. Most speak Swahili--a Bantu language with strong Arabic influence. Baganda tolerate, but do not especially welcome, the Nubian population that lives among them, along with other non-Baganda.


Almost 6 percent of the population was of Rwandan descent, comprising Hutu and Tutsi (Watutsi) ethnic groups, in 1959, but at that time, most Rwandans in Uganda were citizens. They were Bantu-speakers, culturally related to the Hima and Iru of the southwestern kingdoms of Bunyoro, Toro, and Ankole. Most Rwandans lived in Buganda, where they worked in agriculture, business, and a variety of service occupations. Most were Roman Catholics. In the early 1980s, as refugees migrated freely across national boundaries throughout East Africa, the government attempted to limit Rwandan influence by restricting those who lacked Ugandan citizenship to refugee camps and by expelling some to Tanzania. In the late 1980s, more than 120,000 Rwandans were recognized as refugees in Uganda by the UNHCR.


The 1969 census enumerated about 70,000 people of Indian or Pakistani descent--generally referred to as Asians in Uganda. They were officially considered foreigners despite the fact that more than one-half of Uganda's Asians were born in Uganda. Many of their forebears had arrived in Uganda by way of trade networks centered on the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar (united with Tanganyika in 1964 to form Tanzania), which brought iron, cotton, and other products from India even before the nineteenth century. In the late nineteenth century, many indentured laborers from India remained in Uganda after their service ended, but the government refused to sell them land, and most became traders. Wealthy Baganda traders were almost eliminated as their earliest rivals when the Buganda Agreement of 1900 made land ownership more lucrative than commerce for most Baganda. Indians gained control of retail and wholesale trade, cotton ginning, coffee and sugar processing, and other segments of commerce. After independence, and especially when the Obote government threatened to nationalize many industries in 1969, Asians exported much of their wealth and were accused of large-scale graft and tax evasion. President Amin deported about 70,000 Asians in 1972, and only a few returned to Uganda in the 1980s to claim compensation for their expropriated land, buildings, factories, and estates. In 1989 the Asian population in Uganda was estimated to be about 10,000.




In the late 1980s, Ugandan officials estimated that 66 percent of the population was Christian--almost equally divided among Protestants and Roman Catholics. Approximately 15 percent of Ugandans were Muslims. Roughly 19 percent of the people professed belief in local religions or denied any religious affiliation. The basic tenets of all religions--that a spiritual realm exists and that spiritual and physical beings can influence one another--permeated much of Ugandan society. World religions and local religions had coexisted for more than a century, and many people established a coherent set of beliefs about the nature of the universe by combining elements of the two. Except in a few teachings, world religions were seldom viewed as incompatible with local religions.

Throughout Uganda's colonial and postcolonial history, religious identity has had economic and political implications. Church membership has influenced opportunities for education, employment, and social advancement. As a result, the distinction between material and spiritual benefits of religion has not been considered very important, nor have the rewards of religious participation been expected to arrive only in an afterlife.

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Uganda - Christianity


The largest Protestant denomination is Anglican (Episcopal). In 1989 about 4 million Ugandans, or roughly 22 percent of the population, belonged to the nineteen dioceses of the Anglican Church of Uganda. Other Protestant churches, including Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, and a small Bahai congregation, together had fewer than 1 million members. About 5 million Roman Catholics (roughly 28 percent of the population) were members of the thirteen Catholic dioceses in Uganda. The Catholic and Anglican archbishops and other church leaders were Ugandans.

The first Christian missionaries represented the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) and arrived in Buganda in 1877. Roman Catholic priests from the Society of Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers), a French religious order, arrived two years later. These and later Catholic and Protestant missions competed for converts in southern Uganda and became embroiled in local politics. British and German military commanders organized Protestant and Catholic converts to defend imperial interests against each other and against Muslim armies. Many early converts to Christianity were persecuted by local rulers, and nineteenthcentury martyrs were commemorated in shrines in several places in southern Uganda.

After the victories of Protestant armies in the conflicts of the 1890s in southern Uganda, membership in the Anglican church was a requirement for each kabaka of Buganda. The Anglican Cathedral on Namirembe Hill near Kampala became the site of the kabaka's coronation. (A Roman Catholic cathedral was built on nearby Rubaga Hill in 1925.) When Protestant Baganda formed the political party Kabaka Yekka (KY) to press for autonomy for Buganda at independence, Catholics formed the Democratic Party (DP) to oppose the parochial interests of the KY. The DP also won support in areas where opposition to Buganda was high, and other political parties organized in reaction to KY and DP demands. Religion continued to be a factor in national politics through the first three decades of independence.


Uganda - Islam


In 1989 Islam was practiced by an estimated 2.6 million Ugandans, representing roughly 15 percent of the population. Islam had arrived in Uganda from the north and through inland networks of the East African coastal trade by the mid-nineteenth century. Some Baganda Muslims trace their family's conversion to the period in which the kabaka Mutesa I converted to Islam in the nineteenth century.

Islam is a monotheistic religion based on revelations received in seventh-century Arabia by the prophet Muhammad. His life is recounted as the early history of the religion, beginning with his travels from the Arabian town of Mecca about A.D. 610. Muhammad denounced the polytheistic religions of his homeland, preaching a series of divine revelations. He became an outcast, and in A.D. 622, he was forced to flee to the town of Yathrib, which became known as Medina (the city) through its association with Muhammad. The flight (hijra) marked the beginning of the Islamic era and of Islam as a powerful force in history. It also marked the year A.D. 622 as the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Muhammad ultimately defeated his detractors in battle and consolidated his influence as both temporal and spiritual leader of many Arabs before his death in A.D. 632.

After Muhammad's death, his followers compiled his words that they believed were direct from God (Allah) and produced the Quran, the holy scripture of Islam. Muhammad's teachings and his actions as recalled by those who knew him became the hadith (sayings). From these sources, the faithful constructed the Prophet's customary practice, or sunna, which they emulate. The Quran, hadith, and sunna form a comprehensive guide to the spiritual, ethical, and social life of the faithful in most Muslim countries.

The central requirement of Islam is submission to the will of God, and accordingly, a Muslim is a person who has submitted his will to God. The most important demonstration of faith is the shahada (profession of faith) which states "There is no God but God (Allah), and Muhammad is his prophet." Salat (daily prayer), zakat (almsgiving), sawm (fasting), and hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) are also required of the faithful.

When Idi Amin, a Ugandan Muslim, became president in 1971, his presidency seemed to be a victory for Uganda's Muslim community. Then in 1972, Amin's expulsion of Asians from Uganda reduced the Muslim population significantly. As his administration deteriorated into a brutal and unsuccessful regime, Uganda's Muslims began to distance themselves from those in power. After Amin's overthrow in 1979, Muslims became the victims of the backlash that was directed primarily against the Kakwa and Nubian ethnic groups who had supported Amin. Yusuf Lule, who served a brief term as president from 1979 to 1980, was also a Muslim (and a Muganda). He was not a skillful politician, but he was successful in reducing the public stigma attached to Islam.

In 1989 President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni appealed to Uganda's Muslim community to contribute to national reconstruction, and he warned other Ugandans not to discriminate against Muslims. But at the same time, Museveni admonished Ugandans to avoid "sectarian" allegiances, and this warning was directed at the Islamic community as well as other ethnic and religious groups.


Uganda - Local Religions


Roughly 19 percent of Ugandans professed belief in local religions in the late 1980s. In Uganda as in other countries, religion serves social and political purposes, as well as individual needs. An important social function of religion is reinforcing group solidarity by providing elements necessary for society's survival--remembrances of the ancestors, means of settling disputes, and recognition of individual achievement. Another social function of religion is helping people cope with negative aspects of life--pain, suffering, and defeat--by providing an explanation of their causes. Religious beliefs and practices also serve political aims, especially by bolstering the authority of temporal rulers and at other times by allowing new leaders to mobilize political opposition and implement political change.

Among Bantu-speaking societies in southern Uganda, many local religions include beliefs in a creator God, usually known as Ntu or a variant of that term (e.g., Muntu). Most religions involve beliefs in ancestral and other spirits, and people offer prayers and sacrifices to symbolize respect for the dead and to maintain proper relationships among the living. An important example of this religious attitude is found in western Uganda among members of the Mbandwa religion and related belief systems throughout the region. Mbandwa mediators act on behalf of other believers, using trance or hypnosis and offering sacrifice and prayer to beseech the spirit world on behalf of the living. In Bunyoro, for example, the ancestral spirits, who protect those who pray to them, are believed to be the early mythical rulers, the Chwezi. As a result, the Mbandwa religion in these areas is sometimes called the Chwezi religion.

Ancestors are also important in the lives of the Lugbara people of northwestern Uganda. Ancestors communicate with the living, influence their luck, and can be appeased by those in authority. A lineage elder is said to "own" an ancestral shrine, and this ownership serves to reinforce his power to communicate with the ancestors. The elder can invoke a curse on a relative, and people with illnesses often consult diviners to interpret the conditions of their lives and determine which elder might have caused the illness.

More secular functions of religion are evident in the Ganda belief system, which reinforces the institution of kingship. The kabaka is not considered to be the descendant of gods, but his skill as a leader is judged in part by his ability to defend his people from spiritual danger. Most spiritual beings are considered to be the source of misfortune, rather than good fortune--forces to be placated. A good kabaka is one who can defend his kingdom from divine retribution. Important gods in the Ganda pantheon include Kibuka and Nende, the gods of war; Mukasa, the god of children and fertility; a number of gods of the elements--rain, lightning, earthquake, and drought; gods of plague and smallpox; and a god of hunting. Sacrifices to appease these deities include food, animals, and, at times in the past, human beings.

Religion in the Tepeth society in northeastern Uganda also reinforces political values. Authority is concentrated in the hands of a small group of priests and clan elders. They admit men whom they judge to be most capable to a cult known as Sor. Sor initiates make sacrifices to enhance fertility, ensure adequate rainfall, and avoid disease. Men also become members of a society of mediums, who are highly respected, or priests, who are also respected but less so. Women receive spiritual communications regarding social ills, such as crime, but are believed to be incapable of seeing the spirits that communicate with them. Mediums, priests, and others--including women--are allowed to perform rituals that symbolize their spiritual and social prestige.

Religion overlaps with politics in many other areas of life. Ancestors and their agents on earth often support authority systems by punishing transgressions against elders. Killing or striking senior kin is sometimes sufficient to destroy a descent group. The transgressor can avert this tragedy by engaging a spiritual healer and paying the prescribed penalty. Illness is often interpreted as a penalty for flouting the authority of an elder. Illness and a wide variety of misfortunes provide opportunities for individuals to examine their own actions and relationships, admit their weaknesses to a respected leader, and compensate those who otherwise might become their enemies. This pattern of behavior--both political and religious--contributes to stability in many societies.


Uganda - Millenarian Religions


A number of millenarian religions (promising a "golden age," or millennium) existed in Uganda in the 1980s. They have often arisen in response to rapid culture change or other calamities and have sought to overthrow the political order that allowed the crisis to arise. Many millenarian religions, sometimes called cults, are led by a charismatic prophet who promises followers relief from sufferings. The strength of people's faith sometimes allows a prophet to make extraordinary demands on believers, and a successful prophet can win new converts when political upheaval is compounded by natural disaster, such as epidemics (possibly to include the spread of AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s).

Yakan Religion

One of the most successful millenarian religions in Uganda was the Yakan cult, which arose in Sudan in the late nineteenth century. Leaders from Kakwa society (whose territory extends across the Uganda-Sudan border) traveled south in search of protection against epidemics, Arab slave caravans, and European military forces, all of which were sweeping Kakwa society in the 1890s. They returned home from the neighboring Lugbara territory with spring water they called "the water of Yakan." To those who drank it, they promised restored health, eternal life, and the return of the ancestors and dead cattle. In Kakwa society, Yakan leaders promised protection from bullets, and many Yakan leaders predicted the arrival of wagonloads of rifles to drive out all Europeans.

When sleeping sickness ravaged Lugbara society in 1911, Lugbara leaders sought out the Yakan prophets. One of them-- Rembe--traveled to Uganda and dispensed the water of Yakan. He was subsequently deported to Sudan and executed in 1917. With its new martyr, the cult flourished. When the British administration declared the sect illegal, people built shrines inside the walls of their homesteads, and believers used Yakan water to provide what they believed was spiritual protection against British patrols. The ban on the Yakan religion was impossible to enforce, and when it was lifted, Yakan believers felt their faith was vindicated.

As the religion developed, people began to use trance and speaking in tongues to strengthen and demonstrate their faith. In some areas, Yakan leaders appointed their followers to positions of prestige, and, as their power increased, a gradual reorganization of villages began to take place. Religious notables exercised political authority, and eventually they became so oppressive that their followers revolted. Colonial troops came in to restore peace, and the Yakan religion declined in influence but did not disappear. Promises of a millennium continued to arise in similar form in the 1980s.

Holy Spirit Movement

In the 1980s, the Holy Spirit Movement arose in Acholi territory of northern Uganda, where warfare and political killings had ravaged society for nearly two decades. Alice Lakwena, an Acholi prophet, claimed to bring messages from the spiritual world advising people, even though unarmed, to oppose government intervention in Acholi territory. Lakwena, known locally as "Alice," also advised her followers to protect themselves against bullets by smearing cooking oil on their skin and declared that stones or bottles thrown at government troops would turn into hand grenades. Many of Alice's followers were killed in these confrontations, and many others acquired guns to reinforce their supposed spiritual armor. In 1987, however, Alice fled to Kenya, where she was jailed. A self-proclaimed mystic, Joseph Kony, and Odong Latek succeeded her as leaders of the Holy Spirit Movement.

The appeal of the Holy Spirit Movement continued, and in early 1989, it disrupted the establishment of the grass-roots resistance councils (RCs), which were intended to serve as the base for a people's democracy under the National Resistance Movement (NRM). Government officials proclaimed periods of amnesty and sought to weaken the Holy Spirit Movement's appeal by cutting off supplies of weapons (and cooking oil) to the region. As of 1989, the NRM was unable to quell this popular rebellion that clothed itself in religious dogma.




Uganda in the 1980s bore the imprint of complex stratification systems that had evolved well before colonial agents arrived in the area. These, in turn, were shaped in part by the Arab slave trade that flourished in the mid-nineteenth century, providing laborers for French sugar and tobacco plantations on several Indian Ocean islands. Tens of thousands of slave captives were taken from northern Uganda, where societies had been organized primarily around descent rules, ritual needs, and cattle. British imperial agents arriving in the north in the late nineteenth century encountered many small villageand lineage-based social units specialized for mobility and warfare.

Karamojong societies in the northeast were highly segmented, allowing people to move away and rejoin a group without disrupting social relations or their pastoral life-style. West of the Karamojong, Acholi and Langi peoples developed a more sedentary economy relying largely on crop cultivation. In most northern societies, status distinctions were based on age, gender, and, in some cases, spiritual prowess. Men with military expertise were also important, but these societies did not develop powerful kingdoms as did those that would dominate southern Uganda. In the south, a more favorable climate contributed to the formation of highly stratified kingdoms, relying in part on labor from the north. Patron-client relationships bound individuals of different strata to one another, and military elites sometimes dominated society, especially in times of war. By the late nineteenth century, British imperial agents saw Buganda as an orderly kingdom with extensive commercial ties throughout the region, ruled by a king who welcomed those who proselytized on behalf of world religions- -an ideal environment for establishing a colonial presence.

In 1900 Baganda chiefs agreed to protectorate status for the region in return for title to freehold land, and even in the 1980s, many of Uganda's wealthiest landowners were Baganda who had inherited or purchased that land (still known as mailo land because it was measured in square miles) from these early landowners. Similar landowning classes were created in Toro and Ankole, where the British granted freehold tenure to a small group of chiefs, and to a lesser extent in Bunyoro, where the omukama followed suit to appease his most important clients. These agreements displaced lineage and clan heads, who became trespassers on ancestral land they had formerly controlled, and the shift from dispersed, temporary power centers to a petite bourgeoisie of African landowners began. Asians, who came to dominate retail and wholesale trade, and a few highranking civil servants were also among the new elites.

Tenant farmers began to exercise their political power as the triangular relationship among landlords, tenant farmers, and the state achieved a sort of balance. The state demanded taxes from both landowners and tenant farmers; landlords demanded rent (and a portion of the produce) from their tenants; and farmers threatened to reduce their crop yields if the demands of the other two became too onerous. At times, disgruntled farmers were so successful in withholding production that the state stepped in to impose limits on demands by landlords, thereby protecting the state's ability to tax both landlord and tenant farmer. Successful landowners received government loans at low interest rates, and some of them used the money to purchase facilities for processing cash crops, which would become especially lucrative after independence. Wealthy farmers organized agricultural cooperatives--and eventually, political parties--to implement their demands during the pre-independence years. They recruited members among their own ethnic or religious groups, however, and therefore most peasant farmers remained poor.

During the years surrounding independence, land ownership was an important factor in the new nation's social organization, but colonial policies also entrenched racial and ethnic differences that hampered the accumulation of wealth by most people. African business people were unable to compete with Asians in many areas of commerce because of discriminatory government licensing regulations and red tape. Urban unskilled workers, lacking both land and political organization, were hampered from organizing nationwide labor actions, and in general the poor found their avenues to middle-class status blocked. Most northerners remained peasants or laborers because agribusiness, commerce, transportation, and educational centers were centered in the south.

Each government after independence altered the identity of the major participants in the national economy without changing the basic nature of that participation. The 1960s government of Milton Obote reduced the privileged status of the southern kingdoms, especially Buganda, and brought northerners into business and politics in increasing numbers. During the 1970s, Amin expelled the Asian commercial bourgeoisie and eliminated many others from the entrenched elite. By expropriating their wealth and nationalizing foreign businesses, Amin's followers acquired substantial resources for patronage purposes, and as a result, former peripheral groups, such as the Nubian military community, assumed new power and wealth. Many uneducated, untrained military recruits also received important military and political appointments, but by the end of Amin's term in office in 1979, the state's resources for rewarding political clients had begun to dwindle.

Under these conditions of political and economic uncertainty, many skilled workers, even from urban areas, reverted to subsistence cultivation in order to survive. Urban and rural elites fled from state terror tactics and economic destruction, and many who could afford to travel went to other African countries or Britain. Cities and towns stagnated. At the same time, shortages of basic commodities and foodstuffs provided new avenues to wealth through black-market operations and smuggling. For many citizens, the institutions of government became almost irrelevant to social progress.

As the government lost its ability to impose economic and political order, a few people were able to accumulate impressive wealth through open manipulation of illegal economic networks. A specialized vocabulary for black-market activities, termed magendo, and its most successful participants, mafuta mingi ("dripping in oil"), came to symbolize the importance of this thriving sector of the economy. Local economists estimated that during the early 1980s, magendo activities generated as much as one-third of the national output of goods and services, and mafuta mingi, both those in government office and "private-sector magendoists," constituted the wealthiest class of Ugandans. Together with its lower-class beneficiaries--including those who carried out risky smuggling ventures, ran errands, and stored goods for their superiors, as well as those who were simply thieves (bayaye)-- magendo was thought to provide a living for about 7 percent of the population.

President Amin also embarrassed many Ugandans with his uneducated style as president; his example and tolerance of brutality were viewed with revulsion. Government agents committed much of the violence, provoking violent revenge, and ethnic identity became the basis for much of this revenge. Pervasive violence heightened the destructive impact of widespread corruption. When Museveni seized power in 1986, none of the four administrations that had succeeded Amin had been able to restore order or public confidence in government. The restoration of a viable middle class began, and some urban activity revived, but continuing warfare delayed nationwide social programs. Economic disaster loomed again when international coffee prices plummeted in 1989, and the policy of coopting former rebel opponents produced a burgeoning, expensive military establishment. Museveni's fledgling democratic institutions provided some hope of peace and economic recovery in the 1990s; many members of the small but very wealthy Ugandan elite, however, had accumulated wealth under earlier regimes. Middle-class workers and farmers were struggling just to provide for their families. Government workers were sometimes unpaid, and many civil servants found it necessary to hold more than one job. Urban workers often farmed or had members of their families cultivate rural plots of land for subsistence and profit. Unskilled workers and peasant farmers--i.e., the majority of Ugandans--appeared likely to remain poor.




Women's roles were clearly subordinate to those of men, despite the substantial economic and social responsibilities of women in Uganda's many traditional societies. Women were taught to accede to the wishes of their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sometimes other men as well, and to demonstrate their subordination to men in most areas of public life. Even in the 1980s, women in rural areas of Buganda were expected to kneel when speaking to a man. At the same time, however, women shouldered the primary responsibilities for childcare and subsistence cultivation, and in the twentieth century, women had made substantial contributions to cash-crop agriculture.

Many men claimed that their society revered women, and it was true that Ugandan women had some traditional rights that exceeded those of women in Western societies. Many Ugandans recognized women as important religious leaders, who sometimes had led religious revolts that overthrew the political order dominated by men. In some areas of Uganda, women could own land, influence crucial political decisions made by men, and cultivate crops for their own profit. But when cash-crop agriculture became lucrative, as in southeastern Uganda in the 1920s, men often claimed rights to land owned by their female relatives, and their claims were supported by local councils and protectorate courts.

Polygynous marriage practices, which permit a man to marry more than one woman, have reinforced some aspects of male dominance, but they also have given women an arena for cooperating to oppose male dominance. Moreover, a man sometimes granted his senior wife "male" status, allowing her to behave as an equal toward men and as a superior toward his other wives. But in the twentieth century, polygynous marriages had created bonds that were not legally recognized as marriage, leaving women without legal rights to inheritance or maintenance in the event of divorce or widowhood.

Women began to organize to exercise their political power before independence. In 1960 the Uganda Council of Women passed a resolution urging that laws regarding marriage, divorce, and inheritance should be recorded in written from and publicized nationwide--a first step toward codifying customary and modern practices. During the first decade of independence, this council also pressed for legal reforms that would grant all women the right to own property and retain custody of their children if their marriages ended.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, the violence that swept Uganda inflicted a particularly heavy toll on women. Economic hardships were felt first in the home, where women and children lacked economic choices available to most men. Women's work became more time-consuming than it had been; the erosion of public services and infrastructure reduced access to schools, hospitals, and markets. Even traveling to nearby towns was often impossible. Some Ugandan women believed that the war years strengthened their independence, however, as the disruption of normal family life opened new avenues for acquiring economic independence, and government reports suggested that the number of women employed in commerce increased in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The Museveni government of the late 1980s pledged to eliminate discrimination against women in official policy and practice. Women are active in the National Resistance Army (NRA), and Museveni appointed a woman, Joan Kakwenzire, to a six-member commission to document abuses by the military. The government also has decreed that one woman would represent each district on the National Resistance Council (NRC). In addition, the government-operated Uganda Commercial Bank has launched a rural credit plan to make farm loans more easily available to women.

Museveni appointed Joyce Mpanga minister for women and development in 1987, and she proclaimed the government's intention to raise women's wages, increase women's credit and employment opportunities, and improve the lives of women in general. In 1989 there were two women serving as ministers and three serving as deputy ministers in the NRM cabinet. Women civil servants and professionals also formed an organization, Action for Development, to assist women in war-torn areas, especially the devastated Luwero region in central Uganda.

The Uganda Association of Women Lawyers, which was founded in 1976, established a legal-aid clinic in early 1988 to defend women who faced the loss of property or children because of divorce, separation, or widowhood. The association also sought to expand educational opportunities for women, increase childsupport payments (equivalent to US$0.50 per month in 1989) in case of divorce, establish common legal grounds for divorce for both men and women, establish common criminal codes for men and women, assist women and children who were victims of AIDS, and implement nationwide education programs to inform women of their legal rights.




Mission schools were established in Uganda in the 1890s, and in 1924 the government established the first secondary school for Africans. By 1950, however, the government operated only three of the fifty-three secondary schools for Africans. Three others were privately funded, and forty-seven were operated by religious organizations. Education was eagerly sought by rural farmers as well as urban elites, and after independence many villages, especially in the south, built schools, hired teachers, and appealed for and received government assistance to operate their own village schools.

Most subjects were taught according to the British syllabus until 1974, and British examinations measured a student's progress through primary and secondary school. In 1975 the government implemented a local curriculum, and for a short time most school materials were published in Uganda. School enrollments continued to climb throughout most of the 1970s and 1980s, but as the economy deteriorated and violence increased, local publishing almost ceased, and examination results deteriorated.

The education system suffered the effects of economic decline and political instability during the 1970s and 1980s. The system continued to function, however, with an administrative structure based on regional offices, a national school inspectorate, and centralized, nationwide school examinations. Enrollments and expenditures increased steadily during this time, reflecting the high priority Ugandans attach to education, but at all levels, the physical infrastructure necessary for education was lacking, and the quality of education declined. School maintenance standards suffered, teachers fled the country, morale and productivity deteriorated along with real incomes, and many facilities were damaged by warfare and vandalism.

In 1990 adult literacy nationwide was estimated at 50 percent. Improving this ratio was important to the Museveni government. In order to reestablish the national priority on education, the Museveni government adopted a two-phase policy--to rehabilitate buildings and establish minimal conditions for instruction, and to improve efficiency and quality of education through teacher training and curriculum upgrading. Important long-term goals included establishing universal primary education, extending the seven-year primary cycle to eight or nine years, and shifting the emphasis in postsecondary education from purely academic to more technical and vocational training.

The School System

Formal education had four levels. The first level consisted of seven primary-school grades (standards one through seven), usually beginning about age six. Based on test scores in seventh grade, pupils could enter one of several types of institutions--a four-year secondary school ("O-level"), a three-year technical training institution, or a four-year teacher training college. About 40 percent of those who passed "O-level" examinations continued their education through one of several options--an advanced two-year secondary course ("A-level"), an advanced twoyear teacher training course, a technical institute, or a specialized training program provided by the government. Those who completed "A-level" examinations might study at Makerere University in Kampala or they might study abroad. Other options for "A-level" graduates were the Uganda Technical College, the Institute of Teachers' Education (formerly the National Teachers' College), or National College of Business Studies.

Primary Education

In 1989, the last year for which official figures were available, the government estimated that more than 2.5 million youngsters were enrolled in primary schools, of whom about 45 percent were female. This figure represented a four-fold increase from primary enrollment levels of the late 1960s and a near doubling of the almost 1.3 million pupils enrolled in 1980. In that year, just over half of eligible six- to twelve-year-olds were attending government-aided primary schools, while an additional 80,000 pupils were enrolled in private primary schools.

Officials estimated that roughly 61 percent of primary pupils completed seventh grade. Of those, about 25 percent went on to further study. The central government was responsible for training, posting, and promoting primary school teachers, setting salaries and school fees, providing supplies, inspecting schools, and appointing educational committees to deal with local problems. Local school officials, including the headmaster or headmistress, and district education officials were responsible for collecting fees, ordering supplies, and administering the school according to national policy. The District Education Office provided an important intermediary between the school and the Ministry of Education.

Secondary Education

In 1989 secondary school enrollments on all levels totaled 265,000 pupils. Of this number, 238,500 were enrolled in forms one through six in government-aided secondary schools; 35 percent of those enrolled were female. Some 216,000 pupils were enrolled in the first four years (forms one to four) in "O level" studies, while an additional 22,000 were attending teacher training schools or technical institutes on the lower secondary level. Just over 22,000 pupils were enrolled in forms five and six in upper secondary ("A level") studies; at the same time, 4,400 other pupils on this level were enrolled in teacher training colleges or technical institutes.

The most complete breakdown of primary and secondary enrollments was for the year 1980, when about 7 percent of children aged thirteen to sixteen years (about 75,000 pupils) were enrolled in the first four years (forms one to four) of secondary-level education in about 170 government-funded schools. About 70 percent of these pupils were boys. Roughly 66,200 were attending secondary schools in preparation for "O-level" exams, which would qualify them for further academic study, teacher training, or other technical training programs beyond the secondary level. Roughly 6,000 people in the thirteen- to sixteen-year-old age group were attending teacher training colleges, and about 2,800 were enrolled in technical schools.

Upper secondary education (forms five and six) enrolled about 6,900 pupils in 1980. In addition, about 1,200 students were enrolled in teacher training colleges at this level, and 1,100 in technical training institutes. These 9,200 pupils represented 1.8 percent of the seventeen- and eighteen-year-old age group. Female students made up roughly 20 percent of the total. In addition to these enrollments, a further 20,000 pupils were attending private secondary schools.

Postsecondary Education

Established in 1922, Makerere University in Kampala was the first college in East Africa. Its primary aim was to train people for government employment, but by the 1980s, it had expanded to include colleges of liberal arts and medicine serving more than 5,000 students from Uganda and other African countries. In 1986 the College of Commerce separated from Makerere to become the National College of Business Studies, and at the same time, the National Teachers' College became a separate Institute of Teachers' Education. In 1980 these institutions enrolled 5,750 postsecondary students, roughly 23 percent of whom were women. By 1989 enrollments totaled an estimated 8,900 students.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) financed the opening of the Islamic University at Mbale in southern Uganda in 1988. This campus provides Islamic educational services primarily to English-speaking students from African nations. In late 1989, a second national university campus opened in Mbarara. Its curriculum is designed to serve Uganda's rural development needs. Development plans for higher education rely largely on international and private donors. In 1989 Makerere University received US$50 million in pledged support from its graduates as part of a US$150-million renovation plan.

In the late 1980s, many other educational opportunities were available. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare operated four vocational training centers, providing apprenticeships and classes to upgrade technical skills. The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, and Fisheries conducted training courses at eighteen district farm institutions. Ministry of Community Development personnel also staffed fifteen rural training centers. Other government ministries offered in-service training in agriculture, health, community development, cooperatives, commerce, industry, and public services to satisfy technical labor requirements of these agencies. In addition, the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) offered a variety of training courses for women.


There was a severe shortage of teachers during the 1980s, made acute by the departure of both Ugandan and expatriate teachers during the 1970s and early 1980s. Aside from shortages of supplies and equipment, high student-teacher ratios, often more than twenty-five to one, made teaching especially difficult. Teacher morale suffered, although the number of teacher training candidates continued to rise during and after the 1970s. The proportion of untrained teachers in primary schools also increased from 14 percent in 1971 to 35 percent in 1981. Although unlicensed teachers continued to teach during the 1980s, teacher training colleges had full enrollments and attempted to train teachers to cope with both the educational and economic problems they would face.

Educational Finance

In the mid-1980s, the educational sector was the largest public-sector employer, but after 1986, observers estimated that the defense establishment surpassed education in this regard. The Ministry of Education received about 18 percent of the government's current budget, most of which was used to pay teacher salaries in government schools. Primary and secondary pupils paid school fees ranging from US$5 to US$10 per year, and most schools asked pupils and their parents to contribute labor, food, or materials to the school. "A-level" secondary schools, teacher training institutions, and other postsecondary institutions did not charge fees during the 1980s, but their students were required to bring materials, such as food and bedding, for their own use.




In 1989 Uganda's estimated life expectancy, crude death rate, and infant mortality represented significant improvements over those of the 1960s, but local officials also believed the 1980s estimates were optimistic, based on incomplete reports. Health services and record keeping deteriorated during the 1970s and early 1980s, when many deaths resulted from government neglect, violence, and civil war.

In 1989 officials estimated that measles, respiratory tract infections, and gastroenteritis caused one-half of all deaths attributed to illness. Other fatal illnesses included anemia, tetanus, and whooping cough, but some people also died of malnutrition. An estimated 20 percent of all deaths were caused by diseases that were not well known among international health officials. Ugandan health workers were especially concerned about infant mortality, most often caused by low birth weight, premature birth, or neonatal tetanus. Childhood diseases such as measles, gastroenteritis, malaria, and respiratory tract infections also claimed many lives. Malaria and tuberculosis caused an increasing number of deaths among adults during the 1980s.

Certain forms of cancer were common in Uganda before they were first systematically studied in any country. Burkitt's lymphoma, which caused a large number of cancer deaths in children across Africa, was first described in Uganda in 1958. This malignancy was thought to be related to the incidence of malaria and possibly to food storage practices that allowed the growth of carcinogenic strains of bacteria or molds in stored grain or peanuts. Other research, although inconclusive, suggested that the spread of certain cancers might be related to parasites or other insect-borne diseases.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

During the 1980s, Uganda developed the highest known incidence of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), with an infection rate of over 15 cases per 100,000 population. By mid1989 , the Ministry of Health had reported 7,573 AIDS cases to the World Health Organization (WHO). In mid-1990, local officials reported that at least 17,400 cases had been diagnosed and the number of actual AIDS cases was doubling every six months. In Kampala health officials also reported that more than 790,000 people had positive test results for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the infectious agent believed to cause AIDS, a figure estimated at 1.3 million by late 1990. Over 25,000 children under the age of fifteen were HIV-positive, along with 22 percent of all women seeking prenatal medical care at Mulago Hospital, the nation's largest hospital in Kampala. Belgium's Institute of Tropical Medicine reported that an estimated 20 percent of all infant deaths in Kampala were related to HIV infections, and many tuberculosis patients were also infected with HIV.

Uganda's first officially recognized AIDS deaths occurred in 1982, when seventeen traders in the southern district of Rakai died of symptoms that came to be associated with the disease. Within a year, AIDS (then known as "Slim") was diagnosed in Masaka, Rakai, and Kampala, and by 1989, all districts of Uganda were affected. The disease appeared to spread by heterosexual contact, often along main transportation routes. Men and women were equally affected, although the death of a man was more likely to be reported to officials. The majority of AIDS cases occurred in people between sixteen and forty years of age, and by the late 1980s, an increasing number of babies were born HIVpositive . These cases, more than adult deaths, shocked people into changing behavior that risked AIDS infection. Fewer than ten AIDS cases were reported among school-age children, who constituted nearly one-half of the population, prompting intensive efforts to prevent its spread into this age group.

Government health officials initiated an aggressive nationwide school education program to prevent the spread of the disease among the young, and they implemented nationwide blood screening and public education programs, including television, radio, and local press warnings in English and local languages. By the late 1980s, however, it was clear that the nation's beleaguered health care system could not cope with the increased health needs, and the government intensified efforts to gain international assistance to slow the spread of this deadly disease. The need to combat AIDS was urgent: according to one estimate, Uganda's population in 2015 could total about 20 million, rather than the 32 million that demographers anticipated, because of AIDS, and the number of orphaned children would rise dramatically throughout the 1990s and after.

The transmission of AIDS was complicated by economic decline and problems of national security. In many areas, warfare had destroyed communication systems and health care facilities. At the same time, AIDS slowed the pace of economic development, because skilled workers and young, educated Ugandans had high infection rates. A few people were able to capitalize on the tragedy of AIDS--a small number of local medical practitioners claimed to have cured AIDS victims and became wealthy fairly quickly. A few street vendors in Kampala sold vials of a liquid they identified as Azidothymidine (AZT), a drug being tested for possible AIDS treatment, at prices ranging as high as US$1,000 per vial. They were able to reap fortunes from desperate AIDS victims and their families, despite government warnings that no AZT was available in Uganda.

Health Care

Uganda had a total of seventy-nine hospitals in 1989, providing approximately 20,000 hospital beds. The government operated forty-six of these institutions, while thirty-three were staffed and equipped by religious and other private organizations. In addition, more than 600 smaller health facilities, including community health centers, maternity clinics, dispensaries, subdispensaries, leprosy centers, and aid posts, operated nationwide. At least one hospital was located in each district except the southern district of Rakai; the bestserved districts were Mukono and Mpigi, each with five hospitals, and Kampala with seven. In the more sparsely populated northern districts, however, people sometimes traveled long distances to receive medical care, and facilities were generally inferior to those in the south. In 1990 Uganda's entire health care system was served by about 700 doctors.

Uganda's per capita spending on health amounted to less than US$2 per year for most of the 1980s. This rate of spending increased slightly in 1989, when the government allocated US$63 million, roughly 26 percent of its development budget, for social services, and US$24 million of this amount for health services in particular. This represented an increase of 50 percent over health spending for the previous year.

The highest priority in government programs was rehabilitating existing facilities and improving supplies. In 1989 funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Development Association (IDA) was earmarked for rehabilitating nineteen of the nation's hospitals, primarily through building repairs and upgrading water and electrical systems. Primary health-care projects, including immunization programs, prescription drugs, clean water supplies, and public hygiene, also received special priority. European Development Fund (EDF) assistance was also used to construct twenty new health centers and one district health office and to train health-care practitioners.

A number of governmental and nongovernmental organizations were involved in health research in the late 1980s, much of this sponsored by the Ministry of Health, the Institute of Public Health, and Makerere University. The nation's largest health-care facility, Mulago Hospital, conducted research on local nutrition and endemic diseases, and researchers there developed child nutrition programs to be implemented through the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Save the Children Fund.

Several government ministries sponsored research and implemented community programs designed to improve health and nutrition. The Ugandan Red Cross and the Ministry of Health, in cooperation with several international agencies, opened an orthopedic workshop in Kampala for handicapped children and adults, most of whom had suffered from poliomyelitis or severe wounds in outbreaks of violence. Catholic and Protestant missions, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and OXFAM were also active in emergency relief projects involving food and nutrition. Many Ugandans criticized their own government for inadequate attention to popular health needs, but they also hoped that government efforts to eliminate violence and warfare would lay the foundation for improved health care.

Social Welfare

Social services were an important factor in government planning in the late 1980s, both to support efforts to improve health care and to upgrade living standards in general. Providing running water in rural areas was a high priority, although even small improvements in water supplies were costly. Projects in the late 1980s focused on drilling wells, protecting springs, replacing and repairing pumps, and training community workers to oversee water systems. The government also recognized that many people had to walk several kilometers to carry water to their homes and declared its intention to extend pipelines into rural areas. Sewage systems, too, were considered an important but expensive improvement. Even so, many urban pipelines and septic tanks were in disrepair, and most rural areas lacked pipelines or sewage treatment facilities. Government workers began installing sewage systems in several small towns, including Rakai, Nebbi, and Bushenyi, in 1988.

Housing was an important symbol of development in Uganda under the NRM government. Providing low-cost urban housing was a high government priority. Projects in Masaka, Mbarara, Arua, and Namuwongo exceeded government spending projections in 1988 and 1989. In 1990 at least three housing projects were underway in Kampola. Estimates were that some 8,000 housing units needed to be built each year throughout the 1990s in urban areas alone to keep pace with population growth. Given the shortage of investment funds and the high cost of imported construction materials, it was unlikely that such a goal would be met.

Rural housing development was also an important goal, but in the late 1980s, most rural residents built their own homes. Although these were often mud-and-wattle huts, they were, nonetheless, a source of pride. Having a well-kept home was important to many Ugandans, even the very poor. People considered deteriorating housing standards a symbol of social disintegration, one that characterized a few poverty-stricken areas and those hardest hit by AIDS. Village cooperative societies in the Luwero region organized brick-making factories in 1988 and 1989, and the government was attempting to organize similar projects in other areas. Other government programs aimed at increasing credit opportunities and improving materials and transportation facilities for rural homebuilders. In the late 1980s, housing assistance was received from Austria, Britain, Finland, and the Netherlands.

One social problem with tragic implications for Uganda's future was the children--more than 1.5 million of them, almost 10 percent of the population--who had been orphaned by the spread of warfare or by AIDS in the late 1970s and early 1980s. By 1990 the number of war orphans alone was estimated at more than half a million. No reliable figures were available for AIDS orphans, but one study predicted that their number would grow over the next twenty years to 4 to 5 million.

Several thousands of these orphans were young boys who had attached themselves to the army. By the late 1980s, the government had established a few schools to provide boarding facilities and primary education for these kadogos, or child-soldiers. Others sometimes lived on city streets or in small groups without any regular supervision. Many Ugandans accepted the responsibility for caring for others' children, but this responsibility was generally believed to apply only within the boundaries of the extended family. Many children had lost a large number of relatives, in addition to their parents, and some orphans chose to avoid living with relatives they did not know well. As a result, neither government nor private agencies were able to surmount the economic and social obstacles to programs for immediate care for orphans. One of several ominous implications of this failure was that orphans and kadogos could remain on the periphery of society for the rest of their lives.


CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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