The precolonial history of Uganda is not well recorded, since genealogy was the only method employed by the early settlers in the area. At the time of the first exploration of Uganda, there were three main kingdoms, each ruled by a monarch and laws and customs of their own. The kingdoms of Buganda, Kitara (sub-divided into Bunyoro and Toro) and Karagwe are all well documented by early explorers. It is believed that these kingdoms originated around the 16th century, the land before that probably being occupied by Bushmen. The Bantu originated from the west coast of Africa, migrating along the Niger River, and occupied the northern, central and western parts of Uganda. The eastern part of Uganda, occupied some 250 years ago by the Nilo-Hamitic tribes, never formed a kingdom because the people were nomadic and the area was not well suited to agriculture.
There are four main ethnic groups in Uganda, which all have different origins.
The Bantu, by far the largest in number, came from the west and include the tribes of Buganda, Banyankole, Basoga, Bakiga, Batoro, Banyoro, Banyarwanda, Bagisu, Bagwere and Bakonjo.
The Nilotics, who came from the north, include the Lango, Acholi, Alur, Padhola, Lulya and Jonam.
The NiloHamitics include the Teso, Karamojong, Kumam, Kakwa, Sebei, Pokot, Labwor and Tepeth, and the Sudanics include the Lugbara, Madi and Lendu.
The Hamites are mostly constituted by the Bahima.
These tribes engaged in the long distance trade with the Arabs and some of their neighbors.
The first Europeans set foot in Uganda in 1862 as explorers and were followed by missionaries. Following religious wars between converted Protestants and Anglicans in Buganda, a British protectorate administration took control of the region in 1896. Independence movements of the 1950s came to fruition in 1962 when Uganda was granted self-rule. In 1971 a military coup toppled the country's first government. Army commander Idi Amin took control, looting the country and killing opponents and members of their tribes. After eight years of Amin's misrule, Uganda was an economic and social disaster. Thousands starved to death or were killed.
The dictatorial regime of Idi Amin (1971-79) was responsible for the deaths of some 300,000 opponents. Guerrilla war and human rights abuses under Milton Obote from 1980 to 1985 claimed the lives of at least another 100,000 people. Uganda has experienced relative stability and economic growth since 1986. A constitutional referendum in 2005 canceled a 19-year ban on multi-party politics.
Source: The World Factbook, 2014.
Belonging to many ethnic groups, Ugandans speak over 30 different African languages. English and Swahili are the country’s official languages.
Swahili is a useful communication link with the country’s Eastern neighbors of Kenya and Tanzania, where it's also spoken.
The largest group in Uganda (around a fifth of the population) are the Baganda, who live in the Kampala region and speak Luganda.
Other Bantu-speaking groups include the Ankole, Toro, Banyoro and Basoga. To the east and north are groups of Nilotic/Cushitic origin, including the Teso, Karimojong, Acholi and Lango.
The common pre-fixes of ‘Mu-’, ‘Ba-’ and ‘Bu-’ are used for ‘a member of’, ‘a people’ and ‘the land they occupy’. So for example, a Muganda is a member of the Baganda, who live in Buganda. The name of the country comes from the fact that in Swahili, the prefix ‘U-’ is used instead of ‘Bu-'.
In the eastern region, the Basoga practice a dance known as Tamenhaibunga which expresses the importance of love and friendship. Its name literally means ‘good friends drink together and don’t fight in case they break the gourd holding the drink’. As in many African countries, dance is an important part of ceremonies and special occasions. Uganda’s different peoples have their own special dances.
Probably the most widely recognized Ugandan dance is the Kiganda, where the performers move their lower body to a drum-beat. It’s a tricky dance, requiring great skill to keep the upper torso controlled and rotate to the music from the waist down. The dance has many variations for different occasions, but the version often seen is the one performed in honour of the Baganda king.
Food in Daily Life.
Most people, except a few who live in urban centers, produce their own food. Most people eat two meals a day: lunch and supper. Breakfast is often a cup of tea or porridge. Meals are prepared by women and girls; men and boys age twelve and above do not sit in the kitchen, which is separate from the main house. Cooking usually is done on an open wood fire. Popular dishes include matoke (a staple made from bananas), millet bread, cassava (tapioca or manioc), sweet potatoes, chicken and beef stews, and freshwater fish. Other foods include white potatoes, yams, corn, cabbage, pumpkin, tomatoes, millet, peas, sorghum, beans, groundnuts (peanuts), goat meat, and milk. Oranges, papayas, lemons, and pineapples also are grown and consumed. The national drink is waragi , a banana gin. Restaurants in large population centers, such as Kampala (the capital), serve local foods.
Most food is produced domestically. Uganda exports various foodstuffs, including fish and fish products, corn, coffee, and tea. The environment provides good grazing land for cattle, sheep, and goats. Agriculture is the most important sector of the economy, employing over 80 percent of the workforce. Much production is organized by farmers' cooperatives. Smallholder farmers predominated in the 1960s and 1970s but declined as a result of civil conflict. In the 1980s, the government provided aid to farmers, and by the middle of the decade nearly a hundred ranches had been restocked with cattle.
Lakes, rivers and swamps cover about 20 percent of the land surface, and fishing is an important rural industry. The basic currency is the shilling. 
The typical school year runs from January to November. Education is encouraged and seen in most parts of the country as a very important stepping stone to success. Education is not compulsory, but to encourage parents to take their children to school, the government has established the Universal Primary Education policy where four children from each family have their education costs subsidized in government-run schools. There are plans to extend this to the secondary school level. Unfortunately the government-run schools are very limited and as a result most children who cannot afford private school are unable to receive an education.
Makerere University, the biggest and oldest university in East Africa, is located in Kampala. For several decades, this was the only university in Uganda. However, in recent years, several universities have emerged to give options to the increasing number of students.
Some communities have resisted education. But overall, the attitude toward education has improved greatly and the graduate rate continues to increase.
An extra year of schooling can have long-lasting impact on a child’s future employment possibilities. Research by Dr. Bruce Wydick, a professor of economics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, found that former sponsored children stay in school longer than their non-sponsored peers: 1 to 1.5 years longer. In Uganda, the numbers are much higher—2.4 years.
Former sponsored children were:
- 27 to 40 percent more likely to finish secondary education than those who were not enrolled in the child sponsorship program.
- 50 to 80 percent more likely to complete a university education than non-sponsored children.
Source: The World Factbook, 2014.
To find out more information about the specifics of the Ugandan educational system, please visit our The Need page.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion. In many areas, particularly in rural settings, some religions tend to be syncretistic. Deeply held traditional indigenous beliefs commonly are blended into or observed alongside the rites of recognized religions, particularly in areas that are predominantly Christian.
Missionary groups of several denominations are present and active in the country, including the Pentecostal Church, the Baptist Church, the Episcopal Church/Church of Uganda, the Church of God and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Private Koranic and Christian schools are common. In public schools, religious instruction is optional and the curriculum covers world religions rather than instruction in one particular religion. There are also many private schools sponsored by religious groups that offer religious instruction according to the school's affiliation. These private schools are open to students of other faiths, but they usually do not offer minority religious instruction.
Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released in 2012 by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Facts & Figures
Population: 35,918,915 (2014 estimate)
Note: Estimates for this country take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS, which results in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, and lower population growth rates than otherwise expected.
Languages: English (official national language, taught in grade schools, used in courts of law and by most newspapers and some radio broadcasts), Ganda or Luganda (most widely used of the Niger-Congo languages, preferred for native language publications in the capital and may be taught in school), other Niger-Congo languages, Nilo-Saharan languages, Swahili, Arabic
Religions: Christian 83.9% (Roman Catholic 41.9%, Anglican 35.9%, Pentecostal 4.6%, Seventh-Day Adventist 1.5%), Muslim 12.1%, other 3.1%, none 0.9% (2002 census)
Literacy rate: Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write. Male: 82.6% Female: 64.6% (2010 estimate)
Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources:
Rural: 71.7% (2011 estimate)
Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities:
Rural: 35.2% (2011 estimate)
Climate: Tropical; generally rainy with two dry seasons (December to February, June to August); semiarid in northeast
Percentage of population urbanized: 15.6% (2011 estimate)
Male: 53.1 years
Female: 55.86 years (2014 estimate)
Under-5 mortality rate: 69/1,000 (2012 estimate)
GDP per capita: $1,500 (2013 estimate)
Monetary unit: Ugandan new shilling (UGX)
Number of people living with HIV/AIDS: 1.5 million (2012 estimate)
Percentage of population living below $1.25 a day:
38% (2007-11 study)
Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2014; The State of the World's Children, 2014