Uganda: The source of the White Nile

Uganda is an eastern African nation of 43 million (2018) people that lies on the equatorial line. The official language here is English alongside Swahili, with many, many local languages also spoken, the most famous of which is Luganda.

Uganda does not border any oceans or seas, but it is neighbor to Africa’s largest lake, Lake Victoria. Uganda is surrounded by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Sudan and Kenya. It is also the starting point for the White Nile, a river that stretches 6,400 kilometers and begins its journey on Ugandan soil. Ugandan life is made richer by the incredible features of its natural landscape: thousands and thousands of coffee trees, sugar cane plants swaying by the sides of roads, the banana trees native to tropical climates and of course the kilometers of unbroken rainforest land.

While in Uganda, you can pass from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere with just one step, as the country sits right on the equator. In fact, there is even a monument to the exact line of the equator and visitors who are interested can receive a document verifying that they have stepped over this line along with a souvenir photo. This is of course one of the most popular tourist spots in the country.

Standard of living

One of Africa’s poorest countries, Uganda’s economy is a developing one, largely based on agriculture. Economically speaking, however, the situation is getting better in Uganda and the nation is beginning to attract foreign investment and capital. Uganda was colonized by the British in 1894 and remained a colony for years after. The capital, Kampala, has an estimated population of nearly 2 million. Uganda has a very young population; the average age is 42 — in fact you will have a difficult time even seeing an older person around. . People who see us touring the local bazaar begin yelling out “Muzungu” as this is what white people are called in eastern Africa. But while we appear generally “muzungu” to everyone in the market, when Muslim traders learn we are also Muslim, they immediately become very friendly and start chatting with us.

No matter where we go in Uganda, we see a kind of bird from the vulture family, which locals call “Kaloli” or “Marabusto” Even in the capital Kampala, along the most luxurious boulevards, you can see these birds picking at the trash. Of course, this is also a sign of the flaws in the trash pick-up system in Uganda.

In terms of religion, around 78 percent of Ugandans are Christian, which is an indication of the substantial missionary work done in this country. The trees in Uganda are green all year round, not surprising for a country with a tropical climate. Ugandans are lucky on this front; no matter what else may be the problem, they always have the shade of these luscious trees to cool them and soothe them in the hot weather. Some Ugandans we see sitting in shade under a tree are playing out the rhythms of their lives on drums, singing song after song.

Uganda is a nation famous for its national parks and safaris, with an incredibly rich variety of wildlife harbored in these areas. One of our first goals is to try and catch sight of the rare white rhinoceros, of which there are said to be only 61 left in the world.

As we tour a National Park, we come across a bird which is very important to Ugandans, the crested crane. This bird is the symbol of Uganda, even appearing on flags. Ugandans are fierce protectors of this bird and there is a seven-year prison sentence for anyone guilty of killing one. Interestingly, despite the growth of tobacco as a crop, as well as its export and even production, Ugandan cigarette smoking rates are quite low. We rarely saw people smoking, though we saw many tea and coffee spots.

There are wonderful tourist facilities around the shores of Africa’s biggest lake, Lake Victoria. The lake itself encompasses 67,483 square kilometers of space, which makes it around five times as large as the Marmara Sea! This lake is famous for its delicious fish. Tourists and their children alike can take horseback riding lessons here.

The Ugandan capital, Kampala, is, like İstanbul, a city of seven hills. It is a green city, with almost no tall buildings except for in the very center. Most of the homes here are single homes, not apartments. There are no buses used for public transport here. Instead, people use multiple-passenger taxis. Traffic is crowded and confusing though; these taxis don’t have any numbers or signs on them, leaving people to simply guess or know through habit which taxi they need to hop onto.

One Sunday morning, we were sitting by the shores of Lake Victoria. We decided to walk through an open market that has everything you could possibly imagine for sale in it. One of the most attractive aspects of the market is the fish from the lake being sold here. Another is the chapatti, a kind of doughy treat sold here, somewhat similar to what are called “gözleme” in Turkey. Starting off your day with a chapatti is a great thing to do. We stop when we see bananas being cooked. Of course, these aren’t really bananas, at least not of the kind to which we are accustomed. These are plantains, meant to be cooked rather than eaten raw.

Next we became very excited because we were finally going to see the river we had heard about since childhood: the Nile. It is one of the longest rivers in the world and we are about to see its source. We get out of our car and get onto a little boat to be transported to the site of the actual starting point of the Nile. As it turns out, the White Nile is fed both by this water source that spurts from the ground and from the waters of Lake Victoria. In other words, there are really two sources. For those interested, the White Nile, which originates in Uganda, joins up with the Blue Nile, which starts in Ethiopia, in the capital of Sudan, Khartoum. And thus the two rivers become one in Sudan and head on from there together.

Uganda White Nile

The White Nile

The White Nile is referred to locally in Uganda as “Omugga Kiyira” The waters which spring up from its source reach the Mediterranean three months after they start their journey. After all, it is a journey which spans 6,400 kilometers. We head toward a little island, and get off of the boat that has been carrying us. There are lots and lots of rivers which empty into Lake Victoria, but only one river starts from this lake and that is the White Nile.

It might be appropriate to point out here that Uganda is one of the favorite nations in the world for white water rafting experts. It is one of the best spots in the world for this activity, ranking high on the list of anyone interested in this sport.

Rafters coming to Uganda to try out the unparalleled beauty and action offered by these While Nile waters will find themselves facing a journey that lasts 25 kilometers and five hours, all filled with thrilling rafting.

Baganda and King Mutesa

Friday is a day for festive wear for the Muslims living in Uganda and the clothing we see is reflective of Africa’s particular style and colors. In Uganda, women as well as men come to the mosque on Fridays to pray and talk to one another.

The most famous tribe among Ugandan people is the “Baganda” The land they live on is also called “Baganda” and their language is “Luganda.” The last four Bagandan kings are buried in the cemetery we visit. Actually, this is also where just one of the many homes belonging to King Mutesa is located.

The cannon ball that lies at a corner of the front door was a gift to Mutesa from the British queen, Victoria. There is a British coat of arms printed on the cannon ball. But presents from the queen were not limited to this cannon ball. Even today, buried in the cemetery are many of the gifts sent from the queen.

Called “Mutesa Ali” by his friends, this king of the Baganda did not accept Christianity, though because of the concentrated missionary activity directed at him, the kings who followed him did become Christian. In fact, missionary work has been so strong throughout Uganda that the Bible is even available in the Luganda language, first translated all the way back in 1896 by G.L. Pilkington. But no matter how Christian the son of King Mutesa, King Muaga, became himself, the British would still not leave him alone. He was exiled from Uganda to the Seychelles Islands where he died in 1903. His grave was later moved back to Uganda in 1910.

Still today, the children and grandchildren of this former king’s widowed wives live in this home in the middle of the cemetery. The family of this former king lives on the money left to them by visitors and is a sign of the painful past of this country as well as the sad end of the Buganda kingdom. It is also living proof of the pain wrought by British colonization in this nation.


Useful information

Visa: You can obtain a visa upon entering Uganda. You need to make sure the official writes “multiple-entry” on your visa when you enter if you want to be able to enjoy this status.

How to go: There are no direct flights to Uganda from Turkey, but there are indirect flights stopping over in third countries. You can fly through Dubai, catching one of the thrice-weekly flights to Uganda offered on Emirates Airlines. Egyptian Airlines also offers flights on Tuesdays and Saturdays; this is probably your best option if you want to avoid a long wait at the airport.

Where to stay: Though there aren’t a great abundance of hotels, you can find both budget and luxury hotels in Uganda.

Cuisine: This is one of the biggest challenges facing visitors to Uganda. It is not necessarily very easy to find clean and good restaurants. You might want to try some of the restaurant fare offered at luxury hotels in the capital.

What to pay special attention to: Do not drink the tap water. You need to obtain vaccinations against yellow fever, hepatitis A and B, meningitis and tetanus four weeks before you leave for Uganda. Take necessary precautions against mosquitoes and malaria while you are there. Do not eat fruits or vegetables you buy from the open markets without cleaning them well first. Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants to protect against both the heat and the mosquitoes.

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