Northern Uganda Cultural Tourism Potentials
Tourism in Uganda has largely recovered from the political instability in the 1970’s and 1980’s. In the Southern and Western regions of the country, private investment in tourist facilities is evident and this has made it possible for these sub-regions to handle the increasing number of visitors. In northern Uganda, tourism attractions ranging from wildlife-rich landscapes, scenic
Rivers, to cultural and historical sites, could not be accessed due to the insecurity, which at times included Murchison Fall National Park.
With the return of peace to northern Uganda, there is an increase in the number of visitors to the region. Currently, most are either business tourists or family and friends of people working in the region. Significant opportunities exist to expand the scope and scale of tourism activities throughout northern Uganda.
This document provides information on tourism potential along the Albert Nile and in the landscapes surrounding more prominent conservation areas of northern Uganda. It is intended to serve as an initial guide to prospective investors and visitors to the region. In this report, readers will find key findings of a market survey as well as the introduction to region’s attractions, potential activities and investment opportunities.
The northern Uganda districts referred to in this report are Nebbi, Arua, Moyo and Adjumani in the West Nile; Agago, Amuru, Gulu, Lamwo, Nwoya, Kitgum, Pader in the North Central region; and Kaabong in the North Eastern region.
Perhaps above all other attractions in the region, the Albert Nile offers the most immediate potential for tourism in northern Uganda. Navigable throughout its course, the Albert Nile flows 210 km from the north end of Lake Albert through wildlife reserves and past historical sites before reaching the border with Sudan. Given the mystique of the river, the rich history and the incredible landscape, this route could easily become an international tourism draw.
The journey along the river is peaceful and beautiful. Its papyrus-covered banks are home to many birds including Goliath Heron, Black Stork, and Rock Pratincoles. Tourists can enjoy Arra Fishing Lodge’s Shoe bill birding spotting excursions around Arra and Laropi. One can expect to see hippos at Hippo Camp, buffalo and elephant within Amuru District as well as antelope and warthog in Ajai Wildlife Reserve. Farther along the Albert Nile at Wadelai and Dufile are the remains of forts from the colonial era. Visitors to these areas also may encounter elephants, which cross over from Nimule National Park in Sudan.
There are also several landmark historical sites along the Albert Nile. The area used to be governed by Emin Pasha who in 1878 was appointed by the Khedive of Egypt as Charles Gordon’s successor as Governor of Equatoria comprising present day northern Uganda and Southern Sudan. Wadelai Station on the upper Nile near Lake Albert was established in 1885 after General Gordon was killed in Khartoum, forcing Emin Pasha and most of his forces to withdrew further south. This cultural unforgettable experience can be enjoyed with add of Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Uganda or Rwanda.
With appropriate development of stop-over facilities in selected ports of call, the Albert Nile could well be a stand-alone tourist destination. It also could be marketed as a scenic alternative to road travel from western Uganda and Murchison Falls National Park to northwestern Uganda. The river could serve as the anchor of a larger package of complementary activities involving cultural tourism, outdoor recreation and visits to historical sites. Another important consideration in the Albert Nile’s development for tourism is its link to southern Sudan. While security concerns curtail tourist activity there at present, investors should be aware that southern Sudan’s poor infrastructure makes Panjala in Dufile Sub County a natural future entry point to Nimule, Folla Falls and other areas of interest across the border
Whether one is interested in physical activities such as hiking or climbing, exploration or tranquil encounters with nature, northern Uganda’s beautiful landscapes offer something for everyone.
Northern Uganda offers an impressive variety of landscape attractions, ranging from mountain ranges, forests and rivers to waterfalls and springs, which could as interesting stopping points for visitors traveling between Murchison Falls and Kidepo Valley National Parks. Highlights of the area’s attractions are provided below.
Lakes and Water Falls
In Arua district, visitors can visit the Ambitambe Crater Lake and Olewa Falls. Other waterfalls include Aruu Falls in Pader District, Dubu (considered sacred) and Kochi Waterfalls in Yumbe District, and Miradwa Waterfalls in Maracha District.
Mountains, Forests, Hills and Caves
Adjumani: Zoka Forest
Agago: Paimol Caves, Kalongo Hills
Amuru: Kilak, Guruguru Hills (the site of the famous Lamogi rebellion of 1911)
Arua: Mt. Kei, Mt.Wati (home to a Lugbara ancestor), Liru Hill (ancestral home of Kakwa people)
Kaabong: Nyangea Napore, Morungole, Labwor, Lokajong Caves
Lamwo: Agoro Agu, Potika/Lotutur
Moyo: Metu Hills and Caves, Era Forest, Mt.Otzi
Moyo: Moki Springs, Metu Springs
Appropriate investments in skilled guides and well-placed camping sites or other accommodation facilities throughout the area’s hills and mountains, waterfalls, rivers and lakes would open the door for visitors to enjoy hiking, rock climbing, birding and fishing.
More ambitious investors might consider developing spa facilities at one of the area’s natural hot
Springs (Amuru Pii in Panyimur, 00Nebbi; Amuru, and Pakele, Adjumani).
It is the northernmost tropical high forest in Uganda. While relatively small, it contains
several primate species and an endemic flying squirrel only found in Zoka. It also contains a number of very large mahogany trees and offers a cool respite from the heat of the rest of the East Madi Wildlife Reserve; a suitable location for community-based or higher-end accommodation
Mt. Otzi Forest Ranges
Are some of the most scenic mountains in northern Uganda. The mountain overlooks the confluence of Achwa River with the Albert Nile as it passes into Sudan. Mt. Otzi is adjacent to Nimule National Park in Southern Sudan and Dufile Wildlife Sanctuary in Moyo District, thus combining a wide variety of elevations and ecosystems, including the area’s highest point (Nyeri, 1,708 m asl) offering vistas of both Uganda and Sudan. It has the advantage of being higher and cooler than the surrounding land, so there is potential for hiking and mountain biking.
The mountain ranked tenth out of 65 forest reserves in Uganda in species diversity and rarity of species.
The Nyeri range is home to an isolated chimpanzee population, and is the sole habitat for chimpanzees in northern Uganda. Its vicinity to the Nile makes Mt.Otzi are easily reachable and attractive destination to enjoy variety of outdoor activities.
Northern Uganda is rich in bird- and wildlife, offering visitors an enticing alternative to the common safari circuits. The variety of bird species in Uganda is one of the greatest in the world and there is an impressive array of wildlife. The relative newness of the safari industry in the region means that visitors enjoy a more peaceful and personal experience with nature.
Northern Uganda is home to two national parks (Murchison Falls and Kidepo Valley), several wildlife reserves (East Madi Wildlife Reserve, Ajai Wildlife Reserve, Matheniko Wildlife Reserve, Bokora Corridor Wildlife Reserve, Karenga Community
Wildlife Management Area, Dufile Wildlife Sanctuary), and several areas traditionally reserved for wildlife and hunting but currently not gazetted (Lipan, Tim Padwat, Lomunga, Aswa-Lolim, and others). While infrastructure for tourists exists in Kidepo Valley National Park, much more can be done to accommodate existing and potential visitors for game viewing, bird watching, outdoor recreation and cultural tourism. In northern Uganda’s wildlife and forest reserves and other conservation areas in particular, the door is wide open for tourism-related investment.
Kidepo Valley National Park
Kidepo Valley is located in Karamoja northern Kaabong District bordering Sudan and Kenya. It was declared a national park in 1960 and encompasses 1,442 sq km of magnificent rolling savanna plains nestled within the Nyangea Napore and Morungole Mountains and the Kidepo and Narus Rivers. Visitors will enjoy the park’s pleasant climate and impressive biodiversity. Among the 86 mammal species present, three of Africa’s “Big Five” (elephant, lion, buffalo) are commonly seen. Kidepo and Karamoja also offer one’s sole opportunity in Uganda to see the bat-eared fox, striped hyena, aardwolf, caracal and cheetah as well as what has been confirmed to be a West African crocodile (sub)species. Bird enthusiasts will enjoy the park’s 472 bird species,
Comprising about 47% of all of Uganda’s recorded bird species with several new species that were recently added to the list. Many of these species are confined to northern and eastern Uganda and are not effectively conserved anywhere else in the country. The new identified species include: Common Quail, Red-fronted Warbler, Pygmy Batis, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird, Heuglin’s Wheatear and Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagle.
Other Wildlife Areas
Wildlife Reserve has 120 recorded bird species, including Pel’s fishing owl and the Shoebill as well as White-crested Turaco, Red-throated Bee-eater, Black-breasted Barbet, and White-cheeked Olive back. The Ugandan Government is actively planning the reintroduction of white rhinoceros in Ajai as well as buffalo, Jackson’s hartebeest and plains zebra.
Reserve boasts flora and fauna similar to Murchison Falls National Park and its management has recently been awarded to a private operator. The presence of lodging in East Madi will create an ideal overnight stopover for boat trips from Murchison Falls National Park or Pakwach via the Wadelai Fort. There is also good birding along the river and within the reserve itself. East Madi
is also part of the elephant migration corridor which both creates tourism draw and increases the importance of protecting this area. Along with its opportunities for outdoor activities,
Central Forest Reserve contains impressive biodiversity, including seven tree species, three butterflies and one small mammal not found elsewhere in Uganda.
Reserve is home to a bamboo forest as well as insect and bird species unique within Uganda. Both Lomunga (in Moyo) and Lipan (in Kitgum) Wildlife Areas are home to wildlife which can recover under new form of management such as community conservancies with private sector involvement.
Little is known about the wildlife that inhabits northern Uganda’s unprotected areas. At present, these areas do not have the variety and density of wildlife and birdlife to make them attractive safari destinations. However, with appropriate investments in stop-over facilities and services, superb locations for outdoor recreational activities can be created. Areas like Aswa-Lolim
(former Game Reserve) and Lipan Controlled Hunting Area could serve as links between gazetted protected areas and are good locations for sport hunting.
Wildlife Area in Lamwo provides important connectivity to surrounding national parks and forest reserves and is inhabited by the endangered L’hoest’s monkey. Forward-thinking concessionaires should consider ways to introduce adequate paths and trails within the reserves and sanctuaries in order to link them into a broader Murchison Falls National Park circuit in the future. Some other interesting facts about non-gazetted wildlife areas:
Karenga Community Wildlife Area
Connects to Kidepo Valley National Park and provides important habitats for wildlife migrating outside of the park in search of pasture and water. The area also offers magnificent scenery of the surrounding Nyangea Napore and Rom mountain ranges. Lomunga occupies approximately 18,400 hectares and is reported to have varied populations of wildlife and bird species. Until the late 1960’s it was home to Northern White Rhinos in Uganda.
Lipan Controlled Hunting Area
It occupies approximately 89,856 hectares in Kitgum District towards the border with
South Sudan. Lipan represents a critical habitat for landscape connectivity between Kidepo Valley and Agoro-Agu landscapes. Wildlife populations exist and there have been discussions about offering a concession for sport hunting in this area.
Ome and Apa Hunting Corridors
Were part of the degazetted Aswa Lolim Game Reserve and Kilak Community Hunting Area. They lie on the east bank of the Albert Nile on high rolling hills cut by many rivers, such as the Aswa and the Lolim, from which the former game reserve derived its name. The area provides critical connectivity for wildlife between Murchison Falls National Park and E.Madi Wildlife Reserve
A number of monuments or sites in the region originate from the 19th century. These include:
Emin Pasha and Charles Gordon’s Fort at Dufile in Moyo District, Emin Pasha’s Station at Wadelai in Nebbi District, Sir Samuel Baker’s Fort at Patiko in Gulu District, Alikua Pyramids in Maracha District. A monument erected by the Belgians commemorating their places of occupation during 1900 -1914.
Graves of Andrew and Howard (British air surveyors) whose airplane crashed in 1931 at Moyo town Vurra Customs Monument. East African customs at the border of Uganda and Congo built in 1937 after the assassination of Prime Minister Patrick Lumumba 1961.
Saliamusala in Koboko District, a tripartite border point between Uganda, Congo and Sudan.
Sadly, the monuments, forts and other historical evidence of past visitors have fallen into serious disrepair. The sites have been marked for conservation by the government’s Department of Museum and Monuments and, while they have limited potential to attract mainstream tourists, they would appeal to niche markets or domestic visitors such as school and church groups.
In addition, many of them are located in beautiful settings and could be transformed into combined historical sites and tourist stop-overs, with appropriate investments in camping facilities, tourist information centres, arts & crafts shops and informative signage.
Historical Monuments and Sites
The Nile River has attracted explorers, colonial representatives, traders and missionaries to northern Uganda for centuries, providing today’s visitors unique opportunities to explore various forts, historical sites and other points of interest.
Background: Surroundings of Dufile Fort in Panjala. In 1880s, Dufile was the largest of some 20 major Egyptian stations in northern Uganda and the southern Sudan. Many of the forts were occupied for relatively short periods but it is believed that Dufile was in existence during much of the Emin Pasha period.
Dufile originally was a fort built by Emin Pasha, the Governor of Equatoria, in 1879 to assemble steamers that were carried there overland. Emin Pasha was confined in the fort during a mutiny in 1888. This mutiny was followed by the Battle of Dufile during which the former mutineers, after releasing Emin, rallied to fight the Mahdist forces. Abandoned by Emin’s people in January
1889, Dufile was later reoccupied and reconstructed by Belgian forces from 1902 to 1907.
Insert: Sir Samuel Baker (left) and Emin Pasha (right).
The historical site with perhaps the most potential to be developed for tourism is Wii-Polo Martyr’s Shrine in Paimol in Pader District. In the early 20th century, Paimol was located on a route used heavily by Arab traders and Islam was starting to take root.
Two young Catholic Comboni Missionaries from Kitgum, Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa, were sent to minister in Paimol. Despite serious threats, they refused to give up their work and consequently were killed in October 1918. Each year on 20th October, hundreds of Ugandans as well as southern Sudanese, Kenyans and Italians arrive in Paimol as pilgrims but have no stop-over facilities to support them. It is believed that Wii-polo Martyr’s Shrine could be developed into something similar to the Uganda
Martyr’s Shrine in Namugongo, which draws thousands of pilgrims, including hundreds of foreign visitors, and is now marketed by the Uganda Tourism Board
Northern Uganda’s main ethnic groups – the Alur, Acholi, Lugbara, Madi, and Karamojong–offer a rich cultural tapestry to be explored and enjoyed. Except for the Karamojong, most of northern Uganda’s tribes originated in southern Sudan and, while maintaining distinct languages and rituals, share a similar approach to music, arts & crafts and dance.
Alur and Acholi have common ancestry. Legend suggests that Tiful and Nyipir separated from their brother Labongo at Wang Lei/Latong following the killing of Labongo’s infant son by Nyipir. Labongo’s son had swallowed a bead that Nyipir was given by an old lady when he went out in search of Labongo’s spear which a wounded elephant ran away with. In an act of revenge, Nyipir killed Labongo’s infant son. Following this event, Tiful and Nyipir moved with their followers including Lendu and Okebu to the highlands in the west, and their descendants are said to comprise the Alur. Acholi are descendants of Labongo, who remained on the eastern bank of the Nile
The Alur inhabit the West Nile part of Uganda and occupy the districts of Nebbi and Zombo. However, unlike their neighbors who are Sudanic, the Alur are Luo and belong to the same language group as the Acholi. The Alur are known for Otwenge dance. Otwenge literally means “elbow”. The elbow’s movement is emphasized both while playing the ADungu and while performing the Otwenge dance. The dance is usually performed by young boys and girls. Annual
events celebrated by the Alur include the coronation anniversary of His Majesty Ubimo on 30th
October and a Convention on the 28th December, which brings together the Alur people from all over the world. The Alur produce a number of crafts ranging from the traditional adungu, stools, pots, and baskets.
The Acholi live in the largest geographic area of northern Uganda (Agago, Amuru, Gulu, Kitgum, Lamwo, Nwoya, and Pader Districts). Some Acholi also live in Southern Sudan. The Acholi landscape is typical East African game country rolling grasslands with scattered trees, streams, and rock outcrops. The primary language of Acholi today is Luo, a western Nilotic language spoken by groups scattered across East Africa from southern Sudan to Tanzania.
Music plays a very central role in almost all activities of the Acholi, from garden work to domestic work such as cooking. The Acholi have the broadest selection of traditional dances, each suited to different occasions. The most common dances are the Bwola and Larakaraka. Bwola is a very rhythmic dance usually performed by older men and women in a circle representing a fence that surrounds the palace court. The Larakaraka is primarily a courtship dance that is performed during weddings. In Acholi, music and dance festivals are held annually during the dry season (late November to January).
The coronation anniversary for Lawii Rwodi (Paramount Chief) is held on 15th January of each year. Pots for cooking and serving food, baskets for various uses including storage constitute the major crafts produced.
The Lugbara live in Arua, Maracha, and adjoining districts. Like the Alur and Madi, this is one of the largest tribes inhabiting west Nile sub-region.
Legend has it that the Lugbara are descendants from the first creatures put on earth by Spirit (the Creator of Men). Spirit created a man (gboro-gboro) and a woman (meme), and then domestic livestock. Meme bore a boy and a girl, who were the ancestors of the Lugbara heroes, Jaki and Dribidu.
The Lugbara have a wide variety of traditional songs, riddles, folk tales, proverbs, musical instruments and oral literature. Gaze is a traditional dance of the Lugbara people which contains elements of movements of the dances in neighboring Congo. The Agwara (meaning trumpet) is another dance from the Lugbara and Kebu people, where men play trumpets as the women dance.
Pottery and baskets such as ivua (food basket), kuta (food cover), kubi (sauce pot), and ajiko (sauce for preparing millet flour), constitute the key arts and crafts produced by the Lugbara.
The Madi are related to Lugbara and live in Adjumani and Moyo Districts in the extreme north bordering Sudan. They are Sudanic and originally belonged to the Moru Madi tribe of Southern Sudan. Madi legend has it that the first ancestor was Madi, the son of Dimmo who came from the banks of the river Nile and settled at Lepfool. During the course of the Luo migration from Sudan, some Madi (called Pugari) who were settled in Lepfool dropped their language in favour of the Luo language, which is used in the area along with Madi language. The Madi occupy an attractive area of Laropi and Arra where the Nile river ferry crosses between Adjumani and Moyo Districts.
The area boasts attractive landscapes, including Mt. Otzi and surrounding hills, the river, and the unique rocky terrain on the Adjumani side of the river. There is potential for geology walks here, as the landscape is varied and fascinating.
Traditional dances include the kore, mure and vuli which are performed for different occasions. There is also a particular dance and accompanying songs for burial of elderly people and such a dance would last days. Madi arts and crafts are similar to those of the Lugbara consisting namely of pottery and baskets.
The nomadic pastoralist Karamojong offers a unique cultural experience within Uganda. Their love of cattle, their dances, their colorful traditional dress and arts & crafts are reminiscent of the Masai and other pastoral people along the Rift Valley and South Sudan. Karamojong speak a Nilotic language and belongs to the Atkerin group (Hamites).
The origins of the word Karamoja are quite uncertain but a legend from Teso and Karamoja itself asserts that the names Karamoja and Iteso (another ethnic group further south) were derived during their migrations within Uganda. In their early migration, the Atkerin people have come by way of Karamoja. Those who remained in the area called Karamoja live today came to be known
as the Karamojong. The term is said to have been derived form the phrase “akarima ajong”- meaning “the old men have got tired”- because the Karamojong did not continue their migration as the other Atkerin people.
The Karamojong are settled in the north-eastern part of Uganda in Abim, Amudat, Kaabong, Kotido, Moroto, Nakapiripirit and Napak Districts. Several small ethnic groups live among the Karamojong people in the far northeast and these include the Dodoth in the north, the Jie in the central region, and, in the south, a cluster of closely related ethnic groups known as Bokora,
Matheniko and Pian all of whom are referred to generally as the Karamojong. Other groups include the Pokot and the Ik. The rather small community of Ik lives on Mount Morungole in relative isolation after having been evicted from the fertile Kidepo Valley upon establishment of the Kidepo Valley National park in the 1960s.
Music and dance are a crucial aspect of the Karamojong lifestyle. The Karamojong dance is performed by jumping up high repeatedly and is also prevalent among the Langi, Turkana, and Masai. Dances include the Edonga which is performed with the men clapping and stomping in unison as they chant out a beat. Other dances performed in a similar fashion include the Ekaro
and Naleyo dances. Karamojong arts & crafts include colorfully designed jewelry ranging from wrist bands, anklets and belts. They also produce the unique stools and walking sticks.
Some tourism activity now occurs in Karenga, a Karamajong community to the south of Kidepo Valley National Park. The local communities (mostly Dodoth) are somewhat distinct from other Karamajong groups in that they have transitioned away from their nomadic pastoralist origins toward a more agrarian lifestyle. The town is attractively built on the side of a hill with broad
views into the Kidepo Valley and has potential to capitalize on the now-safe overland route to Kidepo Valley. The drive from Orom to Karenga is spectacular in itself passing through a landscape of rock domes and spires. This town would be an ideal location for a Karamajong cultural centre, as well as for community-based lodging.