The Three Things that Shouldn’t Stop You From Traveling to Uganda
Recently, two sorts of headlines seem to dominate people’s thoughts regarding Uganda: the Ebola outbreak and suspected terror plots. When you combine the understandable fear of such threats with the impression left on the international community by the headlines associated with Uganda’s “Anti-Gay Law” earlier this year, you end up with a pretty nasty cocktail that sours any view of travel to the country.
But the three things that shouldn’t stop you from traveling to Uganda? Fear of Ebola, terror, or stigmatization.
First off, you might be closer to the Ebola outbreak in your home country or summer getaway than you will be in Uganda. Not only that, but your home country may be more likely to receive infected flight passengers. Keep in mind that the Ebola outbreak is centered in West Africa, and no related cases have been seen in Uganda. Though Uganda dealt with a few small outbreaks in previous years (and is therefore prepared for handling an appearance of the disease), they are fairly “off the radar” for the current outbreak. Avoiding Uganda because of the current outbreak is a bit like cancelling a trip to New York when New Mexico is handling a health emergency.
Don’t let the headlines stop you! Just remember to travel smart, no matter where you go.
As for terror, I have to insist that it is “business as usual.” At no point have I felt truly susceptible to a terror threat, or incapable of taking the appropriate steps to ensure my own safety. Uganda is just one of approximately 40 countries that has received a Travel Warning since February 2014, and the U.S. State Department has even issued a terror-focused “Worldwide Caution” alert for all Americans traveling to any country. Unlike Somalia, Kenya, or a few West African nations, Uganda is not a focus within the regional particulars of the warning. Of the two specific warnings issued by the U.S. Embassy in Kampala during my current stint in the country, neither have resulted in violent events… instead, they’ve resulted in arrests.
I am not claiming that terror plots are nonexistent in the country, but I am insisting that its presence and potential is not inherently more prevalent or threatening in Uganda than it is in a number of other countries. Rather, I think our sensitivity to the topic may just be piqued. Don’t let the headlines stop you! Just remember to travel smart, no matter where you go.
In February 2014, President Museveni signed the unfortunate and controversial “Anti Gay Bill” into law. The issue reached international headlines and resulted in a wide variety of reactions. However, the ruling that the law is “invalid” at the beginning of August 2014 has received considerably less attention. Though such a ruling’s power and longevity is touch-and-go, it holds as a small sign of the kind of internal debate going on regarding the issue. Homophobia is, undeniably, present in the country. I am not aiming to claim that Uganda should be the go-to travel destination for a LGBTQ-identifying traveler. Unfortunately, a LGBTQ traveler could feel stifled in exchange for avoiding potential stigmatization. However, the dynamics of this conflict do not wholly represent the experience of the country.
If you still desire to travel to Uganda, but may be questioning the atmosphere, just know that it is about striking a balance. While I know some foreigners who openly identify in Uganda, it is all left up to personal choice. You may face bewildered comments or uninformed questions, and would need to “tread carefully” in different contexts. If you choose the route of “omission” in conversation and are not actively and publicly engaged in the proposed “unlawful behaviors,” then you will generally be in the clear.
I’ve held conversations with Ugandans that range from completely tolerant to all out homophobic. But the key to it is: I’ve had all of these conversations and felt that I am engaging in genuine debate–which is more than I can say about some of the similar arguments I’ve had in America. Overall, for an international traveler, the rules and enforcement will always be more flexible. It is your choice how much to divulge, and where and when to engage in a conversation about the topic… if you choose to engage in one at all.
And remember… in 2012 Lonely Planet named Uganda the #1 “Best Of” Country to Visit. While the lists of countries have changed over the past few years, it doesn’t make it any less worthy!
With a few fears out of the way, you may be ready to pack up and start traveling to Uganda. In my next post I’ll share the top tips to keep in mind when you’re preparing for travel to Uganda – something I promised a few months back in my first post!