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Uganda 2018 Crime & Safety Report

Africa > Uganda

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Uganda has been assessed as Level 1 – Exercise normal precautions.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Kampala does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kampala as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Please review OSAC’s Uganda-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

Throughout 2017, the U.S. Embassy continued to track reports of crimes against expatriate persons, including Americans, and companies. 

In Kampala, criminals regularly target the residences of expatriates and wealthy Ugandans for burglary. Often, domestic staff or hired security guards are involved in these crimes. The Embassy recommends persons staying in private residences use multiple methods of redundant security (security guards, alarms, locks, etc.) to secure their residences against burglary.

Criminals in Kampala also often target personal possessions, employing three main tactics: surreptitious pickpocketing, snatch-and-grab, and violent robbery. 

Surreptitious: Individuals in public venues (restaurants, hotels, shopping malls, etc.) regularly report leaving their bags unattended for a short period and returning to discover that valuable items have been stolen. Travelers on public transportation have reported placing their bags under their seat and discovering that valuable items had been stolen. Consequently, the Embassy recommends maintaining positive control of all valuables while in public.

Snatch-and-grab: Criminals on foot and on motorcycles (known as boda bodas) regularly target high traffic areas frequented by expatriates to steal handbags and backpacks. In particular, persons visiting or living in Kampala should be extra cautious while walking along the road or stopping at tourist attractions.

Violent robbery: Most violent robberies in Kampala are perpetrated against individuals or small groups walking alone in isolated areas after dark. The Embassy generally recommends traveling in groups and using private vehicles or a privately-contracted driver to move around the city, especially after dark. While violent robberies are reported, other crimes are much more commonplace.

Outside of Kampala, in addition to the threat of property crime, organized gangs (sometimes known as “iron bar gangs”) periodically rob and extort businesses, residents, and visitors. Occasionally, these gangs have blocked major roads late at night to attack passing vehicles. These gangs are also known to engage in sexual violence.

The Embassy also regularly receives reports of property stolen from hotel rooms throughout the country. Although all hotels are at risk, it appears the risk is greater at the smaller hotels outside of Kampala.

In the nexus of crime and cybersecurity, ATM and credit card skimming continues to be a regular issue. The Embassy recommends minimizing the use of ATMs and credit cards and where necessary only using ATMs at prominent bank branch ATMs and credit cards at large hotels and other businesses that cater to international travelers. Most restaurants that accept credit cards can bring the machine to your table, helping to deter unauthorized charges. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybersecurity continues to be a problem in Uganda. The government does not prioritize funding for cybersecurity infrastructure and does not allocate sufficient funds to pay for solutions, even after it identifies security breaches in sensitive government and financial systems. Some government agencies report that the security frameworks protecting their systems are at least 5-10 years behind security standards, and there is not a sense of urgency to update them. The problem is compounded by the fact that many Ugandan government officials view cybersecurity measures as optional, and the average Ugandan does not understand the importance of simple measures (using passwords for secure or sensitive systems). One private sector firm reported that even their most talented Ugandan recruits require months of intensive training in cybersecurity before they are ready to contribute to the company’s software products. While there are a few officials in both the public and private sector who proactively try to address Uganda’s cybersecurity shortfalls, they face an uphill battle.

Other Areas of Concern

In November 2015, the U.S. Embassy lifted its travel restrictions to the Karamoja region. Travel throughout Karamoja remains somewhat hazardous due to poor road conditions, lengthy response times by the police, and the lack of emergency medical services. In addition, Karamoja continues to see sporadic incidents of local violence and mob justice. Travelers to Karamoja should identify police stations and medical facilities and use a four-wheel drive vehicle with a well-stocked emergency kit, food, extra gasoline, and water.

Uganda’s extensive and porous borders are inadequately policed, allowing for illicit trade and unregulated immigration. Rebel groups operate freely in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), posing a potential risk along Uganda’s western border. The northern border with South Sudan has a limited security presence, and the crisis there has driven over one million refugees into Uganda, exacerbating an already challenging security situation. Travelers should exercise caution when traveling to the borders with the DRC and South Sudan, as instability and fighting have increased criminal activity and the presence of weapons on the Ugandan side. The remoteness of the border with Kenya makes it difficult to police, although main roads and border crossings generally have a consistent police presence.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

Road Safety and Road Conditions

According to the most recent information from the World Health Organization (WHO), Uganda is 24th in the world for road fatalities, at 27.4 deaths per 100,000 people. The WHO estimated an annual 10,280 road deaths. The WHO judged the greatest risk of road death was for pedestrians (40%) and riders on motorized 2- and 3-wheelers (30%).

The reasons that roads are so dangerous is that they are poorly maintained, inadequately marked, and insufficiently illuminated. Other driving hazards include broken-down vehicles, pedestrians, drunk drivers, stray animals, and overall poor road conditions. Drivers commonly speed and behave unpredictably. Motorcycles (boda bodas) weave dangerously in/out of traffic and do not obey traffic rules. Pedestrians and livestock commonly share the roadway, and commuter bus drivers ignore traffic laws. Many vehicles are not roadworthy (lack brake/indicator lights). In some market areas, vendors have taken over the sidewalks and in some cases much of the roadway, forcing pedestrians into the streets. Driving at night is even more dangerous, when the near absence of road illumination exacerbates the other risk factors. The Embassy prohibits inter-city driving (other than trips to Entebbe airport) by official Americans during hours of darkness. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

The Uganda Police Force implemented a safety campaign during 2016 after a series of fatal accidents on roadways, but the success of efforts to improve road safety has been minimal at best. Police attempt to enforce traffic laws, especially on the major inter-city roads, but enforcement can be haphazard or arbitrary. Police use checkpoints to perform vehicle inspections and check for drunk drivers, and the Embassy has received reports of police using these checkpoints to solicit bribes.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed that Uganda’s Civil Aviation Authority is in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization aviation safety standards for oversight of Uganda’s air carrier operations.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kampala as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

There has never been a terrorist attack directed against U.S. interests in Uganda, and there has been no terrorist threat against U.S. interests since 2014.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The largest terrorist threat in Uganda comes from al-Shabaab in Somalia that objects to Uganda’s support for the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). The twin suicide bombings, which killed 76 people (including one U.S. citizen), in July 2010 in Kampala was al-Shabaab’s first successful operation outside of Somalia, demonstrating that al-Shabaab was willing and able to launch attacks in the region. Al-Shabaab has vowed to continue to attack the interests and citizens of countries supporting AMISOM. Al-Shabaab also had an attack planned for Kampala disrupted by Ugandan security services on September 13, 2014.

Another regional terror organization is the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), originally a Uganda-based Muslim rebel group that formed in 1996 and engaged in battles with the Ugandan military in 2007 and 2008. The ADF operates in eastern DRC, despite the efforts of Ugandan and Congolese forces. The Ugandan government continues to take the threat of ADF action very seriously and to engage in efforts to destabilize and disrupt the group.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Kampala as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

In February 2016, political tensions and the threat of violence were particularly high before, during, and after national elections, and the UPF responded quickly to shut down political rallies or protests that the government believed could lead to clashes or violence. In some instances, police used excessive force to break up public events, and on several occasions police and non-uniformed civilian auxiliary forces assaulted opposition party members and members of the local media within and on the margins of these events. 

In 2017, Kampala saw sporadic street protests surrounding a controversial bill to remove a constitutional age limit on the office of the presidency. Many Ugandans were upset by what they saw as an attempt to extend President Yoweri Museveni’s 31-year reign as President. Following the passage of the bill on December 20, 2017, the protests largely died down.

Civil Unrest 

Most protests in Uganda concern local issues. When protests, strikes, and demonstrations turn unruly, the police are quick to use batons, rubber bullets, tear gas, and occasionally gunshots into the air to disperse crowds. Most of protests in Uganda are by students protesting school fees; by taxi drivers and street merchants protesting taxation; and by those fighting over land rights issues. These types of demonstrations can occur with little/no prior warning.

Demonstrations often can escalate quickly. The Embassy recommends avoiding all demonstrations. If you come across a large gathering or demonstration, leave the area as soon as possible. Ugandans often have better information about demonstrations in their area, so expatriates should build a communication network with local colleagues.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Although religious and ethnic strife is relatively rare in Uganda, it does occasionally come to the surface.

2015 and 2016 saw the killing of several of Muslim religious leaders in highly publicized cases.

In late 2016, a dispute between an ethnic kingdom in western Uganda and the Ugandan government resulted in violence, with over 100 Ugandans killed, and the arrest of the local king and many of his followers.

In 2017, the continued large refugee flows from South Sudan led to some tension between refugee and local Ugandan communities. As yet, any security incidents have been localized and quickly resolved.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Uganda is at risk of both rapid-onset and developing disasters. A list of potential rapid-onset disasters includes short-term food security crises, flash floods, earthquakes, infectious disease outbreaks, and political crisis. The potential slow-onset disasters mostly surround potential food insecurity from drought or other environmental and man-made factors.

Uganda is located in an earthquake zone.

On July 30, 2017, a 5.3 earthquake hit outside Rubirizi, Uganda, but there were no reported deaths or injuries.

In September 2016, a 5.7 earthquake in Bukoba, Tanzania (located on Lake Victoria, roughly 20 miles from the border with Uganda) resulted in at least 11 deaths and 196 injuries.

Economic Concerns

The counterfeiting of U.S. dollars is common. The rate of this type of crime has increased in recent years. In 2016, Ugandan authorities discovered large quantities of high-quality counterfeit US$100 bills were being passed in tourist destinations around Uganda.

Though the sale and purchase of counterfeit goods is illegal under Ugandan law, intellectual property theft is pervasive, and counterfeit and pirated goods (especially digital media) are widely available for sale. Travelers should be aware that bringing counterfeit and pirated goods back to the U.S. may result in forfeiture and/or fines.

Drug-related Crimes

Uganda is strategically located along a major narcotics transit route between Middle Eastern, Asian, and West African heroin markets, and drugs regularly transit Uganda headed for markets in Europe, the U.S., and other African countries.

Cannabis is grown throughout Uganda and is rarely policed, allowing for large cannabis crops to flourish in remote rural areas.

The Uganda Police Force’s (UPF) Anti-Narcotics Unit is underequipped, undermanned, and undertrained, but they still occasionally seize and interdict drug shipments. In 2017, the UPF worked with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to break up a laboratory producing methamphetamines. The UPF maintain a drug interdiction team at Entebbe International Airport.

Police Response

The UPF maintains heavy police deployments in metropolitan areas, especially Kampala, to thwart criminal and terrorist activities. Despite efforts to professionalize and modernize the force, the UPF still struggles with a lack of resources, corruption, and regular reports of human rights violations.

Police are limited in their ability to detect and deter card skimming and other forms of cybercrime due to a lack of training and equipment.

Persons violating Uganda's laws, even unknowingly, may be arrested, imprisoned, or expelled. Ugandan law strictly prohibits photographing police and military personnel, police and military installations, installations, industrial facilities, government buildings, and infrastructure (including roads, bridges, dams, airfields). These sites are rarely marked clearly. Guides, police, and officials can advise if a particular site may be photographed. If caught photographing prohibited personnel or sites, the authorities may confiscate the film and camera equipment and question the photographer. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

The importation and use of personal unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e. “drones” or “quadcopters”) or other and surveillance equipment may also run afoul of the authorities.

Crime Victim Assistance

U.S. citizens who are the victim of a crime should contact the local police and the U.S. Embassy. Embassy staff answer emergency calls and can provide you with a list of medical care providers, contact family/friends, and explain how funds may be transferred to you. Consular officers can help you understand the local criminal justice process and provide you with a list of attorneys.

If your U.S. passport is lost or stolen, you must obtain a police report detailing the loss/theft from the nearest police station. You must present the police report during your passport replacement appointment.

The local emergency line is 999. That line is monitored by the UPF, but it is generally considered unreliable. Generally, reporting a crime directly to the nearest police station will result in a quicker emergency response.

Police/Security Agencies

The General Duty Police is the largest police presence and is tasked with providing general law and order functions. General Duty Police staff most police posts.

There are many other units within the UPF, including the Counter Terrorism Police, VIP Protection Unit, Criminal Intelligence Division, Forensics Division, Traffic Police, Marine Police, and Tourism Police. These units fill specific functions and perform limited duties related to their specialty.

Medical Emergencies

Health facilities are very limited and are generally inadequate outside Kampala. Even the best hospitals in Kampala suffer from inadequate facilities, antiquated equipment, and shortages of supplies (particularly medicines). Visitors are advised to carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines, as well as a doctor's note describing the medication and its generic name. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”

There is a shortage of qualified physicians, and emergency assistance is limited. Quality outpatient psychiatric services are minimal. Inpatient psychiatric services are virtually nonexistent.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Medical evacuation options from Kampala include International SOS, which operates out of South Africa, and locally operated Executive Aviation.

Insurance Guidance

Serious illnesses/injuries often require travelers to be medically evacuated to a location where adequate medical attention is available. Medevac services are available locally but can be very expensive and are generally available only to travelers who either have travel insurance that covers medevac services or who are able to pay in advance the considerable cost of such services (often in excess of US$40,000). The State Department strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to determine whether the policy applies overseas and whether it covers emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Outbreaks of infectious diseases occur regularly in Uganda. In the past few years, Uganda has experienced outbreaks of various viral hemorrhagic fevers (including the Marburg Virus, Yellow Fever, Rift Valley Fever, and Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever), meningitis, cholera, typhoid, and measles. In addition, Ebola hemorrhagic fever outbreaks have occurred sporadically in the past decade. The government of Uganda’s management of these outbreaks has been commended, and systems exist to detect and respond to disease outbreaks. Travelers should be aware of the heightened threat posed by infectious diseases.

Malaria is prevalent throughout the country, especially in rural regions. Travelers who develop a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a high malaria-risk area or after returning home (up to one year) should seek prompt medical attention. Travel history and anti-malarial medicine use should be shared with the health care provider. It is highly recommended that all travelers to Uganda take precautions to prevent mosquito bites and follow recommendations on use of anti-malarial prophylactic medications.

Travelers should avoid swimming in any bodies of water. All have been found to contain disease-causing parasites, including schistosomiasis.

Monitoring the press and following instructions on the Department of State and CDC websites for dealing with infectious diseases can significantly mitigate, if not eliminate, your risk of exposure. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Uganda.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Kampala did not meet in 2017. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

Plot 1577 Ggaba Road, P.O. Box 7007, Kampala

Hours of Operation: Mon-Thurs: 0730-1645; Fri: 0730-1230

Embassy Contact Information:

Switchboard: +256 414-306-001

Marine Security Guard (24 Hours): +256 414-306-001 Ext 6207

Website: http://ug.usembassy.gov

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizen travelers should register with the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

Additional Resources

Uganda Country Information Sheet