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Uganda 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Africa > Uganda; Africa > Uganda > Kampala

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 proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

During 2016, Uganda experienced a general increase in petty and violent crime, threats of political violence, and a decrease in the general threat from regional and worldwide terrorism.

Crime Threats

Crime can occur anywhere and any time in Uganda. In 2016, Gulu, Lira, and Kampala experienced an increase in violent crime with the use of weapons and the presence of criminal gangs becoming more common. U.S. citizens were not singled out as victims of crime, but persons of all nationalities were targeted for crimes of opportunity, particularly the theft of smart phones, jewelry, and bags. Crime includes snatch-and-grab robberies on the streets, thefts from vehicles either parked or stopped in traffic, thefts of property from residences, residential break-ins, and strong-armed robberies by groups of thieves.

Organized crime syndicate elements operate on a small scale (two or more individuals planning and executing a crime). For example, robberies and assaults by groups known as iron bar gangs occurred in major cities at an increased volume during the second half of 2016. Iron bar gangs reportedly blocked roadways in isolated areas late at night and attacked cars/trucks with iron bars and clubs to steal valuables and to assault the occupants. In Gulu, the gangs reportedly targeted the drivers of boda-bodas (small motorcycles) to steal the motorcycles.

There also were reports during the year of thefts from hotel rooms, primarily in smaller towns and cities outside of Kampala.

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybercrime occurs at a moderate level. The rate of this type of crime has increased in recent years. Skimming, which captures personal identification information from ATM terminals, occurs throughout the country. The police are limited in their ability to detect and deter cybercrime due to a lack of training and equipment.

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 in the region, lengthy response times by the police, and the lack of emergency medical services. Travelers to Karamoja should use a four-wheel drive vehicle with a well-stocked emergency kit, food, extra gasoline, and water. Knowing where to access the nearest police and medical facilities is also recommended.

Uganda’s extensive and porous borders are inadequately policed, allowing for a robust flow of illicit trade and immigration. Rebel groups operate freely in eastern 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 resulted in the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees into Uganda, exacerbating an already challenging security situation. Travelers should exercise caution when traveling to the borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan. Events in both countries have resulted in an increase of refugees into Uganda and an increase in criminal activity. The remoteness of the border with Kenya makes it difficult to police, although main roads and border crossings may have a consistent police presence.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

According to the World Health Organization WHO, Uganda has one of the highest rates of traffic fatalities per vehicle in the world. Roads are poorly maintained, inadequately marked, and poorly illuminated. Street signs are also lacking in certain areas, which can add to the difficulty of finding one’s way in unfamiliar areas.

Driving hazards at night include: broken-down vehicles, pedestrians, drunk drivers, stray animals, and overall poor roadway conditions. Under normal driving conditions, drivers employ excessive speed and unpredictable driving habits. Pedestrians and livestock commonly share the roadway, and commuter bus drivers ignore traffic laws. Many vehicles are not roadworthy (lack brake/indicator lights). While general vehicle travel during daylight hours is considered relatively safe, varying conditions of the roadways (including numerous potholes) combined with excessive speed can lead to serious accidents. In some areas, piles of trash, missing manhole covers, gaping ditches/potholes, wayward/oblivious pedestrians, and animals are threats to vehicular safety. In some market areas, vendors have taken over the sidewalks and in some cases much of the roadway, forcing pedestrians into the streets.

The UPF 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. Drivers should expect police to enforce traffic laws at a higher level than previously done, although enforcement could appear haphazard and arbitrary in the absence of clearly articulated traffic regulations. Drivers should be prepared for police checkpoints, at which police likely would perform vehicle inspections and check for drunk drivers. There is a risk that some police could use these traffic stops to try and extract bribes from motorists.

For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

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.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of State lowered the overall terrorism threat for Uganda to Medium. There has never been a terrorist attack directed against U.S. interests in Uganda nor has there been a threat against U.S. interests from terrorism since 2014.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The largest international terrorist threat in Uganda comes from al-Shabaab in Somalia. The threat stems from Uganda’s support for the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). The twin suicide bombings in July 2010 in Kampala, in which 76 people were killed (including one U.S. citizen), was al-Shabaab’s first successful operation outside of Somalia and showed that al-Shabaab was ready, 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. The 2013 terrorist attacks at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, and a al-Shabaab cell that was disrupted in the midst of an imminent attack in Kampala on September 13, 2014, are stark reminders that al-Shabaab remains a persistent threat.

Regional terror organizations consist of 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 2007-2008. The ADF operates in eastern DRC and staged attacks against Congolese forces and civilians in 2015 and 2016. In 2013, it was reported that the ADF was conducting a recruitment campaign in Uganda to build up its depleted numbers and possibly target the Ugandan government, which believes the ADF has links to Muslim extremists (al-Shabaab) and continues to monitor the group closely.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED KAMPALA AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of State elevated the rating for Political Violence in Uganda to High. Political tensions and the threat of violence were high before, during, and after February 2016 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. On Election Day in Kampala, security forces deployed heavily throughout the metropolitan area while the polls were open, and used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear the streets in response to isolated instances of unrest. In the days and weeks following the election, security forces used the same tactics to disperse supporters of opposition political parties, resulting in injuries and several deaths. The government placed Kizza Besigye, the leader of Uganda’s main opposition party, under house arrest and restricted his movements throughout the year.

Civil Unrest 

When civil unrest, public protests, strikes, demonstrations, and violence occurs, the police are quick to resort to the use of batons, rubber bullets, tear gas, and occasionally gunshots into the air to disperse crowds. Economically-motivated demonstrations can occur with little/no warning. Protests mainly revolve around students protesting school fees, taxi drivers and street merchants protesting taxation, and those fighting over land rights issues. Demonstrations rarely take place in response to world events or conditions.

Demonstrations often can escalate quickly. One should make every effort to avoid them, but if you come across a large gathering or demonstration, you should leave the area as soon as possible. Staying current of events through local media and continually evaluating one's surroundings will usually mitigate these risks. Developing communication strategies with local staff can provide an early warning system for demonstrations.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Assailants killed two Muslim leaders in 2015. In December 2016, a Muslim cleric was killed in Kampala.

In November 2016, violence erupted in the western Rwenzori region between elements loyal to the Rwenzururu king and Ugandan Security forces. The violence, centered in Kasese, resulted in the deaths of over 100 persons (including some Ugandan police), and the arrest of the king and 150 of his followers.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Rapid-onset disasters can range from short-term food security crises to flash floods or earthquakes, infectious disease outbreaks, and political crisis/conflict situations. Slow-onset disasters stem primarily from food insecurity due to drought, with a number of other factors contributing to root causes.

Uganda is located in an earthquake zone, and Bukoba experienced a 5.7 earthquake in September 2016 that resulted in 11 deaths and 196 injuries. Residents of Kampala felt the earthquake, but the city suffered only minimal damage with no reported injuries.

Economic Concerns

The counterfeiting of U.S. dollars is common. The rate of this type of crime has increased in recent years. Specifically, authorities discovered counterfeit U.S.$100 bills in many areas of Uganda in 2016. The bills were expertly counterfeited and passed in large quantities in Kampala and around tourist destinations.

Intellectual property theft is pervasive with respect to digital media and similar products. Counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal under local law. In addition, bringing these goods back to the U.S. may result in forfeitures/fines.

Drug-related Crimes

Uganda is strategically located along a major narcotics transit route between Middle Eastern, Asian, and West African heroin markets, and the amount of drugs transiting Uganda is increasing. Illicit narcotics transit Uganda for markets in Africa, Europe, and the U.S., primarily due to Uganda's good airline connections between those markets and Asia. Cannabis is grown throughout Uganda and is rarely policed, allowing for large cannabis crops to flourish in remote rural areas. Even with an ill-equipped Police Drug Investigative Unit, seizures of illicit drugs are up, and illegal exports are rising. The Ugandan Counter-Narcotics Unit maintains an interdiction team at the international airport. Uganda is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.

Kidnapping Threat

Except for isolated incidents, U.S. citizens have not been targeted for kidnapping.

  • In 2013, the U.S. Embassy received one report of a private U.S. citizen being the victim of a kidnapping. After being held for ransom for less than one day, the UPF rescued the U.S. citizen.
  • In September 2008, a group of NGO workers was taken just south of Arua (in West Nile) into the DRC and held for six hours before being released.


Police Response

The Uganda Police Force (UPF) maintains heavy police deployments in metropolitan areas, specifically Kampala, that helps to thwart criminal and terrorist activities. While the UPF has made strides toward professionalization and modernization over the past decade, a lack of resources, corruption, and persistent reports of human rights violations still plague the UPF.

Persons violating Uganda's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Ugandan law strictly prohibits photographing police/military personnel/installations, industrial facilities, government buildings, and infrastructure (roads, bridges, dams, airfields). These sites are rarely marked clearly. Guides, police, and officials can advise if a particular site may be photographed. Photographing prohibited sites may result in authorities confiscating the film and camera and questioning the photographer. The importation and use of drone style camera and surveillance equipment may result in this action as well. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Crime Victim Assistance

If you become the victim of a crime or lose your passport, you should contact the local police and the U.S. Embassy. Embassy staff 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.

The local emergency line is 999, but the emergency response is not equivalent to an emergency response in the U.S. Generally, reporting a crime directly to the nearest police station will result in a quicker emergency response than dialing 999.

Police/Security Agencies

The General Duty Police is the largest police presence and is tasked with providing general law and order functions. The General Duty Police maintains most of the various police posts and is the operational arm of the UPF.

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, Tourism Police, and the newly created Fuel Police who guard the oil exploration sites in western Uganda. 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

The Embassy maintains a list of medical practitioners.

  • International Hospital Kampala, 24 Namuwongo, Kampala, 0312 200 400
  • The Surgery, Naguru, Kampala, 0414 256 003, Mobile 0772 256 003, Emergency Service (Mobile) 0752 756 003, Ambulance Service 0772 756 003.
  • Nakasero Hospital, 14 Akii-Bua Road, Nakasero, Kampala, 0414 346 150/2. Website: www.nakaserohospital.com


Available Air Ambulance Services

International SOS out of South Africa or the locally operated Executive Aviation are available options for medical evacuations.

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 U.S. $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 with some frequency in Uganda. Recent outbreaks include meningitis disease in central Uganda in 2017, yellow fever in 2015 and 2016, Rift Valley fever in 2016, cholera outbreaks in the past three years, a large typhoid fever outbreak in 2015, and frequent measles outbreaks in 2015 and 2016. Ebola and Marburg hemorrhagic fever outbreaks have occurred sporadically in the past decade.

The government of Uganda’s management of these outbreaks has been impressive; however, travelers should be aware of the heightened threat posed by infectious diseases.

Malaria is prevalent, 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 Kampala Country Council currently meets four times a year and has approximately 40 members. Please contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions or to join.  

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: 0800-1145, Fri: 08:00-1045

Embassy Contact Numbers

Switchboard: +256 414-306-001

Cellphone: +256-772-200-506

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

RSO email: DS_RSO_Kampala@state.gov

American Citizen Services email: KampalaUSCitizen@state.gov

Website: http://kampala.usembassy.gov

Embassy Guidance

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

Additional Resources

Uganda Country Information Sheet