The Culture Guide: 5 Things You Should Not Do When Visiting Uganda

Uganda is one of the friendliest and most hospitable countries in the world. Idi Amin is dead and gone, the nation has enjoyed 15 years of peace and a million tourists visit every year. However, a lot of visitors, especially those from outside of Africa, will find some of the customs unfamiliar. It’s possible to insult your hosts without meaning to. Here are five things you should avoid doing when you visit Uganda.

1. Don’t Dress Sloppily

Africans like to dress well. Even though Ugandans often wear second-hand clothing, it’s always properly mended, clean and pressed. It’s considered insulting to wear clothes that don’t meet those criteria.

Women should not wear miniskirts and short shorts. Men are expected to dress modestly as well. Both men and women will be appreciated if they avoid wearing shorts entirely. Dressing well is both respectful and respected.

2. Don’t Be A Know-It-All

When you engage in conversation with a Ugandan, listen. Don’t criticize, and be slow to offer advice. You will learn something. Ugandans resent it when foreigners repeat what they’ve “learned” from their own media, and these statements often don’t reflect the true state of the country.

Tell your own story: where you’re from, what you do. Ugandans are genuinely interested in a two-way conversation. Above all, don’t talk as if you know what’s best for their country.

3. Don’t Take Photos of People without Permission

In particular, avoid what are called exploitative poverty tourism pictures. We see this “poverty porn” in fundraising ads on TV. A lot of Ugandans are poor, but they’re not helpless victims waiting for you to rescue them. They’re smart, resourceful and entrepreneurial.

Slum tours” have become something of a fad in parts of Africa. It’s incredibly disrespectful to snap photographs that depict people as poor and desperate. Don’t do it. They don’t think of themselves that way.

4. Avoid Public Displays of Affection

Hugging and kissing on the street, even with your spouse, is frowned upon. Sometimes men hold hands, but that’s a sign of friendship, not of romantic attraction. Public conversation about private intimacy is considered in poor taste.

That is changing to some extent. Nowadays you will sometimes see people greeting one another with hugs, particularly in Kampala. However, the bulk of Ugandan society has a conservative attitude toward these things. In fact, any kind of public emotion, particularly anger, is disapproved.

5. Avoid Discussing Ugandan Politics

Uganda is a democracy, but the customs of public political engagement are different from what you may be used to. Not everyone voted for the current president or supports him. When you ask Ugandans what they think about the government, you put them on the spot. In any case, they’re probably not going to tell a non-African what they really think. They’ll be happy to tell you about their families, their work and their own lives, but they’d rather not talk politics with outsiders.