Tourists on their first-time holiday to Uganda would want to peak a little bit into Uganda’s media and communication environment and understand how to keep connected to their ordinary world while on a memorable journey in this unknown little East African destination.
If you plan to visit the country’s remotest regions, you will want to keep your people back home or your fans with a status update. With these human connections, human cultures have successfully evolved over 75,000 years, and humans have to communicate to feel worthy of living.
So, here’s a first-time visitor to Uganda traveler’s brief guide on how to stay connected to the rest of the world while you travel around Uganda.
Uganda has an excellent English-language press, with The Daily New Vision and The Daily Monitor offering the best local and international news coverage. The East African, a Kenyan weekly, has excellent regional coverage and commentary. You can buy Time and Newsweek at street stalls or supermarkets in Entebbe and Kampala.
The bi-weekly Independent Magazine, produced by independent journalist Andrew Mwenda and The Weekly Observer, provides insightful coverage of current controversies. Local daily tabloids like The Daily Pepper will keep you up-to-date with current gossip, mirroring tabloid styles in other countries.
Besides newspapers, there are several online news websites. Media houses are increasingly using blogs as a medium of communication in Uganda. Key among these are PML Daily (pmldaily.com), The Daily Monitor (monitor.co.ug), Chimp Reports (chimpreports.com), Vanguard News Uganda (vanguardnews.ug), and Globe-News (globenews.ug).
Affordable data rates, increasing internet penetration, and free blogging platforms such as WordPress and Blogger are making internet users turn to blog platforms to creatively express themselves, comment on current affairs, and inform the public, among other reasons.
An increasingly varied selection of local and national FM radio stations service Uganda, most of them privately run and offering listeners a lively mix of talk, hard and soft news, local and other current music — not to mention a litany of classical 1970s disco anthems you’d probably forgotten about on Radio One 90 FM!
The national television channels aren’t up to much, but most international hotels and many smaller ones subscribe to DSTV’s multi-channel satellite services featuring the likes of the BBC, CNN, or Sky News, Aljezera, and movies and sports channels.
Bars and restaurants with DSTV tend to be packed solid on Saturday afternoons during the English football season and other major football events.
If you’re not a fan of television, be rest assured you won’t find any in safari camps or lodges in wildlife parks unless they don’t value the definition of ‘Getting Away.’
Safari Camps and Lodges in Uganda promote a message of connecting with nature and human interactions than a cable connection.
Uganda’s land telephone system is reasonably efficient — from overseas, and it’s definitely one of the easiest African countries to get through for the first time. The international code is +256, and the area codes are as follows:
In the last two decades, a significant development in Uganda’s economy and tourism has been the upsurge of mobile satellite telephones, with services now provided by seven companies: MTN, Airtel, Africell, Uganda Telecom, Smile Telecom, Vodafone, and Smart Telecom by Aga Khan Fund.
It is rare to meet an employed Ugandan who doesn’t own a mobile phone (rather more unusual to meet someone with any remaining airtime!).
Peak-rate domestic calls between all phone networks cost around UGX180-300 per minute, depending on which tariff option you select. Calls to some east African countries cost the same as local calls, but international calls cost UGX 400 – 5,000 per minute.
The satellite networks are ubiquitous, and you’ll be surprised to receive (or be able to make) calls from family and friends in the most unlikely places on your Uganda safari holiday. If you bring your mobile from home, you’ll enjoy international roaming — albeit at a high cost — through a local network.
If you intend to make extensive use of a mobile phone, it’ll be far cheaper to bring a compatible phone with you and insert a local SIM card for UGX2,000 or buy a cheap phone, fully connected, for as little as US$25. You’ll need to carry your passport to register the sim card on any network.
Pay-as-you-go airtime is available everywhere at shops labeled ‘Mobile Money.’ It’s worth loading up with a UGX 50,000 airtime in a town where your Uganda Safari driver stops for refreshments.
All of the phone companies provide an excellent service in Kampala and the primary urban centers, but to enjoy the reassurance of maximum possible network coverage out of town, MTN and Airtel are perhaps the best bet — for specific regions or itineraries, seek advice from your host or safari tour manager.
Generally, when calling in Uganda, you’re more likely to get through to mobile phones more quickly than to landlines, though they also tend to change with greater frequency. If you’re calling from outside the country, dial +256, then the whole mobile number minus the leading zero.
Mobile Phone dialing codes
Fixe lines dialing codes
Free call dialing codes
Note: Replace 0 & x with the actual numbers of the person you’re calling
Social media chat and email are the easiest way to contact people at home, much cheaper than the telephone and almost instantaneously. Like most destinations you’ve been to, Uganda also is connected with most or all social media channels except Facebook. You’ll connect to your favorite social channel without effort if you are connected to the Internet.
During the recent elections, the Government of Uganda claimed Facebook had violated Uganda’s community laws and blocked connectivity indefinitely. However, social media channels like WhatsApp and Instagram are still active within the country. If you have to connect to Facebook, you’ll have to use a legitimate VPN, as all Ugandans do.
Let’s assume that you already have an email address or subscribe to chat platforms like Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom, Facebook Messenger, and any other quick chat that uses the Internet to connect you to your family back home. If not, it’s probably worth setting up a temporary address with Outlook, Yahoo, or any other similar free facility for the duration of your Uganda safari trip and giving out that address to anybody who might want to contact you.
With every mobile phone able to connect to the Internet today, you won’t have to hustle connecting to the Internet or looking around towns for cafes (plenty, by the way).
At least every modern place you spend your dollar will have a free wifi hotspot; usually, the manager has the password, or it’s written on a sticky note somewhere.
Remember to carry your phone charger and travel adapter; we use 220 volts of electricity in Uganda. Ensure that you’ve set up your voicemail box for remote access. If you are a prepaid customer, you may want to load or carry sufficient airtime credit to last your roaming duration.
If you’re considering roaming, confirm that your home network has a roaming agreement with a Uganda network and that your account is activated to roam. Check that your phone will work on our 900/1800MHz networks. If you are a prepaid customer, you may want to load or carry sufficient airtime credit to last your roaming duration.
When switching on your phone on arrival in Uganda, it will automatically select a network. If this does not happen automatically, choose to search manually on your phone by selecting ‘settings,’ then ‘phone settings,’ followed by ‘network selection,’ then select ‘manual selection’ You will receive a choice of all networks available in Uganda.
325 GSM network operators in more than 200 countries, use your existing mobile phone and number to browse the Internet, access all your social media platforms, make and receive voice calls, and send and receive text messages.
The MTN & Airtel networks already cover 80% of Uganda’s population, including all the major cities and towns, tourist sites, Lake Victoria, access roads, and popular Uganda safari destinations like Lake Bunyonyi, Buhoma (Bwindi), Nkuringo (Bwindi), Murchison Falls, Kibale, and Queen Elizabeth.
African mobile networks have created an impressive credit banking and money transfer phone system called Mobile Money. Four of the most extensive networks and at least all banks in Uganda now operate a credit banking SMS system that works on mobile networks.
MTN MoMo grabs the fat man’s share, and the others dive for the breadcrumbs. If you buy a Ugandan sim card when you arrive, make sure they activate your Mobile Money account and give you a six-digit passcode. Deposit about UGX 35,000 ($10), you won’t travel 30 kilometers before something, or someone mentions Mobile Money, at least at every grocery shop.
That money could be handy in tight or happy situations without your wallet. Cash deposit for Mobile money is 1:1, but there’s a charge for withdrawing, paying, or sending with your account balance relative to the total transaction amount. A friend or sympathizer can send you mobile money in exchange for cash.
Alternatively, you can download one of the FINTECH Apps for Android and iPhone that accept mobile money using your credit/debit card. Like World Remit or MTN MoMo. You’ll create a wallet and then be able to send and receive money from many countries around the world.
Technology drives Media and communication growth in Uganda, but not the scale of eastern and western economies because of the country’s struggling economy. At its snail-pace, more than 57% of the population of Uganda communicates using mobile phones. You’ll still be connected to your world when you come.