Article from the series: Staying Safe and Healthy in Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo and Frequently Asked Questions
We have opened our Staying Safe and Healthy series of articles quite gently, providing a proper warmup. Now we are getting straight to the nitty-gritty of our theme, tackling the question of the actual safety of a region that includes three countries with an image problem, Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
We do need to acknowledge a tricky truth … Most people would have serious doubts about visiting any of our three nations!
Those who do come are normally excited about the real situation on the ground, often quite incredulous, and the region routinely exceeds expectations — but why was the forecast so dark in the first place?
Instead of dwelling on the long-gone history headlined by the genocide in Rwanda (two decades ago) and Uganda’s dictator Idi Amin (half a century ago), we will have a look at the picture painted by internet search results. The practical example will be a country calling itself the Pearl of Africa.
As we don’t want to embarrass anyone and because these results can change any moment, there will be no direct quotes and sources. With one exception: World Nomads deserves to be mentioned because its global scope guarantees longterm prime search positioning and because it’s an enthralling example of the worst and the best in the field. The site shouldn’t realistically be expected to provide reliable up-to-date information for the whole planet — it lacks the resources governments have — but it does provide a platform for commenters, and that’s a treasure trove of personal experiences and entertainment.
Our interest here is the big picture, and that picture is both terrible and amusing.
How Safe is Uganda? (Who Are You Kidding?)
We will Google “how safe is Uganda”, “how safe is Uganda to travel” and “is Uganda safe” and zero down on the first page (set) of results, just like a typical traveller would.
Unsurprisingly, tour company writeups and government travel advisories dominate the results. The former try their level best to make Uganda look like a place you should definitely visit while the latter attempt to present worst case scenarios and almost beg you not to go. World Nomads, on the other hand, wants to sell you travel insurance, enriching the odd mix of motivations. In 2021, another cookoo dimension is added to the madness — comments from angry supporters of a presidential candidate who was never going to be allowed to win.
If you combine the three, you get a bloody dictatorship in a democracy that periodically goes through periods of political change (we are not making this up), where you can expect to be robbed at gunpoint any moment (shame on those who write such stuff) but it will all be OK as long as you have a good guide and don’t stand out (how can a tourist, most likely of a different race, possibly not be noticed?).
In short: the information is confusing, many Google-prioritised texts are badly written, some are obviously prepared to serve search algorithms more than real humans, and it is profoundly sad if this is the best the internet can offer.
This is even more unfortunate because it gets laid over people’s generally unfavourable and simplistic perceptions of the African continent. For example, when a website advises that visitors should come to Uganda with all their medications, one would automatically imagine dire lack of pharmacies — while in reality well-stocked drugstores are literally all over the place, even in the smallest towns!
How Safe is Rwanda? (This One Should Be Easy)
Uganda’s much smaller and fancier neighbour, Rwanda, is a well-controlled environment. The leading Google sources thus agree that you are pretty safe as a traveller. There’s some nonsense about avoiding border areas but otherwise it is all quite fair.
To spice it up a little, we will go to World Nomads comments. Here we learn that more than one person felt threatened moving around rural Rwanda, a rather transfixing claim. Local people might not be inclined to smile as much as a Westerner is conditioned to expect but still … Were they afraid the guy quoted below was bringing Covid into their community or what? Thankfully there are other commenters who balance this unfortunate portrayal of a nation.
How Safe is DR Congo? (It’s All in the Details)
We previously published a travel advice piece about the Democratic Republic of Congo that has many more stunning photos than horror anecdotes from Kinshasa, but we didn’t shy away from that part of the story. This is a huge country with huge issues that undoubtedly demands enough caution. It’s simply recommended that you limit yourself to its safe areas — and those are the ones promoted to travellers.
Allow us to insert a passionate plea from a Congolese tourism professional, our expert Gloria (for the whole 9-minute interview about Kahuzi-Biega National Park click here):
Gloria’s words apply across boundaries. As we deal with our region’s complex realities over the following weeks, here’s a simple truth right now: you will be very fine in the Gorilla Highlands as a traveller, it’s an incredibly pleasant part of the world with surprisingly good infrastructure. Safe and healthy you shall be.
photo by Marcus Westberg