Journey Around Uganda

Geography, Regions & Climate of Uganda

Geography, Regions & Climate of Uganda

A Brief Overview of Uganda

Uganda’s moniker as “the Pearl of Africa” aptly describes both its location and natural resources. On the map of Africa the landlocked Uganda occupies only a small area, yet few countries belong so vibrantly to the fertile sphere of Africa. Its compactness and the generously rich and fertile soils makes it a continuous green-belt country, a facet of inestimable value shared by very few nations in Africa. For better consideration, the ecological gamut of Uganda can be broadly split into three regions: The swampy lowlands region in the south; the fertile middle region elevated on a plateau with wooded hills; and the semi-arid region in the north bordering Sudan. Lake Victoria forms part of the southern border. Uganda is at the heart of the tropics, astride the equator, but its climate, thanks to the altitude, is unexpectedly pleasant. Its geography and lovely weather is as salubrious as any, and is comparable with a warm English summer most of the year. Temperatures range between 20 and 30 degrees celsius, and the 50 inches of rainfall each year keep the country lush and green. Uganda, which expands over 241,037 km2, is bordered in the west by Democratic Republic of Congo, in the north by the Sudan, in the east by Kenya, and in the south by Tanzania and Rwanda. It derives its name from the Buganda kingdom, which encompasses a large portion of the south of the country including the famous capital, Kampala.


Salient Features of Uganda

  • Surface Area – 241,038 km2
  • Number of Districts – 121
  • Major Lakes – Victoria, Kyoga, Albert, Edward and George
  • Date of Independence – 8th October 1962
  • Current Population (2018) – 42,729,036
  • Official Languages – English and Swahili

Political Map of Uganda. Image courtesy of nations-online
Political Map of Uganda. Image courtesy of nations-online

A Look Into Selected Districts of Uganda

1. Kigezi District

Spatial location of Kigezi District in Uganda. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The impenetrable forest at North Kigezi, which is found between the developed area of Kigezi and the Queen Elizabeth National Park, has high trees – over 30 meters – that completely block the sunlight from reaching the floor.  Although the edges of the forest have plentiful bushes, the inner parts do not have these bushes because there is no sunlight. Kigezi District is situated in the far south-western part of Uganda, where it forms the border with Rwanda and Congo. Its location, far from the more developed parts of Uganda, has turned Kigezi into an isolated region. Only recently has the main town of Kabale been connected to the rest of the county by tarmac road.  Consequently, Kigezi is a district of subsistence farming with few economic activities of national importance.  It has however, the long, narrow Lake Bunyonyi, flanked by steep slopes that form a considerable part of the terrain here. Kigezi is formed of a plateau, about 8,000 feet (2,440 m) high; from this plateau the land slopes steeply downwards to form valleys occupied by rivers and long narrow lakes. Around the edges of this lakes are areas of marshland, where material eroded by the rivers is deposited. In the less developed parts of the region the valleys are covered with tropical forest. Kigezi is considerably higher than other districts of Uganda to the north.

Its high altitude was brought about during the formation of the western branch of the Rift Valley, found to the west of Kigezi. As the floor of the Rift Valley sank the sides were pushed up. So that, Kigezi forms part of the eastern side of the Rift, hence it was uplifted. Along with this uplift and faulting of the Rift Valley, there was a considerable amount of volcanic activity. This was especially strong in the south-western Kigezi District, near Kisoro, where Mufumbiro Mountains were formed. These are iconic lines of volcanoes which stretch from this part of Uganda, through northern Rwanda, and into Congo. The largest in Uganda is Muhavura, which rises to 13,540 feet (4,127 metres); another, Sabinio, at 11,960 feet (3,645 metres) is exactly at the point where the three countries of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda meet, hence the north-western slopes are of the mountain are in Congo, the southern slopes are in Rwanda and the north-eastern slopes are in Uganda! Much of Kigezi District consists of steep slopes since, although it is a plateau area, the rivers have successfully eroded the formerly flat plateau, so that very little flat land now remains. The only large regions of flat land are found in the floors of the valleys where marshland have been formed. The large marshland region is called Kamunyoro Swamp, was once a lake, just like Lake Bunyonyi. By and by, this lake too will disappear and be replaced by marshland.

Lake Bunyonyi in Kigezi District of Uganda. Image courtesy of Lanza Safari
Lake Bunyonyi in Kigezi District of Uganda. Image courtesy of Lanza Safari

2. Kasese District

Spatial location of Kasese District in Uganda. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The outlying Kasese District, that spreads over 2,724 km2, sits in the southwest area of Uganda and is bordered by the districts of Kabarole (north), Kamwenge (east), Rubirizi (south) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (west). Kasese District is an important tourism area for Uganda as it contains Queen Elizabeth National Park (885 km2) and Rwenzori Mountains National Park (652 km2). Leaving 1,187 km2 for habitation and development. The District of Kasese is also an important area of Uganda because it contains Uganda’s largest mineral deposit – copper. Kilembe is the main center for mining of copper and Kasese is where the first stages of processing the copper take place. The remainder of the processing takes place at Jinja, which is situated along the railway that leaves Kasese. This is a mountainous area with a narrow, steep-sided valleys and the land is not at all of one height. The south-eastern part of the district has widely spaced valleys. One may think that this plateau is nearly flat. In fact, it is part of the floor of the western branch of the Rift Valley.  To the west, the contours and valleys come closer together and rise rapidly in height to a maximum height of 7,600 feet ( 2,316 metres) in the north-west. Kilembe is located in the foothills of Rwenzori Mountains. Just as your foot is the lowest part of your body when you are standing, so the foothills are the lowest hills situated around very high mountains.  Generally speaking, the valley sides slope steeply downwards and form deep narrows.  These river valleys cut the foothills into long ridges, which are high and very long, as seen in the around the buildings that form Kilembe Town.  It is located on a larger valley that has a flat floor and a small flood plain.

Kinoni village in Kasese District. Image courtesy of Jake Lyell
Kinoni village in Kasese District. Image courtesy of Jake Lyell

3. Arua: West Nile District

Spatial location of Arua: West Nile District in Uganda. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The far north-western corner of Uganda, known as West Nile, is isolated from the rest of Uganda. West Nile is separated from the rest of Uganda by the wide River Nile but it is still an important part of the country. West Nile forms part of the Northern Province and has an area of 10,927 km2 and a population of about 385,000 or 35 persons/km2. Arua is situated on gently sloping land at an altitude of 4,000 feet (1,219 meters). This part of Uganda is very similar to the rest of the state in its physical geography, because most of Uganda is a plateau.  This plateau is lowest in the center, where it’s covered by Lake Kyoga, and away from the center the plateau rises gently, so that the edges are higher than the center. The climate in this region is very similar to that found in most parts of Uganda. This is surprising; why? West Nile is a long way north of the Equator and yet it is still wet, since it receives about 1,270 mm of rain a year. Karamoja, in eastern Uganda, is semi-arid, so too is the whole of northern Kenya and yet these areas are the same distance north of the Equator as West Nile. Much of Uganda’s rains’ comes not from the Indian Ocean, but from the Atlantic Ocean.

The air streams bring the rain across the very wet Congo Basin and just reach western and southern Uganda (and nearby districts of Tanzania) to bring rain there; but they do not reach eastern Uganda (Karamoja). So that West Nile receives a lot of rain whilst Karamoja receives very little. All parts of Eastern Africa, except the mountains, are hot and so Arua is hot also. Temperatures vary from 22-30 Degrees Celsius and tend to be higher in the drier December to February months and lower in the wetter May to September period. The West Nile District depends largely upon scattered cultivation, with tobacco being an important cash crop. Like all areas of East Africa, the district is populated by farmers who only own a few hectares of land each. On these smalls farms is grown both sustenance and cash crops. To encourage the growth of tobacco the Uganda Government gives high quality seeds to the farmers. Another important cash crop grown in the district is cotton, grown near the River Nile. Much of the produce from West Nile is processed in Jinja. West Nile has no minerals and little industry of importance and it remains salient only as an agricultural area producing raw material – tobacco and cotton – for use in the factories in Jinja.

Soroti Avenue Road in Arua West Nile. Image courtesy of The Observation
Soroti Avenue Road in Arua West Nile. Image courtesy of The Observation

4. Jinja District

Spatial location of Jinja District in Uganda. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Jinja is probably the best example of a predominantly industrial district to be found in East Africa. It is situated next to where River Niles leaves Lake Victoria which, in 1953, became the site the first large power project (Owen Falls) to be built in any of the three countries. Jinja is situated in the Lakeshore Region of Uganda. It occupies a headland that is almost surrounded by water; the south and south-east sides face the lake, the west is bordered by the River Nile, and two rivers situated not far to the north and north-east. The height of the land on which Jinja District stands varies from about 3,700 feet (1,130 meters) to just over 3,900 feet (1,190 meters). The lakeshore to the south and east of Jinja is interesting because the land slopes only very gently down to the lake.  This flat land has been put to good use because it is the site of some Jinja’s factories and railway depots. The northern side of Jinja Town is bordered by a river valley. Although the river is small its valley is very important. The site of Jinja can be summed up in this way: Jinja lies on a hilly peninsula, largely surrounded by water, and is situated on the east bank of the River Nile at the point where it leaves Lake Victoria. In even more general terms the physical geography of this part of Uganda can be described as a dissected plateau – between the high points of the plateau are the river-eroded valleys. Such a landscape, with hill-tops of similar heights separated by valleys, is known as a dissected plateau. The climate of Jinja District is typical of an equatorial climate that been only slightly modified by altitude. Usually altitude has its greatest gross effect on temperature but the average temperatures of Jinja are still high in relation, say, the Nairobi area, where altitude has noticeably reduced temperature. At Jinja they average 21 to 24 degrees C., with a very small annual range of temperature.

Jinja has many functions of which the following are the most important; it is a route center, a market town, a port, a collecting center and an industrial town. As a route center, Jinja Town is situated at the point where the main Uganda-Kenya road and railway cross the River Nile and many other roads and railways converge on the town. Although Jinja District is connected to Kasese, Kampala, Pakwach, Soroti and Tororo, it is only in the last three decades or so that these connections have become important. As an industrial centre, Jinja serves the surrounding areas as a market center. Not only are many goods bought and sold there, but Jinja also serves the district in terms of schools, hotels, hospitals, churches, police and prison facilities, and so on. As a port, the facilities at Jinja are important because they connect many townships and undoubtedly help to increase lake trade. As a collecting center, it benefits from importance as a route center. Products from all over Uganda are collected here for processing; for example coffee, tea, cotton, tobacco, groundnuts and copper. When they have been processed they are distributed throughout East Africa and a great deal are forwarded to Mombasa for transport to countries outside East Africa. Although the population of Jinja is much smaller in comparison to many of the larger districts in Uganda, its importance is far greater than its size would suggest.  It contains one of the two main urban areas in Uganda, and it is a very important communication center. Because of its power source and good road and rail network, Jinja has developed as the leading industrial town; it is also the major center for the agriculturally valuable regions of eastern Buganda and much of Busoga. Since it is also a lake port it is one of Uganda’s main connections with other East African countries. East of Jinja District is another industrial area around Tororo and Mbale, which also produces major goods for use in Uganda.

Source of the Nile in Uganda. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Source of the Nile in Uganda. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

The Owen Falls Scheme

Although we now know that Jinja is surrounded by an agriculturally prosperous area, it is still foremost an industrial town.  All industry depends on power and the industry of Jinja depends mainly on the hydro-electric power derived from the River Nile by the power station associated with Owen Falls Dam. Despite having many rivers and streams draining into the 68,800 km2 Lake Victoria – Africa’s largest – there is only one channel out for all this water, at Jinja. Owen Falls Dam was begun in 1949 and completed in 1954; it also started to produce electricity in the latter year. The power station is on the western bank of the Nile. This dam is very important because it provided Uganda with its first large source of power and enabled it to begin growing industrially. Owen Falls Dam is not straight but bulges upstream and is 831 meters in length and 26 meters tall.

The New Jinja Bridge, Uganda. Published by Ultracon Group

5. South-Eastern Uganda: Mbale and Tororo

Spatial location of Tororo District in Uganda. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Tororo and Mbale are two important towns located at the foot of Mount Elgon in the south-eastern region of Uganda. They are both major regional marketing centers. Mbale Town is much involved with the marketing of agricultural goods. Tororo, in addition, is rapidly developing as an industrial center based on the mining of limestone from nearby volcanic plugs. Agriculture is these districts is largely concerned with the smallholder cash crop farming of cotton, around Tororo, and coffee, around Mbale. To the east of Mbale the land surface rises rapidly into the slower slopes of Mount Elgon. This extensive volcano, which reaches a height of 14,176 feet (4,324 m), has a considerable influence on the climate of Mbale District. To the west of Mbale the land is much flatter and the wide valleys contain large areas of some seasonal and permanent swamps. The varying height of the land near Mbale Town means that temperatures also vary and so this area has a climate which is suitable for the growth of a wide range of crops. The temperatures, especially around Mbale, are strongly influenced by the increasing altitude of the land in the foothills of Mount Elgon. Tororo tends to be slightly warmer because it is further from the mountain. Similarly Tororo is rather wetter because it is much closer to Lake Victoria, which is the source of moisture for rainfall. Although Mbale Town is near the mountain, which might suggest that it should be wet; it does not get such a high rainfall because the mountain blocks the north-east monsoon and prevents it from bringing much rainfall to the south-western facing slopes. Mbale District therefore experiences a slight rain shadow effect in November to February period. So that much of the economy in south-eastern Uganda is agricultural and can be divided into the coffee growing part, east of Mbale, and the cotton growing part, which extends from south of Mbale proximate to the shores of Lake Victoria. The lake itself is important for fishing. Majanji, which is located along the shore of Lake Victoria, near the Uganda-Kenya border point, is an important marketing center for fish.

Mbale Town overlooking Mount Elgon. Image courtesy of Globe Spots
Mbale Town overlooking Mount Elgon. Image courtesy of Globe Spots

Weather Guide to Uganda

Uganda enjoys an archetypical tropical climate marked by year round rains, lots of sunshine and moderate temperatures. At Kampala, nearby Lake Victoria, the average daily temperatures range from 18-28 degrees C., in January and from 17-25 C (or 62-77 F) in July. The country is generally rainy with two dry seasons (December to February, June to August). The Northern Region of West Nile District and southern part of the region has two rainy seasons, in late March to May and August to September with an average of 50 – 55 inches annually. Over the northern part of the country most rain falls in the months of May up until September. In the Karamoja District, rainfall decreases from 45 inches in the west to about 20 inches in the east with peak falls in May and July. The rains are mainly of the thundery type, gathering in the afternoon or evening and sometimes lasting until the following morning. Temperatures in the west and south reach a high of 30 degrees C. whilst in the north and Karamoja they reach 32 – 35 degrees C., in the dry season and 27 degrees C., in the wet months. In the Western Region most of the rainfall of the Kigezi District occurs as light rainfall during March to May and October to December, and averages 30-45 inches annually based on the altitude. Early morning mists and hill fog are frequent. Rainfall in the lake flats is much lower. In the Ankole District the wettest period are mid-March to April and September to October. Maximum temperatures are 24 degrees C. in Kigezi, 27-30 degrees C., in the Ankole, and 32-35 degrees C., in the lake flats, the daily variation being 11-14 degrees C. In Buganda – Rain falls every month here with the wettest period from end of March to mid-May and late August to October. Along the Lake coast early morning showers and thunderstorms are the main feature of the weather. Inland the greater part of rain, 45-50 inches annually, comes from the afternoon showers. The highest temperatures average about 27 degrees C. along the coastal region and 27-30 degrees celsius. In Eastern Region, early morning showers and thunderstorms affect the Lake Victoria coastal area but they are not so intense as those in the northwestern corner of the Lake. In the Elgon Region, where there are two distinguished wet seasons, April/May and August/September, most of the rains derives from afternoon showers or from thunderstorms. Maximum temperature reaches 32 degrees C., in Kyoga region.


Weather Guide to Uganda