When Uganda forgot to celebrate 110 years of Pearl Of Africa

Saturday December 22 2018

Sign marking the source of the Nile in Jinja.

Sign marking the source of the Nile in Jinja. Inset, Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, a former British Member of Parliament COURTSEY PHOTOS. 

By Faustin Mugabe

The world over, countries use catchy slogans to market themselves to tourists. For the past 110 years Uganda has been known around the world as the Pearl of Africa a name bestowed on it by Winston Spencer Churchill a former British Member of Parliament and also Under Secretary State for colonies.

It is not clear whether the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) thought this was not important or it just slipped by unnoticed, because the 110 years since Uganda was labelled the “Pearl of Africa” would have been the biggest promotion of Uganda, the Pearl of Africa” brand ever.

In London, Britain at the former Colonial Institute as well as at the former British Cotton Growing Association headquarters where Winston Churchill, 110 years ago stood and gave a lecture about the extraordinary beauty of Uganda and coined the Uganda, “the Pearl of Africa” tagline, UTB supported by the Uganda government would have had the best opportunity to revamp the “Pearl of Africa” brand.

Unfortunately, Uganda missed such a huge occasion to exhibit the nation as a tourist destination by echoing the words of the great British leader, Churchill exactly a century and a decade ago when he visited Uganda: “When I return to England I shall tell His Majesty the king how beautiful their county is and how good its people are”.

Another quote from Churchill’s speech that would have been capitalised on to promote tourism in Uganda was: “Uganda is the jewel of the East African Empire”

It was in early March 1908 that Uganda was first branded the Pearl of Africa at a function held in London, Britain at the Colonial Institute where Churchill gave a public lecture about his travels in Africa and what he saw in Uganda in particular.


Thus, the moniker Uganda the, Pearl of Africa was formulated and propagated in his book, My African Journey which was published in London, Britain 110 years ago.

Churchill arrives in Uganda
Churchill arrived in Uganda on November 18, 1907 at then (Port Alice) Entebbe pier, now the Uganda army marine base, near the Uganda Wildlife Centre in Entebbe.

On arrival, he was received by then British Commissioner and later Governor Hesketh Bell. He arrived by ship from Port Florence, now Port Kisumu, which is the Kenyan territory but by then was in Ugandan territory.

On November 20, Churchill was accompanied by commissioner Bell among other dignitaries to Nakasero in Kampala. That afternoon, on behalf of the king of England, Churchill bestowed on Hesketh Bell the title of governor making him the first governor of Uganda. Bell had been in Uganda since 1905.

The following day, November 22, the governor and his party left for Jinja to see the source of the Nile. From there, he followed the Nile and crossed it at Karuma falls, in West Nile into the Sudan and Egypt on his return journey to England.

Churchill’s sole purpose of visiting Uganda was to see the source of the River Nile which since the 16th century had remained a mystery to both the Arabs and Europeans.

The mystery was solved in 1862 when the British ex-service man Captain John Speke visited Uganda and discovered that River Nile which is also mentioned in the Holy Bible, starts its journey from Lake Nalubaale, before Speke named it Lake Victoria, after a British Queen and flows through Sudan and Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea in north Africa.

When Speke returned to England, he wrote a journal on the journey tittled The discovery of the Nile published in 1863 detailing what he saw at the source of the Nile.

In fact, the journal became like a brochure about tourism in Uganda and more so the source of the Nile and several falls formed from its source in Uganda and its end in Egypt.
It is thus not surprising that Churchill followed the footsteps of Speke from Jinja, Busoga up stream; he saw the Murchison falls in north Uganda and crossed to Sudan at Nimule. From Sudan he crossed into Egypt and at Alexandria, he boarded a ship which took him back to England.

Churchill speech in Uganda
On the evening of November 20, 1907 at Nakasero Hill, where the presidential state lodge stands after elevating Bell from commissioner to governor, Churchill delivered a memorable speech reproduced below verbatim.

“I am very glad indeed to come to Uganda. I am very glad to be here upon an occasion which is one of important in the history of the country. His most Gracious Majesty the King has been pleased to raise his excellency from the rank of commissioner to that of governor: that is a recognition of the high esteem in which the services of His Excellency are held.

It is also a recognition of Uganda amongst the possessions of the British Crown, but that alternation in the position of his excellency involves, as he has told you, no alteration whatever in the position of the government he regulates.

The basis of these alterations is the Uganda agreement – a human document, and like all earthly things it is not perhaps in every way perfect, but it is a bargain and a guarantee and it will faithfully be observed by both sides.

The chiefs who are gathered together here today need have no fear that it will be encroached upon or melted away so longer as they themselves and the people of Uganda faithfully adhere to their portion of the contract.

Under that agreement, all their rights and liberties are guaranteed, and all their lands, possessions and ancient privileges.

Under that agreement, they may preserve all their old grace and simplicity of their lives which has honourably distinguished the Baganda people. The power of the British government is great.

It is easy to measure or describe how great that power is, but that powerful government will be the friends and the staunch friends of Uganda and its people. The Baganda chiefs must look upon the British government as their friend and guide.

As a sharp sword against their enemies and as a power always anxious to promote the prosperity of their people in times of trouble, in times of famine, in times of pestilence and the justice of the British Crown will be evenly administered between all classes and all those who come under the authority of the king.

Therefore, let them take heart and labour reverently and piously with the government and help the governor to the advancement of the people committed to their charge.

I offer them my highest congratulations upon the elevated degree of civilization and advancement to which they have already attained. When I return to England, I shall tell His Majesty the King how beauty their country is and how good its people are. That is all I have to say.”

In November 1908, in London, Churchhill launched the book, My African Journey in which he called Uganda the “Pearl of Africa” and since then, the “Pearl of Africa” has become the other name for the republic of Uganda.

Uganda’s uniqueness
Uganda has some of Africa’s stunning landscapes, crystal clear lakes, snow capped mountains, tropical rain forests, semi aridsavanna, primates, birds and much more.

This is the reason Churchill was moved to coin the name The Pearl of Africa in celebration of its captivating beauty, unique environmental attributes and the moderate climate due to the country’s location on the equator and the richness of its diverse culture and people.

Along with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda is one of the three countries in the world where there are mountain gorillas. They are mostly in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, although there are a few in the Mgahinga National Park as well, this affords a rare opportunity to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.

Another of Uganda’s 10 national parks, two of them Unesco World Heritage Sites; is Rwenzori Mountains National Park, one of the few places on the planet which encompasses every ecological habitat.

Sometimes called the Mountains of the Moon, the Rwenzori Mountains offer tremendous hiking, climbing, white-water canoeing and some of the richest biodiversity one could ever hope to see.

The Murchison Falls National Park is bisected by the Victoria Nile, centred on a gorge where the Nile squeezes through a narrow point only seven metres wide, falling in a thunderous waterfall 43 metres high.

Featuring 79 different species of mammal, including lions, giraffes and elephants, Uganda’s largest population of crocodiles and more than 450 species of birds, Murchison is a truly extraordinary wildlife sanctuary straddling what might be called the aorta of Africa.

Uganda is the home of the second largest freshwater lake in the world and the world’s largest tropical lake, Lake Victoria which is also the principal source of the second longest river on earth, the White Nile.