Your money is more than legal tender

Lake Nyinambuga, one of the 56 Kasenda crater lakes in Tooro, appears on the Shs20,000 note. PHOTOS BY ERIC NTALUMBWA.

What you need to know:

Boundless. A country’s banknote is more than just currency. It is usually a historical documentation and declaration of beliefs. Uganda’s banknotes too have been used for similar purposes and most currently as advert space for our tourist attractions, writes Eric Ntalumbwa.

It is always incredible when inspiration strikes at the perfect moment. Until recently Ugandan banknotes carried portraits of the ruling president or whatever the president fancied at that moment. However, the present currency depicts a multitude of Ugandan monuments both natural and man-made that stroke one’s curiosity.

Uganda currency through the years
In 1919, the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC), headed by Sir William Mackinon, run bankrupt. This led to the formation of the East African Currency Board (EACB), which supplied and oversaw the currency of British colonies in East Africa from 1919 to 1966.
In 1921, the EACB issued the East African shilling which had different series that circulated up to 1962 when Uganda got her independence. The first Ugandan shilling (UGS) replaced the East African shilling in 1966 and according to Bank of Uganda literature, Uganda Currency has changed seven times since 1966.
The subsequent change in regimes also marked a change in the currency thus in the years 1966, 1973, 1979, 1983 and 1986 there were changes.

In 1966, the Uganda Shilling was established. The Government of Uganda under the Bank of Uganda Act- 1966 established Bank of Uganda in 1966. That year, Bank of Uganda issued Uganda’s first currency.
The first currency (1966 Issue) had coins of five cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, one shilling and two shillings. It also had bank notes of five shillings, 10 shillings, 20 shillings, and 100 shillings. The banknote had a ‘palm’ watermark.

In 1973, a new issue was released. “A new government took over in 1971, and in 1973, changes were made to the banknotes. The denominations of the 1966 Issue were maintained, and a 50-shilling note was also issued. A portrait of President Idi Amin was then introduced on the bank notes,” literature on the Bank of Uganda website explains.

Tourism features on the banknotes
The current Uganda bank notes of Shs50,000,Shs20,000, Shs10,000, Shs5,000, Shs2000 and Shs1000 along with the coins of Shs50, Shs100, Shs200 and Shs500 pay tribute to Uganda’s environment and the country’s abundant resources. Recognizing wildlife, historic and cultural features is practical considering the fact that tourism in Uganda has overtaken foreign remittances as the top foreign exchange earner. According to 2016 official figures, tourism contributed up to $1.35 billion into Uganda’s export basket, contributing 23.5 per cent of total exports, hence becoming the highest foreign exchange earner.


Uganda’s Shs50,000 was declared one of the most beautiful banknotes in the world in 2010 by the International Bank Note Society.

Commonly referred to as zike by Ugandans in reference to the presence of the Silverback image, the note which is the highest denomination note has shades of brown and golden highlights, which are appealing to the eye.
In 2010, International Bank Note Society (IBNS) declared the Shs50,000 note as “Banknote of 2010” because of the strong design elements consistent with the series. The non-profit education organisation established in 1961 to advance the study and knowledge of worldwide banknotes and paper currencies highlighted elements such as the watermark of the head of a crested crane, an outline of the map of Uganda highlighting the equator, the profile of a man wearing a traditional Karimojong head dress, patterns based on indigenous basket work and, at the far right on the back, the independence monument erected to celebrate Uganda Independence in October 1962.

The towering monument situated on Speke Road was sculpted by Gregory Maloba, a Kenyan student who studied and taught at Makerere University. It depicts a woman wrapped in bonds lifting a child above her head, celebrating the birth of a nation; freedom from the bondage colonialism. The back of the note has an image of a silverback. The great ape specie situated in Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks has driven economic growth in Uganda through Mountain Gorilla tourism.
On the left at the front of one of the world’s beautiful currencies is the 19-foot high stride monument constructed and positioned at Parliamentary gardens to celebrate the commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Kampala, 2007.

The piece of art portrays a husband, wife and son moving forward.
The monument symbolises the countries of the commonwealth progressing as a family. The works were spearheaded by a team of eleven professional sculptors led by Prof George Kyeyune.
In the centre is an illustration of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, an evocative African destination in Southwest Uganda, an important area for biodiversity and home to Uganda’s population of mountain gorillas.


The Ankole longhorn cow, which appears on the Shs20,00 note is now a tourist attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the USA.

At the front of the red banknote is Lake Nyinambuga, one of the 56 Kasenda crater lakes in Tooro surrounded by steep volcanic slopes. The lake is situated west of Kibale National Park, and East of Rwenzori Mountains. On the left is the six-foot tall iconic monument in Centenary Park situated along Jinja Road next to Hotel Africana acknowledges the hundredth anniversary of Kampala City Council, the administrative body of Uganda’s Capital. Sylvia Nabiteeko Katende, a Makerere University artist, is credited for the statue erected in 2000.
The back of the bill has an image of an Ankole longhorn cow, unique to Ankole region and Uganda as a whole. The cow is a tourist attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. In the left corner is a depiction of two drums symbolic of the heartbeat of our indigenous cultures and 56 tribes.

The centre of the purple note illustrates the dreamy Sipi Falls located about 280 Km East of Kampala, in the scenic Kapchorwa District.
The falls are a series of three prominent waterfalls, with the longest drops as high as 100metres. There is traditional tale that many years ago when British travelers found a local woman picking plants near the falls, they inquired about the name of the water feature, and in response she thought they needed to know the name of the plant which she called ‘Sep’.
The name was later adopted. Sep plant is a type of wild banana with green fonds with a bolt of crimson red. On the left is ‘Key to Success’ monument at Kyambogo University. The back has a banana plantation symbolic of Uganda’s agriculture, a backbone of the country’s economy.

The centre of the purple note illustrates the dreamy Sipi Falls

The green note depicts the ‘Mountains of the Moon’, home of to Mount Stanley with Margherita its highest peak reaching an elevation of 5,109metres. The UNESCO World Heritage Site located on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo is ideal for mountaineering.

On the left is the World War 1 and II monument at Constitutional Square next to Central Police Station commemorating Ugandans lost in World War II as they supported the British fighters. The monument regarded as the oldest in the city of Kampala was erected in 1945 by the British Colonial government. The weaver birds and their nests, represent Uganda as fast growing birding destination with 1,080 species about half of Africa’s total bird list.

At the centre of the blue banknote is the source of the River Nile. Dubbed the father of African rivers and longest in the world, the Nile originates from Jinja with an estimated length of about 6,695 Kilometres to the Mediterranean Sea. The feature has elevated Jinja as the adventure Capital of East Africa.
On the left side of the note is the Source of the Nile monument in Njeru, the west bank of the river where British Explorer John Hanning Speke stood as he became the first foreigner to discover the Source of the Nile. The back has Tilapia fish, popularly known as Ngege. It is the most commercially important and widely available fish in Uganda consumed by beach enthusiasts.

The front of the brown note has an image of the savanna grasslands, home to Uganda’s big five animals such as buffaloes, leopards, elephants, lions and rhinos that attract the attention of tourists.
In Uganda, tourism, largely focuses on wildlife which contributes more than 10 per cent to country’s Gross Domestic Product.
On the left is the Nyero rock art work, Uganda’s oldest rock-art site, with six panels painted on the granite.
Figures include concentric circles, canoes, people and zebra. It is situated in Ngora District. The back has a Uganda Kob often seen in Murchison Falls, Kidepo Valley and Queen Elizabeth National Parks.


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