Ugandan Safari Book Review

Ugandan Safari Book Review

Ex Africa semper aluiqi novi
– Always something new out of Africa –

“Uganda Safari provides an entertaining, wide-ranging and informative tour of the country that Winston Churchill famously described as the ‘Pearl of Africa”. Subjects tackled include history, culture, geography, transport, wildlife, a bit of botany, some famous films, national parks, human evolution, tea and conservation. There’s also some sex involving British royals and wild animals, though disappointingly, not on the same page” – Uganda Safari by Andrew Roberts

The longer you live in Uganda, the more questions you are likely to have about the country’s culture and history. Ugandan friends and colleagues are your best resources for contemporary information but what if you like reading? And what if you want to go back in time, to learn about the heydays of the tribal kingdoms, British politics and the Protectorate or the fate of the Indian community in Uganda?

I started my Uganda research by rifling through friends’ bookshelves. An alternative is to peruse the (rather expensive) brand-new books in Aristoc, however, you could save yourself a lot of time (and money) and simply buy Andrew Roberts’ exceptional new book: Uganda Safari.

Let me start by saying, the title hardly does the book justice.

Don’t get me wrong, Andy Roberts is a safari expert. In addition to his many years’ co-writing the Bradt Uganda Guide, he has worked closely with Uganda Wildlife Authority in the country’s National Parks and Wildlife Reserves. He has spent almost three decades traveling the country from top to bottom (or kabina in Roberts’ parlance) and is a formidable writer and researcher. (You may be familiar with his beautifully crafted tourist maps).

But his book is far more than a guide to wildlife and the National Parks (although it is all these things as well): Roberts’ safari is a journey through time and cultures.

What distinguishes Uganda Safari is the depth in which a diversity of subjects are covered. The book peels back the layers to give us historical and cultural insights into many familiar names and places. It is a historical tour in which the reader rubs shoulders with presidents and princesses, hominids and Hollywood stars. We learn of the people who put Uganda on the international map (for better or for worse).

One of my favourite parts of Roberts’ book is the bibliography that references original texts by multiple authors. Google be damned!

Detailed geographical descriptions guide us through the Pearl of Africa, one National Park at a time. The narrative flows easily as the author circumnavigates the pearl. Roberts is a master of interpretation. Not only does he reveal forgotten photographs but he adds the back story. History comes to life through the written word.

Uganda Safari is an extremely readable volume. The text is well laid out, easy to navigate and interspersed with period photographs, etchings, unseen archive graphics and illustrations from 19th-century magazines. Roberts’ intriguing (and frequently hilarious) footnotes add the finishing touch to his specially curated collection of Uganda memorabilia. His daughter Caitlin’s remarkable drawings of Karimojong tribes (as featured on the front cover of this magazine) add a personal touch.

Uganda Safari book
Uganda Safari book

And, just at the point when it might all be getting a tad too serious, Roberts’ schoolboy sense of humour makes you guffaw out loud. With tongue firmly in cheek, Roberts pokes fun at the ambitious exploits of the European explorers:

“It was thanks to such meticulous planning that, despite losing 200 men to spears, arrows, disease, starvation and desertion during his horrendous trek through the Congo jungle in 1888, Stanley would still be able to produce four pints of champagne to toast his meeting with Emin Pasha.”

Ed Lewis
Ed Lewis
Shoebill Stork by Paul Goldring
Shoebill Stork by Paul Goldring

Although Uganda Safari deserves to grace coffee tables up and down the country, don’t let this one just gather dust. I read my copy cover to cover; it’s equally enjoyable to have as a reference book or simply to dip in and out of. The illustrations alone make this book worth buying. In Roberts’ own words:

“Though the book can be read sequentially whilst travelling around Uganda, its diverse contents also reward random inspection making it a serendipitous armchair read and lavatory companion before, during and after a Ugandan safari.”

Uganda Safari deserves to be read by a global audience and this brings me to my second niggle: Roberts is far too modest about his oeuvre. If you have read this far and know an international publisher, please send them a copy of this excellent tome!

Uganda Safari is published by the African Studies Bookstore. It is on sale at Aristoc, Banana Boat, The Pantry and the Dancing Cup in Bugolobi in Kampala. Softback copies are 95,000 Uganda shillings and hardback copies are 130,000 Uganda shillings. At some point, the book will be available on Amazon. In the meantime, you can contact Andrew Roberts directly via email

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