Throughout my birth and tens of thousands of days in school, i have long known Uganda as the pearl of Africa but unfortunately never got a clear answer to this till now. There are so many contradictory stories on the internet today about the exact person that came up with the “Pearl of Africa” phrase and most of them have proof.
Even during my primary days of social studies, we always had to circle / answer Sir Winston Churchill when this question was asked to earn marks else we never earned them. Lets not go too far for now! Why is Uganda called the pearl of Africa? I guess this is the main question we are bound to answer but unfortunately, i won’t follow the same approach as most bloggers who have had something to write about this masterpiece. I will simply reveal the reason plus a lot of facts that you need to know about the ‘Pearl of Africa’ phrase so that you can also spread the word to others who might be blinded by false news. Besides, the truth always sets us free!
Over 90% of the blog articles i have come across claim Sir Winston Churchill authored the phrase in his 1908 book entitled “My African Journey“, a write up of his exceptional and memorable experience of a missionary trip to Uganda. The phrase reads;
“For magnificence, for variety of form and color, for profusion of brilliant life — bird, insect, reptile, beast — for vast scale — Uganda is truly “the Pearl of Africa.”
He tried to relate to the stunning green valleys, tall mountains and deep lakes that Uganda was gifted with. Uganda’s elevated altitude has long given it a cool climate than other places that fall on the equator line which amazed most of the British travelers who set foot on it’s soil. Surprisingly, that’s the common reason you will bump on more often on the internet but question is, did Sir Winston Churchill author the phrase? The answer to this is a No! If you took time to read the original phrase from the exact book then you will definitely realize that Churchill wrote was something similar to this;
“But the forests of Uganda, for magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life – plant, bird, insect, reptile, beast – for the vast scale and awful fecundity indeed effaced, all previous impressions.” (Quoted from My African Journey – Page 151).
A few sources claim the rumor about Churchill authoring the “the Pearl of Africa” phrase seems to have developed / become popular around the time Uganda had it’s first independence day (October 9th 1962). Since that time, Churchill has always taken all the credit and has been misquoted so many times regarding the issue. The fact is that phrase was altered by an author known as Jane Flowers! This is the same lady who evidently made her own additions to what Churchill originally wrote. “Uganda is truly the Pearl of Africa,” was just an addition by Jane but this still remains a lesser known fact to millions of people.
So who named Uganda ‘The Pearl of Africa?”
A more evident literature piece entitled “The Uganda Railway” that was authored in 1895 credits Henry Morton Stanley for calling Uganda (called Buganda by then) the “Pearl of Africa”. If very clearly stated between the pages of 719-720 of Stanley’s fine-print if you need evidence to this. An excerpt from Stanley’s book reads;
“It is the “Pearl of Africa” that is our object. I applied that somewhat grandiloquent term to Uganda…the truth is that the term aptly illustrates the superior value of Uganda because of its populousness, the intelligence of its people, its strategic position for commerce, and for spreading Christianity–all of which make it pre-eminently a desirable colony for a trading and civilizing nation like ours.”
Churchill never had the phrase in his original masterpiece where as Stanley did implicating Stanley authored the phrase first but he remains unpopular for it till today except to a few who have managed to dig deep and discover the truth. Churchill will always be mentioned countless times regarding this phrase.
What you should know is Buganda (Now called Uganda) was the core of an outstanding synergy by the famous British Empire in the late 19th century. Several British officials were eager to find the source of the Nile because they believed colonizing it would mean colonizing the great river (River Nile) and Egypt would eventually come after. And besides, Whoever too charge of Egypt would definitely gain control over the Suez Canal, and without this, the British would definitely lose India, a Pearl of their Empire. This kind of though made them raise a lot of funds for the expensive journey of discovery. Churchill, who was just announced a young Member of Parliament by then, trekked the railway up to Uganda in his quest. Some authors therefore believe the use of the “Pearl of Africa” phrase was aimed at justifying Britain’s obsession with Uganda to British citizens.
By now you should be knowing where the phrase came from and how it came about. It was first used by Stanley to justify the obsession the British had for Uganda to fellow citizens. Churchill might still be credited for it but history has the facts in writing.
So where is the Pearl of Africa located?
Located in East Africa, Uganda falls west of Kenya, east of DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), south of South Sudan, and north of Tanzania and Rwanda. It is a land-locked country on the northern shores of one of the greatest lakes in the world, Lake Victoria. Uganda is mostly known for being the source of the River Nile (longest river in the world), and the home of the greatly endangered mountain gorilla harboring over 450 of them in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Uganda also got so blessed that it fell among the countries along the famous equator line. The equator cuts across the southern part of the country.
The stunning green valleys, tall mountains and deep lakes that Churchill quoted are indeed true and still exist till today. You could see them personally and definitely fall in love with the respective features that Uganda got rewarded with. Check out my guide for booking a safari in Uganda to plan your trip the right way in advance.
The Uganda Railway: Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art , vol. 79 (1895): 719-720):