Settled for at least 50 000 years, Uganda's indigenous people included the pygmoid Batwa, a hunter-gatherer society displaced by the arrival of Central African cattle herders and farmers. The development of political dynasties resulted in a sophisticated pre-colonial history and by the time Arab and European explorers, traders and slavers reached the region, the Buganda Kingdom was well established. Colonised by Britain, independence came in 1962 but it was only in the mid-1980s, after the catastrophic regimes of Milton Obote and Idi Amin, that Uganda experienced social stability and economic growth.
Fertile soils and regular rainfall mean an economy built around agriculture. Cash crops such as coffee, tea and tobacco dominate the export market but most agriculture in Uganda is subsistence farming, occupying some 75% of the workforce. Significant mineral, gas and oil deposits are set to be exploited in the future while tourism has proved to be an ever-growing sector of the economy.
Uganda's 34 million people are concentrated in the country's better watered south and west with the Kampala-based Baganda the largest of the country's many ethnic groups. Some 40 regional languages exist but Swahili and English are Uganda's official languages. Religious belief is overwhelmingly Christian-based though Islam is strong in Uganda's Asian communities. It should be noted that Ugandans hold their ancestry in high regard.
Uganda is a conservative country and visitors would do well to adhere to local rules of behaviour. That said, visitors often remark on the friendliness and politeness of the locals: greetings are an elaborate affair and may include inquiries as to the health of your family - perfunctory greetings and a demand for immediate action are somewhat frowned upon!
Lying in a basin between the eastern and western branches of the Rift Valley, Uganda's elevated position means a more temperate climate than its equatorial location might suggest. Most of the country is over 1 000m in altitude and relatively flat apart from the forested mountain ranges that often define its borders. One of Africa's most well-watered countries (25% of Uganda is covered by lakes, rivers and wetlands) the landscape is lush and green for most of the year though northern Uganda grades into semi-desert.
Such a setting makes for staggering biodiversity. Uganda's montane and lowland forests are home to mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and other forest animals while its savannah parks - Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls - offer classic game viewing, though not on the scale of Kenya or Tanzania.
Uganda wildlife highlights include gorilla trekking in Bwindi Forest, chimpanzee encounters in Kibale Forest and bird watching - with over 1 000 recorded species, Uganda is one of the world's top birding destinations.