Where or what is Teso?
We invite you to listen to this music from Teso while you read this page.
Teso is a region in north-eastern Uganda which is bordered to the north and east by the region of Karamoja.
Uganda is about the same size as the UK – and Teso is about the same size (15,630 sq.km = 5,300 sq.miles) as the East Midlands (that is, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Rutland and Northamptonshire combined). It has a population of between about 2 and 2.5 million.
The people of Teso are Nilo-Hamitic and are thought to have originated from Egypt. They are related to other East African cattle people such as the Karimojong (Uganda), Turkana (Kenya) and Masai (Kenya and Tanzania). The majority are Iteso who speak Ateso, although there is another small tribal group also living in Teso, the Kumam who speak Kumam. They all get on well and inter-marry, but the Kumam appear always to have been marginalised; for instance, there is very little literature in Kumam and it is only very recently that the Bible has been translated into Kumam.
The Iteso are very welcoming and hospitable, as well as being peaceable and forgiving. They suffered so much from the mid-1980s for about twenty years – see the RECENT HISTORY OF TESO. However, there has been peace throughout the region since the infamous LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) left Teso in 2004 (and completely left Uganda in 2006), but they are amongst the poorest people in Uganda – and the level of poverty is actually increasing. This is largely due now to serious climate changes (droughts and floods) as well as lack of tourism, and being marginalised and under-funded.
The importance of tourism to Teso
One reason for poverty and lack of development in Teso is the lack of tourism. Although tourism can often have serious negative impacts on people, cultures and environments, responsible tourism brings significant benefits and development to host communities.
Uganda was once off the tourist trail because of civil war under Amin and Obote from 1971-1985, during which time Kenya and Tanzania developed and captured the tourist market – it has taken years for people to start exploring Uganda again.
The same thing has happened with northern and eastern Uganda – they are off the tourist map because of past conflicts! But the northern and eastern regions of Uganda have been stable and peaceful for ten years, so now is the time to start exploring this part of Uganda again as it has so much to offer.
Tourists only think about visiting southern and western Uganda for viewing animals and birds. We hope this website will give you a glimpse of all the wonderful things you can see and experience by travelling eastwards from Entebbe and Kampala, then north to Teso and westwards to Murchison Falls (and so many other places) – as well as getting away from thousands of other tourists!
Why visit Teso?
Teso is an obvious stopping place on an eastern-northern round tour in Uganda. The National Parks and Reserves (Murchison Falls, Kidepo, Pian Upe, Budongo Forest, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary) have been open again for many years and offer a wider variety of animals and birds than the other better known Parks of Uganda. The only animal you can’t see in the north is the Mountain Gorilla!
But Teso offers so much more than just a stopping place on the way to National Parks. The people are warm and generous and longing to welcome visitors. International tourists can once again experience and enjoy all that this part of Uganda has to offer – as well as much more besides, such as community, cultural and volunteering experiences. Although the scenery in Teso is not as spectacular as some parts of Uganda, it has a wonderful open beauty with wide views of beautiful skies, undulating plains, enormous rocky hills and outcrops, grassy swamps and lakes, cultivation dotted with traditional homesteads – and distant views of mountains in Karamoja and Mt Elgon.
Teso is recognised internationally as having significant wetland birding habitats. Lake Opeta and Lake Bisina have been listed as RAMSAR sites since 2006 and IBAs (Important Birding Areas).
Some of the 350 species of birds which can be seen in Teso
Ornithologists will be tempted by the full BIRD LIST for Teso! You can also read about why Teso is such a special birding area because of its Ramsar and IBA sites.
Visiting the people of Teso, apart from providing jobs and income, also helps them to value and keep alive their culture, traditions, skills and way of life. When we first started talking with community elders about developing tourism in Teso, they said, “But we have nothing to offer tourists – they wouldn’t want to come here”. They were surprised and greatly encouraged when we explained that discerning, responsible tourists, who want more than a whistle-stop tour round luxury hotels, would greatly appreciate spending time in Teso.
Tourists encourage conservation
The other very important reason why tourists are so important to Teso is because they encourage conservation. Teso used to have many wild animals, but it is now rare to see them, except in remote places like Lake Opeta.
The number of birds had also declined seriously, but is now on the increase again, thanks to communities learning how important birds are for a stable ecology and environment. They are starting to appreciate and become aware of how special their birds are when people from abroad come all the way to see their birds!
Fishermen on the lakes used to capture water birds, such as African Jacanas, Common Moorhens and Long-toed Lapwings to use them as live bait, breaking their wings to stop them escaping. And Shoebills and their eggs were taken for food.
An encouraging story
A local man living near one of the lakes showed us a dead Long-toed Lapwing which had been caught to use as bait and had died. It had a ring on its leg, which puzzled them all. “How did the ring get on its leg?” We explained and showed them that it had been ringed in Cape Town (we later reported it on the internet). “This bird has safely flown thousands of miles, all the way from Cape Town, and decided to rest in Teso. But you killed it.” They were amazed as they had never heard of the migration of birds – it is not taught in science lessons in schools.
This man has now become passionate about protecting all the birds in Teso and teaching villagers and school children about their importance and how they can even attract income from tourists! And now that he knows how many tourists want to see Shoebills, and that the swamps of Teso are one of the best places to see them, he is working with us to educate the local fishermen and communities about protecting them in their natural environment.
Every tourist who has an interest in birds is therefore contributing in a very real and positive way to conservation in Teso, especially if they get talking to the children and people who inevitably cluster round to see what they have come for. They are thrilled when they are allowed to look through binoculars and get really excited when they look through our bird books and recognise the birds around them.
Instead of staying in a hotel or guest house in Teso, you could opt to stay with a Teso family in their village. This is a unique opportunity to really experience the Heart of Africa which few people have ever done. Click on HOMESTAYS to find out more about this option and all the possible community activities you could participate in.