The best books on Uganda

9 authors have picked their favorite books about Uganda and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Kintu

By Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi,

Book cover of Kintu

A multi-generational novel which starts in 1750 with the heroic figure of Kintu, a provincial chief setting off with his entourage to pay ritual obeisance to the feared Kabaka (king), and culminates in bustling, hustling, modern Uganda. It’s an epic story that explores the imprint family bonds and ancestral legacies - including curses that travel down through the decades – leave on daily life. The kind of book which, because of its sheer heft, seems more than a little daunting at the start. But by the last page, you’re left wanting more, reluctant to have to say goodbye to all the characters you have come to know and love, hungry to know the end of their various journeys.  


Who am I?

After working as a foreign correspondent in Italy and France I was sent by Reuters news agency to Cote d’Ivoire and what was then Zaire, the latter posting coinciding with the shocking start of the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. It was the kind of assignment you don’t forget, and when I moved to the Financial Times I continued following the larger-than-life dramas unfolding in Africa’s Great Lakes region. I’ve now written five books, the first – In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz - about Mobutu Sese Seko's imprint on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the latest – Do Not Disturb - looking at personalities and events I first started writing about a quarter of a century ago. You keep going back.


I wrote...

Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

By Michela Wrong,

Book cover of Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

What is my book about?

A real-life murder and spy thriller set in central Africa. Do Not Disturb uses the lurid assassination of Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s exiled former spy chief, to unpick the story of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the movement that went from united guerrilla group to unhappy post-genocide government, with one man – Paul Kagame – emerging as a ruthless despot, ready to eliminate all those who stand in his way. Kagame's victims include his old friend Karegeya, strangled in the Michelangelo Hotel in Johannesburg on his orders. This is a story about an African revolution gone bad, but it’s also a tale of treachery amongst friends, for the founders of the RPF attended school together, learned how to fight at one anothers’ sides, and made speeches at each others’ weddings. The personal IS the political in this slow-motion African tragedy.

The White Nile

By Alan Moorehead,

Book cover of The White Nile

The White Nile is another classic, telling the story of how European explorers “discovered” Africa’s greatest river in the second half of the nineteenth century. It’s a rollicking tale, featuring cameos from everyone from Herodotus to Churchill, packed with wild tales of bull-headed men marching into areas which were, for them, literally blank spaces on the map. Some of the prose inevitably feels a little dated these days, but it overflows with drama and detail, and provides a fascinating insight into the history of a region which many people still know too little about. I lived near the source of the Nile in Uganda for quite a while, and have many happy memories of reading this before heading out for a swim.


Who am I?

I'm an Anglo-Dutch writer living in the Netherlands, and the author of two books. Growing up in England I never thought much about rivers, but in the Netherlands they’re hard to avoid, and I’ve become fascinated by them. These days, when we all work remotely and (when rules allow) usually travel by car, train, or plane rather than boat, it’s easy to think of rivers as just scenic backdrops, rather than anything more important. But the truth is many of our cities wouldn’t exist without the waters which flow through them, and waterways like the Rhine, Thames, and Seine have had a huge influence on the history and culture of the people living alongside them. If you want to understand why somewhere like Rotterdam, London or Paris is the way it is, you could spend the day in a library or museum – but you’d be better off going for a boat ride or swim, poking around under some bridges and talking to the fishermen, boatmen, and kayakers down at the waterline.


I wrote...

The Rhine

By Ben Coates,

Book cover of The Rhine

What is my book about?

The Rhine is one of the world's greatest rivers. Once forming the outer frontier of the Roman Empire, it flows 800 miles from the fun-loving Netherlands, through the industrial and political powerhouses of Germany and France, to the wealthy mountain fortresses of Switzerland and Liechtenstein. For years, Ben Coates lived alongside a major channel of the river in Rotterdam, crossing it daily, swimming and sailing in its tributaries. In The Rhine, he sets out to follow the river all the way across Europe; exploring the impact the river has had on European culture and history, and on the people who live alongside it. From rowing Dutch canals to riding a cow through the Alps, via Cold War nuclear bunkers, raucous Gay Pride parades, tranquil Lake Constance, and snowy mountain climbs, The Rhine blends travelogue and offbeat history to tell the fascinating story of how one river helped our world.

In Idi Amin's Shadow

By Alicia C. Decker,

Book cover of In Idi Amin's Shadow: Women, Gender, and Militarism in Uganda

Idi Amin Dada is one of the “best known” African dictators. So many books, documentaries, and films have depicted him as a bloody, megalomaniac leader on the verge of craziness. He was even portrayed by Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland. Alicia Decker shows a different story, starting by asking what if we take Idi Amin’s seriously? What if we explore the way he turned his (brutal) “hyper-masculinity” into a political resource? To me, this book was eye-opening, there are so many ways to write about African presidents, their politics, their ideas, and their resources. And of course, there are many ways to “gender” their histories and look for the women who stand in the president’s shadow.


Who am I?

When I was a university student, I wanted to know how African presidencies function, not only how African presidents acquire and keep power, but also how they imagine it, how they anticipate political battles, who they trust, and who they fear. All too often, the literature focuses on colonial legacy and neo-colonization and describes African presidents with too little agency. As a doctoral researcher, I stumbled on a biography of Jomo Kenyatta and got caught by the intricacies of his political career. Since then, Kenyan political history has become my area of specialization, and while my background in political science keeps inspiring me, I have a passion for historical writing.


I wrote...

Power and the Presidency in Kenya: The Jomo Kenyatta Years

By Anaïs Angelo,

Book cover of Power and the Presidency in Kenya: The Jomo Kenyatta Years

What is my book about?

Why did, upon independence, almost all African states adopt a presidential system of rule? What are the historical origins of presidential power in postcolonial African countries? This is the question my book, Power and the Presidency in Kenya seeks to answer.

Using various British and Kenyan archival records, I show that nobody expected that the makings of a presidential regime would grand one man almost limitless executive powers; even fewer expected Jomo Kenyatta would remain president until his death in 1978 and to significantly shape Kenya’s presidential rule. With this book, I hope to show that the African presidencies have their own history, one that calls for reconstructing the actors’ agency in negotiating presidential powers, for the worse or the best of their interest, yet always with a refine political intelligence.

The Canal House

By Mark Lee,

Book cover of The Canal House

Okay, this fine novel is only partially set in Africa, in Uganda, where intrepid fictional journalist Daniel McFarland treks into the jungles to find and interview the leader of a rebel group based on the Lords Resistance Army. Told from the vantage point of world-weary photographer Nicky Bettencourt, the action later shift to East Timor during the fight for independence against Indonesia. This novel comes as close as any to describe the real lives of foreign correspondents — the unnecessary risks, the loneliness of life lived constantly on the road. It’s beautifully written, a good read, and reeks of authenticity.

Who am I?

I’ve been a journalist since high school and I spent 33 years as a reporter for The Washington Post, mostly as a foreign correspondent based in Asia, Africa, and Paris. My book Out Of America chronicled my three years as a correspondent in Africa during some of its most tumultuous events, the Somalia intervention, and the Rwanda genocide. I’ve always thought a well-crafted novel often captures a place or a time better than nonfiction — books like The Quiet American about the Vietnam War, and The Year of Living Dangerously about Indonesia. I now teach a university course on The Role of the Journalist in Popular Fiction, Film and Comics.


I wrote...

Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa

By Keith B. Richburg,

Book cover of Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa

What is my book about?

Keith B. Richburg was an experienced and respected reporter who had paid his dues covering urban neighborhoods in Washington D.C. and won praise for his coverage of Southeast Asia. But nothing prepared him for the personal odyssey that he would embark upon when he was assigned to cover Africa. In this powerful book, Richburg takes the reader on an extraordinary journey that sweeps from Somalia to Rwanda to Zaire and finally to South Africa. He shows how he came to terms with the divide within himself: between his African racial heritage and his American cultural identity. Are these really my people? Am I truly an African-American?

The answer, Richburg finds, after much soul-searching, is that no, he is not an African, but an American first and foremost.

The Year of the Gorilla

By George B. Schaller,

Book cover of The Year of the Gorilla

George Schaller’s pioneering popular Year of the Gorilla, set in Rwanda, is part history, travelogue, and accessible behavioral biology. This book was my model for how to write about my own seven summers living with killer whales off northern Vancouver Island, Canada. Travelling with wife Kay, Schaller in his mid-20s was among the first to get into the field with primates when few even considered it. Rich with stories, his book included his own beautiful line drawings of gorillas and tantalising maps. The story uncovers a misty kingdom—he climbed the volcanoes—as much as revealing the intimate details of the gorillas, with their food gathering, nest-building, relationships, their emotional lives. This book has human and gorilla characters. You feel like you are right there.


Who am I?

I’ve spent most of my life since the 1970s working with whales and dolphins. I was lucky to get involved in one of the first field studies for killer whales and since then have led other research in the Russian Far East. I have worked with entomologists in Costa Rican rainforests, blue whale scientists in Québec and Iceland, humpback whale scientists in Hawaii. I’ve searched for rare North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy, measured Canada’s tallest trees in British Columbia and seen the wild plant ancestors of maize growing in the mountains of Mexico. Field research—studying and living in nature—makes us empathize with Planet Earth.


I wrote...

Orca: The Whale Called Killer

By Erich Hoyt,

Book cover of Orca: The Whale Called Killer

What is my book about?

When Erich Hoyt's Orca: The Whale Called Killer was first published in 1981, little was known about orcas. He and his colleagues spent seven summers following these intelligent, playful creatures in the waters off northern Vancouver Island. Hoyt's group dispelled the negative mythology about orcas while uncovering intimate details of their social behavior. 

This revised 2019 fifth edition includes Hoyt's original account, plus exciting new chapters that bring readers up to date on the revolution in orca research and understanding. Hoyt's youthful adventures turned into his life's work. Now a world-renowned expert on whales and dolphins, he shares orca wisdom along with stories from additional field study in Russia’s Far East and return trips to meet the descendants of the orcas he encountered years earlier.

The First Woman

By Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi,

Book cover of The First Woman

The First Woman is perhaps the best novel you haven’t yet read. Kirabo has never known her mother and she is looking for answers at the same time as she is becoming a woman. She is guided first by the village’s blind witch Nsuuta, who has her own reasons for getting involved. Nsuuta tells Kirabo that women were once, “huge, strong, loud, proud, brave, independent. But it was too much for the world.” The writing in this ambitious novel is sometimes funny and sometimes poignant.


Who am I?

I grew up in Uganda and Kenya, and when I moved to the United States, I felt separated from myself. Learning how to be American was exhausting and so I disappeared into books. I’m now more settled, but I still travel through fiction. These days, I am reading fiction by African women. You should be, too! There is so much stunning literature out there. These five books are just the beginning, but they are novels I can’t stop thinking about.


I wrote...

Wait for God to Notice

By Sari Fordham,

Book cover of Wait for God to Notice

What is my book about?

Wait for God to Notice is a memoir about growing up in Uganda. It is also a memoir about mothers and daughters and about how children both know and don’t know their parents. As teens, Fordham and her sister, Sonja, consider their mother overly cautious. After their mother dies of cancer, the author begins to wonder who her mother really was. As she recalls her childhood in Uganda―the way her mother killed snakes, sweet-talked soldiers, and sold goods on the black market―Fordham understands that the legacy her mother left her daughters is one of courage and capability.

Tropical Fish

By Doreen Baingana,

Book cover of Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe

Doreen Baingana’s novel Tropical Fish is smart and empathetic, with a keen eye for details. The story is set in post-Idi Amin Uganda and is primarily Christine’s coming of age, but we also read chapters from her sisters’ points of view. The novel is a page-turner with an innovative structure, but it’s the characters who will stay with you.


Who am I?

I grew up in Uganda and Kenya, and when I moved to the United States, I felt separated from myself. Learning how to be American was exhausting and so I disappeared into books. I’m now more settled, but I still travel through fiction. These days, I am reading fiction by African women. You should be, too! There is so much stunning literature out there. These five books are just the beginning, but they are novels I can’t stop thinking about.


I wrote...

Wait for God to Notice

By Sari Fordham,

Book cover of Wait for God to Notice

What is my book about?

Wait for God to Notice is a memoir about growing up in Uganda. It is also a memoir about mothers and daughters and about how children both know and don’t know their parents. As teens, Fordham and her sister, Sonja, consider their mother overly cautious. After their mother dies of cancer, the author begins to wonder who her mother really was. As she recalls her childhood in Uganda―the way her mother killed snakes, sweet-talked soldiers, and sold goods on the black market―Fordham understands that the legacy her mother left her daughters is one of courage and capability.

Beatrice's Goat

By Page McBrier, Lori Lohstoeter (illustrator),

Book cover of Beatrice's Goat

This is a true story about a little girl in Africa, named Beatrice. Her family is poor and cannot afford to send her to school. Until the day when her family is given a goat, which gives the family the ability to earn an income. Hilary Clinton has written the Afterword to this beautiful kid’s picture book. I actually know Beatrice personally, and her life is a real-life Cinderella story that inspires such hope.

Who am I?

My Globetrotter Book’s creative adventure originated from a deep desire to show the world to my son... I am from Quebec, Canada, but I have lived and traveled across the globe with my family for 20+ years and – so far – have lived in Montreal, Paris, New York, Tokyo, and Bangkok! I work as an international consultant on water security issues with the United Nations and other international organisations. My son has grown up, so now, I continue to inspire other kids to explore the myriad beauties and cultures of the world and, as of 2022, to "journey within" with the creation of My Bodytrotter Book.


I wrote...

My Globetrotter Book: Paris

By Marisha Wojciechowska,

Book cover of My Globetrotter Book: Paris

What is my book about?

My Globetrotter Book offers a multitude of fun and stimulating insights into the world for kids, with personalized My Globetrotter Book Certificates offered in each volume to reward young globetrotters for their discovery!

Draw, decode, create, find, color, solve, associate, quiz your way through Paris. Finish drawing the Eiffel Tower. Find your way through the Montmartre maze. Louis XIV needs your help to organize his day. Identify the different Paris neighbourhoods on the map. And so much more! Packed with activities that challenge the mind and offer a unique way to explore the City of Lights. To prepare for your next family trip, revisit a place you have already been, explore a new culture from home, or simply to transform a child into a citizen of the world. My Globetrotter Book: Paris is a Mom’s Choice Awards® Gold Recipient

A Bigger Picture

By Vanessa Nakate,

Book cover of A Bigger Picture: My Fight to Bring a New African Voice to the Climate Crisis

Vanessa Nakate is a young Ugandan climate activist who was excised from a photo of gathered young climate warriors (which included Greta Thunberg) as they prepared a response to DAVOS, the World Economic Forum accused of peddling the destructive myth of ‘eternal economic growth.’ (The other four activists in the photograph were all white, suggesting racism operates structurally at many levels—and within multiple contexts.) Nakate provides a refreshing perspective of driving climate activism from the Global South—centering those not only most detrimentally impacted by climate depredations, but also the most disempowered to respond and be heard. Her concluding chapter on ten practical things one can do, provides a hopeful and concrete map for personal climate action, including creative imagining. I loved her emphasis on local action too—no change is too small.


Who am I?

Growing up in Zambia and then South Africa, I was immersed in the natural landscapes and the fantastic variety of African plants and wildlife. However, I increasingly became aware of many other human injustices happening around me—e.g., human to human: the extreme racism of white supremacy (apartheid). Additionally, human to other animals: the ivory and wildlife ‘trade,’ resulting in what has been called The Sixth Extinction (of plants and other animals.) Alongside this destruction of life is the critical climate crisis and the financial appropriation of vital resources for profit—none more vital than water, for water is life. These books emphasise the ethical sanctity of all living beings!


I wrote...

Water Must Fall

By Nick Wood,

Book cover of Water Must Fall

What is my book about?

On a near future, drying and dying Earth—who gets to both drink and live? Follow the precarious journeys of three ‘ordinary’ people as they cross Southern Africa and the arid American west, looking for firm footholds, from which to fight the multi-national water corporations, that have privatized and taken over the world’s dwindling water supplies. Hope eventually comes, from learning to stand together, but are they willing to pay the heavy price, to find ways to ensure that (for all), water must fall?

“This is the story of people struggling with a climate situation that is out of their control. It’s a situation that soon may become universal, so there’s an extra edge to this novel that makes it especially compelling.” Kim Stanley Robinson.

When Water Makes Mud

By Janie Reinart, Morgan Taylor (illustrator),

Book cover of When Water Makes Mud: A Story of Refugee Children

Janie Reinart’s lyrical telling of this story, coupled with Morgan Taylor’s beautiful illustrations, takes the reader on a ride filled with love and emotion. It’s about refugee children who have, as the author says, “nothing but dreams.” Big Sister wants Little Sister to be happy, so she decides she can create something from nothing. She makes amazing things, but they don’t last. However, when Big Sister makes a mud doll, the two sisters play together, create other mud dolls, and continue to dreamWhat affected me the most as I read this is that this book is based on a real refugee camp, and proceeds are donated to UNICEF where our collective kindness can have the power to heal. 


Who am I?

I am a teacher, writer, mother, and grandmother who sees the debilitating effects of meanness and the healing effects of kindness daily. In case that isn’t reason enough for writing A Flood of Kindness, I’m also what some call “A Floodie.” Like my character’s home flooded, so did mine. As devastating as it was, the kindness of others was overwhelming. I spent time with children whose homes also flooded. Aside from losing material things, it is easy to feel powerless. Like myself, I found that the children began their healing when they were able to give back, even in very small ways. I knew this had to be my book. 


I wrote...

A Flood of Kindness

By Ellen Leventhal, Blythe Russo (illustrator),

Book cover of A Flood of Kindness

What is my book about?

A Flood of Kindness demonstrates the healing power of kindness to all children, especially those who have experienced grief or loss. When Charlotte’s home floods, she thinks only of her loss until a small act of kindness puts her on the road to healing, and she realizes that she’s not as powerless as she thought. Children will be encouraged to be kind to those who need a friend and empowered to help others in whatever way they can, no matter how small. This story demonstrates that kindness is so powerful that it can heal both the giver and the receiver. 

Or, view all 10 books about Uganda

New book lists related to Uganda

All book lists related to Uganda

Bookshelves related to Uganda