News / Africa

Solar Eclipse Gives Ugandan Town Day in the Sun

An eclipse monument was built just outside the village to commemorate the solar eclipse, in Pakwach, Uganda, Nov. 3, 2013. (H. Heuler/VOA News)
An eclipse monument was built just outside the village to commemorate the solar eclipse, in Pakwach, Uganda, Nov. 3, 2013. (H. Heuler/VOA News)
A total solar eclipse on Sunday thrust the small Ugandan town of Pakwach into the international spotlight, as one of the best places in the world to view it. The event has transformed the town, though not everyone thinks it is for the better.

Before Sunday, few people outside Uganda had heard of Pakwach. With a dusty collection of bars and shops lining the road, Pakwach has always been little more than a pit stop for any tourist who makes it to the remote northwest.

Over the weekend all of that changed, however, as Pakwach became the best place in Uganda - and some say in the world - to view a spectacular total solar eclipse.

The Ugandan government had predicted that tens of thousands of visitors would descend on Uganda for the event. Stephen Wakunga, Pakwach’s town clerk, said the town has been preparing for months - painting facades, improving sanitation and hastily finishing buildings that had sat half-built for years.

“Although we are going to be overwhelmed by the number of visitors that will come, we want to see that sanitation and hygiene is highly maintained. So that the town, although it’s a small one, looks healthy to live in,” said Wakunga.


People viewed the eclipse through everything from cellophane to strips of developed film, in Pakwach, Uganda, Nov. 3, 2013. (H. Heuler/VOA News)People viewed the eclipse through everything from cellophane to strips of developed film, in Pakwach, Uganda, Nov. 3, 2013. (H. Heuler/VOA News)
x
People viewed the eclipse through everything from cellophane to strips of developed film, in Pakwach, Uganda, Nov. 3, 2013. (H. Heuler/VOA News)
People viewed the eclipse through everything from cellophane to strips of developed film, in Pakwach, Uganda, Nov. 3, 2013. (H. Heuler/VOA News)
New commerce streams

Thanks to the eclipse, Pakwach also now has a brand-new hotel and the region’s only tourist information center. The town is hoping it will attract tourists even after the sun reappears, according to Wakunga.

“There are some cultural location sights that, because of this event, are going to be developed to attract tourists, and some fall within this town.  I hope that it will boost our local revenue, definitely,” he said.

But fears of another Westgate-style attack meant that the carnival atmosphere was somewhat dampened by heightened security.

Harriet Apili, a Pakwach resident, said heavy-handed police tactics have been making life hard for weeks. “Now when you come out you find these policemen, they are asking you where you’re going, making the life of the locals kind of difficult.”

Plus, she added, prices have risen beyond what some local residents can afford. “It’s a benefit to the business men and women, and a problem to the buyers. For example, the price of fish used to be at 15,000, but now it has doubled up to 30,000 because of the eclipse,” she said.

There were real health risks, as well. Many feared that villagers in this remote corner of Uganda might not understand the danger of staring directly at the sun, and that thousands could damage their eyes.

Doctors in the local heath center say they spent weeks going from village to village, warning people not to look at the sun. Knowing villagers would not have access to eclipse glasses, they told them to view the eclipse through strips of developed film or black plastic bags.

Health concerns

Apili, who works in surrounding villages, said many people feared more than just going blind. “They are saying now that if there is going to be total darkness then they are afraid it might be the end of the world.  God has gotten angry at people and is trying to end the world. That is now what they are using to preach the gospel.”

As the sky darkened on Sunday and the sun was transformed into a glowing ring of fire, though, the mood among the those gathered around Pakwach was mostly one of wonder and excitement.

“What I came purposely to see, I have seen it. It was very nice, and it was fantastic,” said one viewer, as the gathered crowd of observers cheered.

People watched the eclipse through everything from bits of cellophane to wrapping paper. Most used methods that were not officially recommended.  

Doctors say they have not yet had any patients with damaged eyes. But one local doctor pointed out that it may take time for villagers to come forward, and that they are still preparing to treat people if they do.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs