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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs