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

Anti-Terror Drills Highlight China’s Push Into Central Asia

China, Russia, several central Asian countries wrap up massive anti terrorism military drills in Inner Mongolia More

Erdogan’s First Step: Secure More Power in New Role in Turkey

Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey's first popularly elected president on Thursday; he picked former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu as PM More

Pakistan Army Fails to Break Political Deadlock

PM Sharif claims he didn't ask army to defuse crisis; military rejects claim More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assaulti
X
Daniel Schearf
August 29, 2014 9:30 PM
After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.

AppleAndroid