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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid