Life has sometimes been tough for Jinja, which has seen its fortunes ebb and flow since the arrival of Indian traders at the start of the 20th century.
These traders helped to develop a rather beautiful lakeside town that was once the heartland of Uganda’s industrial sector. By the late 1950s Jinja was at the peak of its powers and, today, a walk around the town will reveal that many of its finest buildings date from the early post-war period.
Low-cost hydroelectricity from the new Nalubaale Power Station only accelerated Jinja’s post-war development, as did the establishment of a major textile operation employing up to 3,000 people.
During the 1970s and 1980s, however, Jinja went into a sharp decline with the expulsion of the town’s Asian community. Now the town is back to its best as business thrives once more and many of the people who left have returned to reclaim their properties and launch new commercial ventures.
These returnees have brought investment with them, even if it is only to restore their family house. Jinja city centre, so carefully laid out during colonial times with broad, tree-lined avenues and art deco-style architecture, is now full of activity again.
With Jinja’s economic resurgence has come the development of niche tourism. Jinja is East Africa’s top destination for thrill-seekers, with white water rafting, bungee jumping, jet-boating and river surfing all on offer for those who like to live life on the wild side.
At the same time, Jinja has become a popular away-from-it-all conference venue for Kampala-based companies and organisations. The city’s peaceful atmosphere and a reputation for high attendance from delegates often give Jinja the edge over the nation’s capital, only 80 km or so away by road.
In terms of accommodation, hotels in Jinja are mostly small and family run, with one or two notable exceptions. Most have views over Lake Victoria or the River Nile. This is a great venue for a weekend getaway, with lots to see and do, especially for the young at heart.