During British colonial rule in the 18th and 19th centuries, northern Uganda was less developed than the rest of the country. The people were conscripted into the army and the police. Many were sent to fight in the first and second World Wars.
Several rebel groups formed by the end of 1986. These rebel groups were former soldiers, i.e., the Uganda National Liberation Front from the government before Yoweri Museveni took power. By 1987, most of these rebels had joined Museveni's force. Then came another rebel group led by Alice Auma, who was known also by the name Lakwena, after a deceased soldier who she claimed possessed her body, from 1988 to 1989.
The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) sprang up in the 1990s after Auma/Lakwena went to Kenya. The LRA became increasing violent in Gulu and surrounding communities. Up to 15,000 children, known as "night commuters", were fleeing into the city for safety every evening. In 1996, the Ugandan government ordered all civilians in northern Uganda to relocate to internally displaced person (IDP) camps. Several organizations, such as Stop the Genocide in Northern Uganda, called these camps "concentration camps" and demanded their immediate closure. At one time, an estimated two million people lived in these camps. In April 2009, all the IDP camps were closed and the people were allowed to return to their villages. By July 2009, an estimated 1,452,000 people (80.7 percent of those living in the camps) had voluntarily left the camps to return home. Since the spring of 2007, there has been relative peace in the region as the LRA has became a much less significant threat.
In 2012, the American and Ugandan Red Cross implemented a plan to accurately map Gulu in Open Street Map. The map was created using crowd-sourced mapping traced on satellite images donated by the U.S. government, which were then tagged with the names of streets, businesses, and facilities by local volunteers. The aim of the project was to improve disaster management.
Gulu's climate is tropical wet and dry (Aw) according to the Köppen-Geiger climate classification system.
The Acholi people are the main inhabitants of the city of Gulu (80%). The majority are Christians. There are a range of spoken languages including Luo, Kiswahili, English, and Luganda.
The national census in 2002 estimated Gulu's population at 119,430. The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) estimated the population at 149,900 in 2010. In 2011, UBOS estimated the mid-year population at 154,300. The 2014 population census put the population at 152,276.
Gulu is the economic capital of the Northern Region and the headquarters of the Gulu District.
Gulu is the home of Gulu University, which has a wide range of programs including agriculture, medicine, business management, and conflict resolution. It is one of the two public universities in the Northern Region, the other being Muni University in Arua. Gulu University is the parent institution of the Gulu University School of Medicine, one of the nine accredited medical schools in Uganda as of February 2015. The Uganda Management Institute, a government-owned tertiary teaching and research institution in management and administration, has a campus in Gulu.
There are three hospitals in the city: St. Mary's Hospital Lacor, the Gulu Regional Referral Hospital, and Gulu Independent Hospital.
The city is served by Gulu Airport, which has a tarmac runway that measures 10,314 feet (3,144 m). Gulu Airport is the second biggest airport in Uganda after Entebbe International Airport.
Gulu has a station on the metre gauge railway that connects Tororo and Pakwach, which had been out of service since 1993. Rift Valley Railways funded the clearing of vegetation and the repair of infrastructure, thus allowing the first commercial train for 20 years to run through Gulu on 14 September 2013.
The home venue for Gulu United FC is Pece War Memorial Stadium, which has a capacity of 3,000 people. The stadium was built by the British in 1959, with long-delayed renovations starting in April 2017.
Gulu is the base of several radio stations, including Choice FM that has an estimated 5 million to 6 million listeners each evening. Other radio stations there include Jal Fresh 96.9 (Gulu's first English-speaking station), Mega FM 102.1, Radio Rupiny 97.5, Radio Four 89.4, King FM 90.2, Childcare International 91.5 & 98.9, Norah Radio 92.1, UBC Radio 102.1 & 103.1, and Radio Maria 105.7 Gulu FM Favor Of God (the only evangelical Station) ADF FN.
The Taks Center is the only arts and entertainment center in Gulu. The center has large lawns, so many locals arrange their wedding parties and other cultural activities like Acholi dance etc.
Other points of interest in the city, or near its borders, include:Headquarter of Diocese of Northern Uganda (Anglican Communion)
Headquarters of the 4th Division of the Uganda People's Defence Force
Offices of Gulu City Council
Gulu central market
Gulu Currency Center, a currency storage and processing facility owned and operated by the Bank of Uganda, Uganda's central bank.
a branch of the National Social Security Fund
Okot p'Bitek, poet