After over a decade since guns were silenced in Northern Uganda, the majority of rural communities are still struggling to recover from the effects of the protracted conflict that engulfed the region for over three decades. In most remote locations across the region like in Omoro Town Council where we held a Kabake regional dialogue on Friday 22nd Nov 2019, many people still lack access to basic necessities such food, education, clothing and health services. These challenges persist due to reasons that are both personal and institutional.
On the personal front, the majority of the rural populace in the region are still stuck in a dependency mode. “Being dependent kills our urgency to be problem solvers, to be innovative and be responsible for shaping our destinies’’ noted Ojok Okello in his closing remarks during the dialogue.
Ojok was reiterating the address by Douglas Peter Okello, the Omoro District LC5 Chairperson who emphasized that “the mentality of dependency syndrome must stop if the region is to develop’’. The district chairman called upon the audience to wake up and hard work so improve on their livelihoods and wellbeing.
For contextual purposes, the dependency syndrome in Northern Uganda was exacerbated during the war because while in the Internally Displaced Peoples’ camps, communities were surviving on relief items aided by humanitarian organizations.
Jimmy Odongkara, the Local Councilor of V Omoro Town Council also blamed the government for lack of a clear agenda to rehabilitate northern Uganda. To Odongkara, the government focused majorly on wrong priorities to promote development in the region. “For instance, if I am to ask now — what can you tell me was the greatest achievements of programmes such as Northern Uganda Rehabilitation Programme (NURP), Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF), and Peace Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP)?’’ he asked the audience who failed to point to one achievement they considered to be a major success such programmes.
“Instead of focusing on capacity development and changing our mindsets, these programmes reinforced and continued projected the dependency syndrome that started in the camps”, Odongkara said. He also lambasted the few capacity building projects for their inability to provide more time and resources to the participants to effectively benefit. Most projects were short term, others just for a week.
To add more insights to Odongkara’s point, the LC5 Chairperson Okello Douglas explained that the displacement disrupted development in the sub region and it will take years to rebuild it. He also decried the lack of coherent policies and political will to develop the region. For instance, Northern Uganda has been ‘widened’ to include up to 55 districts in Uganda.
‘’I wonder how districts like Mbale, Masindi, Buikwe among others suddenly became part of the Northern Uganda. It was a grave mistake for the government to include districts which were not at the epicenter of the LRA insurgency to benefit from these development funds’’ he said. This, he said over stretched the resource basket of funds meant to develop the region significantly reducing their abilities to create tangible positive impacts on the communities affected by the war.
However, Kenneth Oringa, a local farmer from Omoro District contended that infact, the government has done a lot in rebuilding northern Uganda. “The problem is that despite all the programmes initiated by government to develop northern Uganda, corruption remains a major setback in achieving the set goal,” says Oringa. He cited Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) saying it is benefiting only few individuals who are related to those who are charged with the implementation of such programme.
Another resident, Ms Lilly Akot also agreed that corruption among civil servants and politicians is frustrating government’s efforts to develop northern Uganda citing the example of the 2012 Plan for the Reconstruction and Development Programme (PRDP) corruption scandal in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) when up to UGX 150bn was lost.
“Corrupt and incompetent leaders are the ones who continue to thwart development efforts in the region because it makes it difficult for funds and other physical supports from government to trickle down to the intended beneficiaries” Ms Akot said.
To promote inclusive development in the region, the Kabake dialogue participants also called upon government and development partners to consider the marginalised groups such as the elderly and disable persons. “As a disabled youth, I can not do much alone” lamented Rose Akello, a disable youth in Omoro Town Council. “Development programmes should be designed with people like us in mind” she requested.
The keynote speaker, Richard Obedi, a development consultant also attributed the poor progress towards achieving sustainable development in the region to ineffective and bad leadership at all levels of government politics and bureaucracy. “Political leaders always appear during campaigns and once campaigns are over, they disappear. They only search for votes. That’s all,” Obedi lamented. He said that this predicament has made it hard to achieve positive development outcomes and heightened mistrust between the electorates and their voters.
Obedi also decried other vices like land grabbing that keeps disempowering communities in Acholi since land is a crucial factor of production. “For example, we are aware of what is happening in Apaa and Lakang where locals have been embroiled in violent land wrangle with the government. Such contestations and wrangles will keep on deterring our progress” notes Obedi.
During the dialogue, there was a general consensus that the government and other development partners should treat northern Uganda as a special case less the rebuilding of the region will continue to be a wild goose chase. One participant from the audience likened the region to a patient who recovering from an illness. “Such a patient needs good care, attention and a well-balanced diet” she euphemistically said.
Participants at the dialogue also agreed that folding their arms and waiting for government or NGOs to come to their rescue wouldn’t work. In fact, “our experience should teach us that external assistance won’t deliver us out of the vicious cycle of poverty. We should take personal initiative and do something and when external help comes, it gets us somewhere along the way” Ojok Okello said in his closing remarks.
Kabake Community Radio Programme is implemented by 102 Mega FM, a local radio station based in Gulu District, northern Uganda through funding and technical assistance from Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. Every week, the Mega FM team traverse different villages in Northern Uganda to offer a platform for free exchange of ideas and debates on crucial and various development questions relevant to grassroots communities in the region. The programme which started in 2002 is the longest sponsored radio programme in Uganda.