Education, health and Job creation top of agenda
By Peter Labeja
Amos Ogaba has been operating a retail shop since 1994 when he dropped out of school while in primary seven. The strategic location of the shop at Acholi-bur Trading Centre, along Kitgum–Lira and Kitgum-Gulu highway, means middlemen flock his store for sort-after agro-produce such as ground nuts, rice and millet.
But lack of agro-processing plants in the area coupled with erratic power supply restricts him to selling unprocessed products. Ogaba’s dream, like that of his fellow traders in the area, is to process rice and maize flour and package it for better returns.
“To add value to our produce, we must spend days in Gulu or Lira town, where there are agro-processing plants,” says Ogaba. “Otherwise, we use hand machines for threshing our ground nuts and maize.”
The 107-kilometre journey from Pader to Lira or the 133 kilometres to Gulu is normally arduous because of the potholed, dusty murrum roads. Transport cost eats into Ogaba’s profit.
In addition to being time-consuming, the quality of the flour is compromised as it often gets contaminated with sand particles.
During heavy rains, traders in the area do not process their produce due to impassible roads and close their stores early in blackouts to avoid being robbed of daily sales.
The Gulu-Kitgum road has appeared in the national budget for four consecutive financial years, with little work done. The government only started tarmacking the linkage between Gulu-Kitgum and Musingo border post through Acholi-bur after the current financial year budget took effect in July.
When completed in three years, it will be only the fourth national road upgrade in the area over the last 30 years. The other roads before the Gulu-Kitgum road that had tasted upgrade during the period are Gulu-Atiak, Gulu- Kampala and Gulu- Lira roads. The rest of the road networks remain in deplorable states.
Ogaba’s business is one of at least 8 percent Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) enumerated in Business Census of 2010 in Northern Uganda. Five years down the road, very little has changed.
While Ogaba is grateful that peace has been restored in the region, he is uncertain what the 2016 general elections will bring.
His greatest fear is that whoever is voted into government might not work on the roads but instead introduce new taxes. Ogaba says he will vote in favour of a good business and investment climate in next year’s general elections.
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As the head of his family, Ogaba commands at least five votes. And when added to those in his social spheres, the entrepreneur is a big force to reckon with. But there is one big challenge Ogaba and his colleagues face: voter bribery that he says has affected how his area voted in past elections.
“Here in Acholi-bur, many voters still believe that the candidate who offers “Kitu Kidogo” (small gifts) has catered for their stomach, thus deserving of their vote. Going by this pattern, we ended up filling our public offices with leaders who don’t mind about the economic transformation of our status at all,” Ogaba says.
“They are corrupt leaders whose children do not share the same rural schools with our children.”
This time round, Ogaba wants to inspire his social network to focus more on issues that affect them and stay true to their hearts.
Eng + Luo
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Access to financial institutions
While Pader, Agago and Kitgum districts boast of several bank branches such as that of DFCU, Stanbic, Centenary and Post Bank, Lamwo district is hardest-hit when it comes to access to financial institutions. This means high cost of doing business and prevalent financial illiteracy as those intending to save do so in small groups or in bedrooms, despite the associated risks.
Compared to other districts across the country with competitive loan interests, transforming agriculture from peasantry to commercial agriculture in Lamwo, Pader, Agago and Kitgum districts remain an uphill task.
Vincent Okot Obutu, a father of five, is anxious to see concerns over quality of primary education, access to health services and increased agricultural productivity addressed by different candidate manifestos.
He says he plans to look at real commitments to address the welfare of teachers serving in 50 primary and seven secondary government-aided schools in Pader during the forthcoming general elections.
According to Okot, high enrolment of children yet there is low morale among teachers have combined to affect the performance of students.
Okot wants a review of the policy of automatic promotion in schools – a decision the government arrived at three years ago, apparently, to avoid paying for pupils who repeat classes under free education programmes.
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Besides, he also wants to see the colonial education curriculum–that is blamed for producing job-seekers as opposed to the current economic demands that require skills-based education to produce job creators–must be reviewed.
Nothing elicits the emotions of the people more than the question of land. But in Pader, just like it is in Kitgum and Lamwo districts, the growing land disputes is causing serious uncertainty.
Land, the biggest factor of production in the region, is customarily owned without any forms of documentation to prove family ownership. And the collective decision held over the family land has seen disputes arise. This, voters in the area say, they want settled through dialogues or laws.
Christine Acii, a resident of Lamwo Gogo village in Palabek Kal Sub County, Lamwo district, is one of the 53 percent of the population in the area trapped in abject poverty and cannot afford basic necessities or health services.
The 53-year-old woman, who depends on free health care services in district hospitals, says the last time she went to Palabek Kal Health Center III, she was not given the treatment for her chest pain. As she prepares to cast her vote in the 2016 general elections, Acii wants those aspiring for leadership positions to address personnel gaps and shortage of drugs in the four district hospitals in Lamwo, Pader, Agago and Kitgum.
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Surveys of the hospitals indicate that they suffer acute personnel gaps in critical sectors such as paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, and, shockingly, general practitioners. The situation is similar in lower health units.
In the South Sudan border district of Lamwo, previous elections were characterised with patterns of block votes as voters identified more with candidates who emerged from their clanship than merit. Acii says voting in this manner protected them from exploitation.
Grace Layet, another elderly resident of Amuca South village in Ywaya Parish, PalabekKal Sub County, says the plight of women in the area is her biggest motivation to participate in politics.
Layet says the village has high incidents of gender-based violence perpetrated by men addicted to alcohol. She has rare prescription to ask those elected to implement to help women become economically empowered and independent.
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Back in Acholi -bur Sub County in Pader district, Collins Anywar, a youthful veterinary officer, says it is time for youth unemployment in the country to be addressed if the area is to deal with increasing crime rates. Anywar recommends that all sub counties be equipped with vocational institutes to impart vocational skills to jobless youth.
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To prevent gambling, many youth have embraced BodaBoda motorcycle taxis to provide services in the transport sector. Anywar says with roads being upgraded in the region, the future of transport business is bright. But government, he adds, must complement the employment in transport sector with skills training in order to provide quality services in largely virgin housing and construction sector that require metal fabrication and welding, among others.
To help solve the problem of lack of access to electricity, some residents of Kitgum district are suggesting making available solar technologies to increase access to clean and reliable energy.
This can be realised through government commitment allowing importation of cheap or subsidised solar equipment technologies.
With just months to the 2016 general elections, it remains to be seen whether the aspirations of these electorate will swing the political pendulum towards ensuring progress or, like in elections past, produce yet another stillbirths—promises that only leave sour taste in the mouth.