By Harold Acemah
People here have to come to a convergence that their primary source of wealth is the soil under their feet
April 21, 2014, marked 100 years since the West Nile region was annexed to the British protectorate of Uganda in 1914, the year World War I broke out in Europe. The theme of celebrations to mark the big event is celebrating our heritage and providing hope for the future.
On April 21, 1914, an Order in Council was issued by the British Government which officially promulgated new boundaries of Uganda, including, for the first time, the West Nile region which was hitherto part of the Belgian Congo. A.C. Weatherhead was dispatched to the area as the first colonial administrator and he established a new district headquarters at Arua.
Today, the West Nile region with an estimated population of 3.2 million people consists of eight districts; Adjumani, Arua, Koboko, Maracha, Moyo, Nebbi, Yumbe and Zombo. West Nile is a multi-ethnic region comprising four main tribes; Alur, Kakwa, Madi and Lugbara. Aringa is now recognised as a tribe although during the colonial era and much of the post-colonial period, the Aringa were considered as a county of the Lugbara ethnic group.
Since 1914, West Nile has been an integral part of the Northern Province which became Northern Region at independence with Gulu as regional headquarters. West Nile is today a region of the Greater North. West Nilers are, therefore, politically northerners. Any attempt to mislead our people by claiming as one junior minister did that West Nilers belong elsewhere is dishonest and unacceptable.
West Nile has experienced many challenges and gone through difficult trials and tribulations since 1979 which have tested the unity, solidarity and resolve of the gallant people of the region. West Nilers have faced these challenges with courage and emerged stronger and more united than ever. The baptism of fire which was administered to the people of West Nile from 1979 to 2002 when a peace accord was signed between the government of Uganda and UNRF II was, however, not in vain. That peace accord ended insurgency and insecurity in the region, but many of the terms of the agreement have regrettably remained unfulfilled. I hope government of Uganda will honour its treaty obligations during this centenary year.
As St. Paul wrote, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope; and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 (ESV).
The eight districts of West Nile have formed a self-help organisation called MAYANK Development Association (MDA) to spearhead homegrown efforts of the people to achieve a prosperous and peaceful West Nile by 2028 and chart the way forward for the wananchi.
The mission of MDA is to promote sustainable development and peaceful coexistence through empowerment of development actors.
On April 9, 2014, the Board of Directors of MDA, of which I am privileged to be a member, considered the Strategic Plan of the association for the period 2013-2017 which will be officially approved and launched at the May session of the board scheduled to take place at Arua Municipality. The board also approved the annual budget of MDA for the 2014/2015 financial year which totals Shs288 million.
The necessary resources to implement the MDA’s strategic plan and budget are expected to come from the eight districts, individuals, the private sector, and our development partners. As of now, MDA has received financial assistance from GIZ, a German NGO which has supported MDA for many years and for the current financial year GIZ has promised to donate Shs45 million; we are grateful for GIZ’s generous support.
On May 7, 2014, a donors’ conference is scheduled take place at Arua to mobilise resources for MDA. I would like to appeal to all friends and well-wishers of West Nile to come and participate at this important meeting; in particular, our historical and other development partners, such as Belgium, UK, Italy, France, USA, Netherlands, Japan, China, India, EU, UN, DRC and Egypt. We look forward to their participation and support for the commendable efforts of MDA to eradicate ignorance, poverty and disease as well as promote sustainable development in the region.
West Nile is also an ideal destination for investment, local and foreign. We produce the best honey in the entire world. West Nile honey won the gold medal at the Lisbon Expo in 1998 and is in very high demand in Europe, USA and China. We have deposits of many precious and strategic minerals, such as uranium, iron ore, petroleum, gas and possibly gold and silver as well. Agriculture is currently the backbone of the region’s economy. MDA welcomes genuine investors who can assist West Nile exploit its natural resources for mutual benefit.
West Nile is one of the most beautiful and hospitable regions of Uganda and hence an ideal tourist destination for visitors from near and far. We invite and encourage our fellow citizens of Uganda and cousins in the DRC to visit the region during the centenary celebrations which will end on February 3, 2015. You are assured of a vacation to remember; in addition to the beautiful scenery, you will meet and interact with our friendly, honest, and hard-working people.
May I salute and congratulate all the sons, daughters and elders of West Nile in the region, in Uganda, elsewhere in East Africa and in the diaspora on the auspicious occasion of the centenary of our region. May the Lord bless the people of West Nile!
Harold Acemah is a retired diplomat who represented Uganda at various embassies including the UN in New York.