Wednesday May 28 2014

Once Gulu’s business hub

The junction where exports and imports used to be cleared.

The junction where exports and imports used to be cleared. It was referred to as the Custom Corner because it is where goods used to be checked. photo by Julius Ocungi 

By Martin Odong

On the dusty Gulu-Atiak-Juba road, two kilometres from the heart of Gulu Town, there still stands a remarkable feature of the former customs, where the popular Custom Corner derives its name.

Now a village, Custom Corner is where both imports and exports would be filtered before they were cleared to enter the country. It is located in Layibi division, Gulu Municipality.

The name came into existence in the 1960s, where taxes were levied from both exports and imports. Due to the booming business at the time, Custom Corner became famous with one of the biggest bar called Regina, that brought in people of all races. It was known for Congolese music that was popular at the time.

At the same location, there still stands a club, which attracted artistes from Kenya, DR Congo and the locals from Buganda.

John Richard and Jane Mary Oketch, a couple that has been married for 52 years and used to frequent the club, say the place was the centre of business in Gulu District.

According to LC I chairperson, Walter Opiro, Custom Corner is fairly populated as compared to other areas in Gulu with over 700 people.
Opiro adds that the place is poorly developed as a result of the land owner’s failure to sell it off to developers.
“Therefore, it has become hard for the area to develop. LCIII Chairperson Layibi Division, Alfred Oluba, says.
He adds, “The over 20 years’ war in the region not only destroyed the existing businesses in the area, it also frustrated development in the region.”

Opiro states that sanitation in Custom Corner is alarming. “People do not dispose off waste as required and yet the place only has one protected well. Additionally, while we have electricity in the area, many locals cannot afford it because they do not have jobs.”

The area has only one private nursery school, named, after the Acholi Paramount Chief, Rwot David Onen Acana Memorial School. It does not have schools of other levels. So any child beyond the nursery level has to go to the next village.

The LC III explains that revenue collection in the area is very little. “The place has no sources of income that are reliable. There are a few businesses in place that can generate local revenue,” he explains.

While the area is safe, the locals still rely on the LC I defence. However, prostitution is common among young girls and boys, coupled with gambling, who play cards. He added that, he is trying to encourage the locals to give land to developers so that business booms as it was in the past, given its strategic location on Gulu- Juba Road.