Today, West Nile starts official celebrations to mark 100 years of being part of Uganda following the 1914 Anglo-Belgian Agreement. This is a well-deserved anniversary for a region that has endured a checkered past. Half of West Nile’s population was exiled when forces that toppled Idi Amin launched reprisal attacks on his kinsmen, resulting in the gruesome 1981 Ombaci massacre and destructive back-to-back armed rebellions.
With the return of peace, this day should be more than just a fête. They should use this opportunity to rally together, reflect on the past and re-commit to working harder and smarter to hand the next generation a more prosperous future. The opportunities are many, the will has been scant. And this celebration will not obscure the sobering reality: widespread poverty, unemployment and illiteracy.
This does not undercut the endurance of those, particularly prospective business men and women, whose versatility and sacrifices laid the foundation to thriving commerce, urbanisation and physical development in the region.
Smuggling in yesteryears enriched many in West Nile, but education is the best equaliser of opportunities. Parents should pay for their children to attain higher qualifications especially that Muni University, the first public university in the region, is expected to open its doors to pioneer students this year.
Producing traditional food crops on a commercial scale is one option, certain to diminish dependence on tobacco-growing. Organisers are bandying some clever legacy project ideas; a museum in Arua; tourism information centre in Nebbi alongside development and marketing of West Nile’s 40-plus tourism sites; and, working with government and development partners to re-stock white rhinos at their natural Ajai Game reserve habitat.
Leaders of other districts must guide their people to pick and implement specific viable projects.
Broadly, upgrading the inter-district infrastructure is crucial and the proposed West Nile eco-city should be replicated as a model to plan for environmentally-friendly and livable towns.
With dual international access corridor to the large South Sudan and DR Congo markets, the government has an obligation to invest, say in upgrading Arua airfield to an international airport, to facilitate maximum rewards from West Nile’s strategic border location. It’s also a central place to keep watch over Great Lakes security.
The people in West Nile should execute their personal responsibilities and its leaders must unite, not divide the people and speak with one voice while lobbying for development projects.
Only prosperity borne of government-people partnerships will outlast generations.