Taking a trip to Ajulu trading centre in Patiko makes history worthy of attention with its stark evidence of slave trade, writes Lambert Brian Rusoke
History as a subject on the Ugandan schools’ syllabus has received lots of criticism in regard to what the content therein brings to the future aspirations of an academician. In a country that is yearly preaching the importance of science subjects albeit few facilities to champion the cause, historians or history students are beginning to have little debating space. But that will take a transition because history is more than a subject. Going to Ajulu trading centre in Patiko, the fort, Sir Samuel Baker established as a landmark to showcase his prowess in ending slave trade in the Equatorial province makes history an interesting subject to reckon with.
Brief history of the Fort
Dorothy Middleton’s book Baker of the Nile (1949) is a full-length biography that describes Sir Samuel White Baker (1821-1893) as an English explorer, author and administrator who explored the Upper Nile and discovered Lake Albert. He also sought to suppress slave trade in Southern Sudan. Married to Florence Ninian Von Sass, a young and beautiful Hungarian, in 1860, he arrived in Cairo determined to seek the source of the River Nile and stamp out slave trade in the region.
Unfortunately, as fate would have it, he met John Speke and Richard Grant who had already discovered the source of the Nile from the South, leaving him disappointed with his delay to reach the spot earlier than the two, according to the biography. But in his surveillance of Southern Sudan, he was prompted into heading further south into northern Uganda, in the Acholi region. He singled out Patiko as a vibrant station for his mission. His undoing, however, was that Patiko was where the Arab slave traders had set base for their slave trade business. It meant overpowering them to take their base.
The Fort is located 32km out of Gulu town in Kal Parish, Patiko sub-county. This structure of well-endowed rocks is a magnificent feature to look at. The rocky landscape covers a full 9.4 hectares and has structural features that were significant to the owners then. Among them are three rocky hut structures built on top of the rocks; one was a granary store for Arab loot from neighbouring Acholi people, the other was for storing artillery and the third an administrative office and visitors’ room.
There is a very high rock on top of which Arabs used to monitor the security of the region and spot enemies far off. Here, one can view the neighbouring towns of Patiko and the Kilak Hills in Amuru District. At the southern end of the Fort is where unfit slaves were put to the guillotine by their Arabs masters.
When Baker overpowered the Arabs, he didn’t destroy the structure but gave it a British touch by raising the British Flag on the aforementioned highest point rock, and also on one of the hut structures, inscribing on it the words, “Fatiko 1872 -88, founded by Sir Samuel Baker, occupied by Emin and Gordon”. Emin Pasha and Richard Gordon managed the fort when Baker went back to England. Due to his British accent, he used Fatiko instead of Patiko.
Who manages the Fort?
My narrator and guide confided in me that there’s a management crisis as everyone wants to reap from the structure. Sub-county chiefs, clan heads, politicians and local council officials all claim to be in charge yet their intention is to get money from tourists who flock the place. Sometimes people dismantle the rocks for house construction purposes.
I managed to read a memo written by Gulu RDC, Rtd Col Walter Ochora to all those claiming to own the fort. He stated that the structure was under the Government of Uganda and controlled by the Ministry of Tourism. But if so, why is the Fort in a bushy place? Hadn’t it been for the efforts of the local council chief, glancing at the fort from the roadside would be impossible. The same memo hints that the highest bidder can take over management of the place and give it the facelift history fully deserves.
For a site that was a hub for slave trade history, later an administrative centre under Baker, then a hideout for LRA rebels at the peak of the war in Acholi, this place deserves to have a befitting facelift and give the people of Gulu something to smile about.