Win locals to back Atiak Sugar Works

Wednesday February 19 2020

Investment. Atiak Sugar Factory in Amuru

Investment. Atiak Sugar Factory in Amuru District. FILE PHOTO  

By Editor

The Acholi Paramount Chief, former East African Legislative Assembly Speaker Dan Kidega, and Kilak North MP Anthony Akol at the weekend pleaded with residents of Atiak to stop setting on fire the sugarcane plantation in the area. Rwot David Onen Achana II labelled the act by the local communities as rebellious, vengeful and malicious.
Rwot Achana blamed unequal sharing and distribution of fortunes derived from the Atiak Sugar Works, while MP Akol alluded to conflict of investment and sabotage by some quarters he did not name. Mr Kidega threatened drastic actions against saboteurs.
But what is clear is that the belated plea by the leaders and seeking to push around the locals is like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. Rwot Achana’s appeal that the locals should channel grievances through their leaders are coming rather late after three separate fires have consumed more than 700 acres of Atiak Sugar Works cane plantation, with a whopping loss estimated at Shs2 billion.
Regrettably, as MP Akol has said, the rampant fires are a huge frustration and setback to both Horyal Investments Holdings Company Ltd and the government as key shareholders, with the locals as direct beneficiaries.
But for a durable solution, the shareholders need to re-engage with the surrounding communities for clear information, communication, and education on the project for genuine buy-in and ownership.
But as things are, the overly enthusiastic attitude by MP Akol that no matter what happens, the project must be up and running by April, is unhelpful in the long-run. Similarly, resort to security arresting suspects in order to get to the bottom of the issue, as suggested by Mr Kidega, is good, but won’t win the hearts and minds of the project-affected communities.
Quickly, to normalise the investment climate, a stakeholder engagement should be undertaken with cultural, local and central government leaders, as well as the locals for a clear buy-in and ownership of the project gains. The residents should be convinced to appreciate the immense benefits from the project, including sugar and power production, and increased household incomes from their participation as cane out-growers and suppliers.
The residents should also recognise the accruing amenities such as roads, schools, ready market for their agricultural products, and employment as factory workers.
In sum, the way forward for Atiak Sugar Works Ltd is not arm-twisting the locals but winning their hearts and minds to buy in and own the Atiak Sugar Works Ltd.