Gen Caleb Akandwanaho, aka Salim Saleh, has pitched camp in the Rwenzori area, particularly in Tooro, for more than two months, since August 26 when he went to preside over a fundraising function for Rubona Church of Uganda in Bunyangabu District.
Gen Saleh, the coordinator of President Museveni’s development flagship project Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), has since then met several parties, especially local governments, and has also signed memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with a number of parties.
His activities, especially MoUs, have sparked mixed reactions among the locals and some local leaders are questioning the contents, motive and legality of the agreements being signed.
On Wednesday last week, for example, there was a heated debate during an extraordinary meeting of Kabarole District Council as councillors asked the district chairperson, Mr Richard Rwabuhinga, to explain the different MoUs that the district and Gen Saleh have signed over the period of time.
Mr Ruta Gideon, the councillor for Kasenda Sub-county, said during the meeting: “The chairman should explain whether it is in order for the government to sign an MoU with its own governments. What I know, Fort Portal (urban authority) is a government of its own and you have just told us in your communication that many MoUs have been signed, which some of us don’t know about.”
Mr Ruta’s reaction was in response to the communication by the district chairman, who had asked the council to thank Gen Saleh for supporting the works of the district council.
“During Gen Saleh’s visit from August 26, different MoUs have been signed with different stakeholders, including Fort Portal Municipal Council, Uganda Tea Association, Rwenzori Tourism Cluster, Rwengaju famers and Rwenzori District leaders,” Mr Rwabuhinga said.
The Hakibale Sub-county councillor, Mr Edward Asiimwe, then asked the chairman to explain why during the extraordinary council sitting, some people did not receive their facilitation and what was the source of the money Gen Saleh was using to fund the council sitting.
In response, Mr Rwabuhinga said: “I only know the person who gave us the money; who is Gen Caleb Akandwanaho. So don’t ask me the source.”
Gen Saleh has reportedly funded two sittings for Kabarole District Council and two sittings for Fort Portal Municipal Council between September and October.
According to Mr Joram Bintamanya, the head of the Kabarole District finance, planning and administration committee, it costs Shs10 million in allowances and meals to hold a district council sitting.
Former minister Edward Rugumayo, who chairs the Tooro Elders Forum, said while finding development partners is good, he has never seen a letter appointing Gen Saleh to head OWC and wonders whether he is mandated to sign MoUs on its behalf.
During his time in Fort Portal, Gen Saleh has met with Tooro Kingdom officials, small scale farmers, district and municipal officials, and religious leaders, telling them he intends to make Kabarole and Fort Portal Municipality models in implementing the OWC programme to help Fort Portal achieve its dream for a city status.
However, some residents say there is a need for the leaders to be careful with the MoUs they are signing because they could lack legal backing and can expose their assets such as land and buildings to grabbers.
Prof Rugumayo said: “You have to see the appointment letter, and what he is supposed to do. So, I am not querying what is being done; we can only know within what framework [he is operating]. If he has got those powers to do it, then it is well and good, but I have never seen his letter of appointment.”
What he has done so far
Since September, Gen Saleh has so far met district and urban authorities in Kabarole, Bunyangabu, Kyenjojo, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo districts. He is reportedly trying to make the Rwenzori sub-region a pilot project for OWC phase II from “funding to financing”.
OWC is a government programme aimed at improving people’s incomes and livelihood through improved production and value addition. Government distributes farm inputs to farmers as a start-up.
On October 16, Gen Saleh signed an MoU with Fort Portal Municipal Council, a document that was highly guarded but later leaked to the public through social media, sparking mixed reactions.
Part of the contents of the MoU indicates Fort Portal Municipality committed itself to provide free land to investors attracted by OWC.
“Kagote Housing Estate - FPM [Fort Portal Municipal] Council avails this land for construction of multi-storeyed apartments for accommodation of long term guests and executives of multi-national companies doing business in the region,” reads part of the MoU.
The MoU also mentions five prime pieces of land within the town that are to be provided for construction of three-star hotels. The plots include the current Fort Portal Police Station and the current municipal council chambers.
On Friday, while at Kitumba, the district headquarters, Gen Saleh explained the MoUs.
He said the MoUs that have been signed in the Rwenzori region are 60 per cent complete and the remaining part is implementation.
“What I got from Rwenzori in the MoUs, the majority was tourism, roads and tea estates. All those shall be implemented immediately,” he said during an induction exercise of LC1, 2 and sub-county chairpersons.
Gen Saleh said out of the 64 days he has spent in Kabarole District and Rwenzori, he has discussed extensively with all leaders in the region and reached good understanding on issues to be undertaken by OWC.
He said the MoU of Fort Portal includes upgrading of waste management, establishing of a museum, and roads. He asked leaders to always get one project per village to be funded at less than Shs10 million.
With the help of Gen Saleh, Kabarole District has finalised plans to establish an agro industrial park with the aim of improving value addition on famers’ products.
The agro industrial park is the first of its kind in the Rwenzori sub-region.
The agro industrial park will be set up on a 100-acre piece of land at Kyembogo in Busoro Sub-county. The feasibility study will cost Shs185m, to be paid by Kabarole District local government and involve studying the cost benefit of the electricity extension, mechanisation, effectiveness of marketing facilities, and social economic and environmental impact assessment, among others.
According to the district chairman, the agro industrial park will create more employment opportunities and increase the productivity of famers from the current 31 per cent to 51 per cent in Kabarole District.
“Now your district council has scored 70 per cent by passing the resolution of allowing the establishment of an agro industrial park in Kabarole District and you are going to benefit a lot,” Gen Saleh said. This was after the President’s brother mobilised the leaders and famers to welcome the idea of the park.
The park will be funded by government and famers. It will house different processing plants for animal feeds, dairy, millings, banana, cocoa, among others.
Mr Ronald Kibuka from OWC said the agro industrial park will add value on different crops such as bananas, avocado, potatoes and maize. He said this will create more jobs and thus increase local revenue of the district.
In Bundibugyo, the leadership has secured 25 acres of land that will be used for industrialisation in a bid to boost the economy of the district.
According to the district chairperson, Mr Ronald Mutegeki, the land located near Kanyamwirima Barracks in Tokwe Sub-ounty, will be used for the establishment of several projects, including setting up a cocoa processing plant.
This was done last month after the district leadership requested for a cocoa processing plant from Gen Saleh.
Gen Saleh also recently sponsored a trip of Kabarole District leaders to Kapeeka to appreciate what an industrial park means.
Gen Saleh’s camping in the Rwenzori comes at a time when the political landscape in the region has somehow backslid to the Opposition since the 2016 General Election and the subsequent age limit debate that even drew the attention of some top religious leaders in the region and elders.
“This region is sliding from NRM to the Opposition just because people are tired, they just want change. These things Gen Saleh is doing should have been done in the last 30 years” Mr Joram Bintamanya, an Opposition leader in Kabarole District Council, said.
Rwenzori is the only area in the western Uganda dominated by Opposition MPs. Even those from the ruling NRM party have been branded as “rebel MPs” for being critical of government.
So Gen Saleh pumping money in projects in the area is seen as laying ground for the next elections.
Mr Proper Businge, a former councillor of Fort Portal Municipal Council, said Gen Saleh is just playing politics without intentions of developing the area. He said President Museveni could have decided to use OWC to bolster his support in the region because the leaders in Fort Portal were vehemently opposed to the scrapping of the presidential age limit.
“Therefore, there was need for political intervention, which is clandestine that must level the ground such that at some point, the President himself will emerge when the ground has been levelled,” he reasoned.
Mr Businge added: “The only unfortunate part is that he sent a person who has been known that wherever he goes, he carries business in the bag; on the surface, you see development for all but in the bag, there is investment and a business opportunity for himself.”