What you need to know:
- This will be the second time after 2011 that the Bush War General pitches camp in Arua after he helped set up investments in Nakaseke District, but many of the promises he made and MoUs he signed are yet to bear fruit in Fort Portal City and the Rwenzori Sub-region.
Gen Salim Saleh, the Luweero Bush War veteran and Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) chief coordinator, has left northern Uganda regional capital Gulu, shifting base to neighbouring West Nile.
But Gen Saleh’s military assistant, Col Jimmy Nkojo, declined to confirm the General’s departure. But he referred Saturday Monitor to Maj Kiconco Tabaro, saying he is privileged to comment as the OWC spokesperson.
But Maj Tabaro said Gen Saleh’s exit from the sub-region should not raise concerns because as chief coordinator of OWC, he can pitch camp anywhere.
“Even if he is in Kampala, he can still handle the same businesses he has been conducting from Gulu,” he said.
Gen Saleh, who is also President Museveni’s younger brother, has pitched camp in Acholi Sub-region for nearly a year, with the OWC Secretariat describing his presence there as immeasurable.
Maj Tabaro said several memoranda of understanding have been signed between companies, organisations, and religious organisations.
He cited the setting up of an industrial hub and an incubation centre in Gulu.
“His impact in the north has been remarkable to all our stakeholders because he [Gen Saleh] has concluded several engagements with both state and non-state actors, and faith-based organisations who have all been rallied for wealth creation,” he said.
“At Purongo In Nwoya District, there was an MoU with Uganda Breweries Ltd to begin buying sorghum directly from Acholi Sub-region. Remember OWC engagements with religious leaders dealing in cassava (Catholic Church) as well as the new fruit factory in West Nile?” Maj Tabaro said.
On August 10, UBL entered a five-year partnership with OWC, which aims at sourcing 100 percent of the raw materials we use in the brewery from local farmers.
“The partnership seeks to improve household income and quality of life of Ugandans by directly impacting farmers from the current 45,000 to double or more,” UBL said in a statement after sealing the deal.
Maj Tabaro said both dairy and rice farmers in Nwoya District have been supported by OWC, while Gen Saleh’s efforts to ensure the operationalisation of the Atiak sugar factory cannot be disregarded during his short stay in the region.
While farmers have been given hope because of the logistics hub and incubation centre sitting in Gulu, the state actors, entrepreneurs in the transport sectors, tourism and several other potential sectors in the region have directly benefited.
The construction of the Shs29.5b Gulu Logistics Hub in Layibi Gowan Ward, Bar-dege-Layibi Division in Gulu City, is nearing completion.
The project was funded by the European Union together with UK`s Department for International Development (DfID) through Trade Mark East Africa (TMEA).
The hub will serve the trade corridors of Kampala – Gulu – Elegu/Nimule – Juba; and Gulu – Pakwach Goli/Pader/Lira/Vurra DR Congo. Maj Tabaro said several finance institutions, including the Uganda Development Bank (UDB), have been wooed to Acholi Sub-region by Gen Saleh to empower the business community, the youth, and elderly, among others.
In April, OWC together with UDB organised the Northern Uganda Business Forum in Gulu.
Although the forum was meant to enlighten entrepreneurs in the region on available financing and business opportunities with the government, UDB said it would only lend money to committed and registered corporate enterprises.
The UDB chief executive officer, Ms Patricia Ojangole, then said borrowers were coming to the bank to seek capital for businesses that lacked other enabling factors of production such as land, and the skilled labour required.
“We are not going to just throw money onto the streets, we need to invest money in viable enterprises that can help the private sector and the country develop. We expect that you have at least two of the factors; land or labour, and we give you the missing capital,” she said.
Ms Ojangole was reacting to criticisms that the bank was lending money to already prosperous enterprises and corporate business, instead of the struggling small and medium enterprises that require propping up, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Gen Salim Saleh asked UDB to ease conditionality for smallscale borrowers to access the loans.
“You have not given these people the money for all this long, yet it is there and they are struggling. It is important that the conditions be eased to enable these entrepreneurs to access the money since the conditions are very unfavourable,” he said.
But Gen Saleh’s sojourn in Acholi Sub-region is not without criticisms.
Management science expert Dr Kagambirwe Karyeija sees Gen Saleh’s camping in the north as some sort of internal balance of power. He says it is a strategy that President Museveni tries to apply in the NRM government.
Indeed, while in Gulu, Gen Saleh has met several government and ruling NRM party officials, politicians, investors, army officers, and farmers, among others, besides signing several MoUs with several parties.
Dr Karyeija, who is an associate professor of Public Administration and Management at the Uganda Management Institute, sys Gen Saleh is a key cog in ensuring that the NRM manifesto is executed and fulfilled.
“For every government globally, there is what is called the kitchen cabinet, those persons who run the government and ensure the goals of the vision bearer is fulfilled. In that perspective, I want to believe he is the kitchen cabinet,” he says.
Dr Karyeija maintains that because of Gen Saleh’s role in the NRM Bush War revolution, he is able to shape the country’s policy direction by operating outside the State’s technical bureaucratic structures.
“Due to his desire to make a contribution and shape the policy direction of the country and also as a revolutionist, I believe he is starting to work outside the bureaucratic structure. His system is non-bureaucratic but to coordinate different institutions to ensure that the government runs,” he says.
“Because of the Gen Saleh factor in the NRM revolution, President Museveni has much confidence in the retired soldier,” Dr Karyeija adds.
He also notes that the role of Gen Saleh points to the growing influence of the army in running of state affairs.
“This is likely another dedicated role by the President and be aware that Museveni appears to be putting a lot of premium on soldiers because they are seemingly more efficient but also because they can be easily sanctioned and punished compared to the civilian technocrats,” Dr Karyeija says.
“The President has a lot of confidence in him, otherwise, his factor would be inconsequential. He is one man who pushes an agenda to get accomplished once he appreciates it and that is why every ministry is making a rush to Gulu to be with him,” he adds. When politicians, ministers, and other government officials, including music artistes, started flocking to Gulu City to engage Gen Saleh, several hotels and accommodation facilities within the city underwent a big boost in clientele.
For example, during the nearly one month’s duration the artistes spent in the city negotiating with Gen Saleh over some reported Covid-19 cash bailout, the artistes booked into places such as Acholi Inn, Bomah Hotel, KSP Hotel, Golden Peace Hotel, New Florida Hotel, and Kakanyero Hotel, among others.
Their basic hangout joints were usually the Gulu Bus Terminal, O’café, KSP Hotel, Acholi Inn, Bomah Hotel, and The Hub, among others.
A staff at Kakanyero Hotel, who spoke to this newspaper but declined to be named since she was not allowed to speak to the media, said they hosted eight guests for nearly a month, among whom were five artistes.
“Having these guests reside here for close to a month was a huge boost to us as it helped us offset the adversities forced by the Covid-19 pandemic on the hotel industry,” she said.
But Mr Agustine Ojara, a Koro clan elder, says Gen Saleh’s presence in Acholi is far from having yielded any impact.
“His presence here is not touching the life of any local person in Acholi. Most people at the grassroots are struggling, and if Saleh is a true poverty eradicator, he should have by now had a comprehensive meeting with all LC1s or councils of elders and youth fora in the region to brainstorm on what is best for the people of this region,” Mr Ojara says.
“He would have focused on the issue of Acholi war debt claimants to ensure genuine ones get the money or advise the government to quickly clear that problem that the region is keen on,” he adds.
The Kapeeka model
But in Gen Saleh, Mr David Serumaga, a political analyst, sees another ‘Kapeeka-like’ facility in Gulu.
He says when Saleh spent time in Kapeeka, Nakaseke District, where his presence attracted several investors, the area now has an industrial park.
“He has empowered a lot of farmers in Kapeeka and being based in Gulu, more industries and investments should be underway,” Mr Serumaga says.
“Saleh is an innovative, hardworking and socio-economic transformer behind the idea of constructing industrial parks in every region of Uganda, which has created jobs for hundreds of Ugandans,” he adds.
Mr Serumaga also notes that Gen Saleh has helped empower farmers with skills in agricultural improvement.
“He is also the mastermind of the rural industrial incubation centres, which have been set across the country, hence empowering farmers with skills in agricultural improvement and accessing the market for their products,” he says.
“Those who claim he carried his office to Gulu should know that Saleh has trained a strong management team at OWC offices who can do the job very well under his supervision. At OWC, there has been an improvement in literacy among farmers in Uganda,” Mr Serumaga adds.
Gen Saleh is credited for spearheading the development of the industrial park at Kapeeka, Nakaseke District, with several factories at the Liao Shen Industrial Park, managed by China¹s Zhong Da Group and Zhang’s Group. The park was started in June 2015 and hosts maize, fruit and tiles factories.
First camp in Arua
But Mr Harold Acemah, a socio-political critic, believes that Gen Saleh’s impact and presence in the Acholi is not any different from the impact of his campaign in Arua 10 years ago.
“If he intends to do anything there, let him consult and work together with the local people, to avoid suspicion over his agenda. In 2011, he camped in Arua here and all he did was destroy at least 10 acres of Barifa Forest Reserve in town here,” Mr Acemah says.
He says the forest reserve was only saved by the intervention of Arua Municipality leaders led by then resident district commissioner, and later area MP Ibrahim Abiriga.
“He left a lot of bad things here and people here would not want him to come back here, he never sought any permission to cutt down the trees,” Mr Acemah says.
Gen Saleh and Tooro camp
Elsewhere in 2018, Gen Saleh pitched camp in the Rwenzori Sub-region of western Uganda.
Most of the pledges and commitments he made in the area are yet to be fulfilled.
During his time in Fort Portal, Gen Saleh met with Tooro Kingdom officials, small-scale farmers, district and municipal officials, and religious leaders, telling them he intends to make Fort Portal City and Kabarole District models of implementing OWC programme.
He also met district and urban authorities in Kabarole, Bunyangabu, Kyenjojo, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo districts. Gen Saleh reportedly wanted to make the Rwenzori sub-region a pilot project for OWC phase II from “funding to financing”.
To date, it is said many of such promises and the MoUs that Gen Saleh has signed are yet to materialise.
Gen Saleh’s wins on Parish Model project
But Gen Saleh also trumpets his own wins in Acholi Sub-region.
Recently, during the burial of Deputy Inspector General of Police Lt Gen Paul Lokech in Pader Town, Gen Saleh said he designed the Parish Model idea 15 years ago, and that it was by far the best strategy to alleviate poverty, especially in northern Uganda.
He said some 100 groups across Acholi had been given the funds under the project although he was quick to add that the groups are now stuck with the money and did not know how to use it.
“This is the first time people are stuck with money at the parish level. Already 100 parishes are working on the parish model under a programme called PRELNOR. We need to transfer data from PRELNOR into the local government so that we don’t waste a lot of time because money has already been sent to the accounts of the parish,” Gen Saleh said.
The Project for the Restoration of Livelihoods in the Northern Region (PRELNOR) is a seven-year programme that started in August 2015 and runs up to September 2022. Under the Parish Development Model, its activities will be planned and executed at the parish level.
But at the same burial of Gen Lokech, Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo urged Gen Saleh to review the Parish Model to accommodate the interests of the people of northern Uganda.
“When you (Gen Saleh) designed the Parish Model, you forgot that Acholi Sub-region was in a state of armed conflict for a quarter of a century (25 years), the longest period of armed conflict any area of Uganda has experienced. I hope you can review your paper and proposal to the government,” he said.
Justice Owiny-Dollo argued that placing the north at the same level as other regions in terms of funding for the programme is already an error.
“And you rank Acholi Sub-region in the Parish Model with Buganda, Bundibugyo, Mbale and Jinja (that did not suffer armed conflict), that is where you failed. I would have loved to hear you say ‘for Acholi Sub-region, it should instead be a Village Model, not a Parish Model,” he said.
“The most poverty-stricken part of Uganda is Acholi, the area where education has died is Acholi. How can you put Acholi in a Parish Model with the rest of Uganda? All that you need to do is make a special intervention for this area to cure,” he added.
Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah also said they were waiting to critique the Parish Model on the floor of the House
“We will not be looking at the 15 years ago (as Gen Saleh says), we will be looking at the current proposition that President Museveni has been articulating in the last two years (wealth creation and prosperity), that is what we shall be examining,” he added.
But Mr Okin Ojara, the Chua East MP in Kitgum District, said unless the model can address failures in the previous interventions, then changes ought to be made to it.
“The previous programmes, I think, were disjointed. The whole essence of the Parish Model must ensure we address that element of having disjointed programmes, which become duplicated and inefficient,” Mr Ojara said.